2015 Volvo S60 Review and Road Test: Introduction
Having spent a week driving the 2015 Volvo S60, I have newfound appreciation for and a favorable impression of the company’s best-selling model. As of late, that hasn’t been the case. Allow me to explain.
Until recently, I had been a long-time fan of Volvos. From their broad-shouldered design and relentless focus on safety to their perfectly formed seats and perky turbocharged powertrains, these quirky but eminently comfortable Swedish cars possessed a character all their own. And it’s easy to get behind character, isn’t it?
Lately, though, what made Volvos great had begun to fade. Take the second-generation Volvo S80, for example. The original S80 revolutionized Volvo design, moving the company away from building boxes on wheels and toward creating unmistakably modern and attractive luxury cars. When Volvo finally redesigned the S80, what rolled off the assembly line lacked the original’s strongly defined character, looking and feeling less upscale than its predecessor.
Then, Volvo did the same thing to the S60, replacing an aged but distinctive midsize luxury sedan with a bug-eyed bar of soap that looked like a Honda Civic from some angles. Ford Motor Company bailed on Volvo shortly thereafter, selling it to Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, which promptly set about to righting the S60’s wrongs.
The first wave of upgrades came for the 2014 model year, styling changes intended to give the S60 greater visual presence. Now, for 2015, Volvo debuts its new Drive-E family of powerful and fuel-efficient turbocharged powertrains while continuing a program of improvement. As a result, and though I’m still not entirely sold on the 2015 Volvo S60, I would start recommending it to people again.
2015 Volvo S60 Review and Road Test: Models and Prices
Before we dive into the details, it helps to set the stage with an understanding of the 2015 Volvo S60 lineup. The least expensive version is called the S60 T5 Drive-E, and it starts at $34,225 (including a destination charge of $925). If you prefer all-wheel drive, you can get that in a Volvo S60 T5 ($35,725), but it includes a less refined and less efficient turbocharged 5-cylinder engine.
The S60 T5’s standard engine is more powerful than what Audi installs in the A4. If that’s not good enough, the S60 T6 ($39,075) bolts a supercharger onto the already turbocharged Drive-E engine, and the resulting horsepower and torque figures aren’t that far off from the supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 in an Audi S4. All-wheel drive is available by choosing the T6 R-Design AWD ($43,625) model, but a thirstier turbocharged 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder power plant is standard for that model.
The S60 T5 models are offered in Premier, Premier Plus, and Platinum trim levels. The S60 T6 Drive-E includes Premier trim as standard equipment, with Platinum trim available as an upgrade. Every S60 T6 AWD comes with Volvo’s R-Design and Premium Plus equipment. Platinum trim is an option for this model.
My test car is the S60 T6 Drive-E Platinum, which adds $4,100 to the base price thanks to the addition of three big-ticket items: a navigation system with real-time traffic reporting and voice recognition technology, a reversing camera, and a premium sound system. Additionally, Platinum trim includes a handful of other items that really ought to be standard.
To this, my test car added Bright Silver Metallic paint ($550), heated front seats ($500), active bi-Xenon headlights with washers ($800), and a set of 19-inch aluminum wheels with a sport suspension ($1,250). A Blind Spot Information system ($900) included Rear Cross Traffic Alert, front and rear parking assist sensors, and a Lane Change Merge Aid, while a Technology Package ($1,500) included Adaptive Cruise Control with Queue Assist, Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake, Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection with Full Auto Brake, Distance Alert Control, Driver Alert Control, Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keeping Aid, Active High Beam headlights, and road sign information. The grand total came to $47,925.
2015 Volvo S60 Review and Road Test: Design
- New aluminum wheel options
- New power-retractable side mirrors for most models
Last year, Volvo tweaked the S60’s styling enough to add some substance and style to the car’s appearance, especially up front. The result is a nose-heavy look, and while the design updates are preferable to the previous version of the S60, I still think that nothing short of a complete redesign is going to make this model truly appealing. The good news is that if you’ve seen Volvo’s recent spate of concept cars, penned by the company’s new designer, Thomas Ingenlath, then you know that the next-generation S60 has the potential to be truly gorgeous.
My test car features the optional 19-inch “Bor” wheel design and lowered sport suspension, which dramatically improves the S60’s look. Better yet, you don’t need to upgrade to the T6 model to get them. Volvo makes them available for the T5 model, too.
Inside, my S60 T6 included deeply bolstered seats wrapped in 2-tone gray leather with exposed stitching, facing a dashboard with lots of silver trim, lots of buttons, and very little storage space. Volvo uses quality materials inside the S60’s cabin, but I noticed lots of creaking during my week with the car. Additionally, there is great opportunity to accumulate dust and grit in this cabin, from the grooved and tamboured door that slides to cover the cup holders when they’re not in use to the crevices surrounding the power window controls.
2015 Volvo S60 Review and Road Test: Comfort and Cargo
- Standard power-adjustable front passenger’s seat
- T6 R-Design AWD offered with new Nubuck textile and leather seat upholstery
For a long time, Volvo has delivered exceptionally comfortable seats in its products, and that’s true of the 2015 S60…as long as you’re sitting up front. The car’s rear seat is mounted low and legroom is tight, and for larger adults the result is a snug and uncomfortable place to spend time. Softly padded and upholstered front seatbacks do help to some degree.
Up front, this Volvo is quite comfortable, and not just because of the seats. The thick-rimmed steering wheel is good to grip, the center console armrest is softly padded, and the upper door panels are padded and dished to make them better places to rest an elbow. Unfortunately, the S60 is unavailable with seat ventilation, a problem in places that experience hot and humid weather.
If you’re planning a road trip, know that the S60’s trunk measures just 12 cu.-ft. It is, however, usefully shaped, and can accommodate enough stuff for a shorter family getaway. A rear-seat center pass-through makes it easier to carry longer items, and the rear seat folds to expand room when necessary.
2015 Volvo S60 Review and Road Test: Features and Controls
- New Park Assist Pilot system available for Drive-E models
In describing the S60 model’s interior, Volvo refers to Scandinavian design principles that dictate a lack of clutter. Take a closer look at this car’s layout and decor, though, and clutter is just about all you can see.
To illustrate, note that much of Volvo S60’s switchgear has an old-school look and feel because its not rendered in a modern, flush-fit manner, as exhibited by the power window and power sunroof controls. Add two-tone seats with exposed stitching, contrast-color door panel inserts, and multiple interior surface patterns, and you can better understand why I think the S60’s cabin has a jumbled appearance.
The car’s controls are not always easy to find or to use, either. Despite spending several hours and hundreds of miles behind the S60’s steering wheel, the “floating” center control panel never became completely intuitive to me. For example, if the upper display screen is showing the navigation map, and you want to change a radio station using the tuning knob, you must first select the radio button and then twist the knob. The climate controls don’t work the same way, which means the driver must continually remember and think about how things work rather than simply executing commands using familiar controls and processes.
Making things more difficult, the center control panel’s buttons are grouped closely together and surrounded by lots of empty real estate in an apparent effort to make the S60’s interior look cleaner and simpler. Bah. The result is too much distraction. Give me bigger buttons and knobs combined with a more conventional layout. And get rid of the floating control panel design and the almost useless storage area behind it. A bin with a USB port and a charging pad is better for a modern motorist.
The S60’s upper display screen is rather small, but features excellent resolution. The navigation system supplies 3-D viewing and topographical features, and programming a destination works in similar fashion to an Audi, except that the knob is on the dashboard and not on the center console.
Pairing a smartphone to the Volvo S60 is relatively easy, if not always as straightforward as it should be. My test car’s Volvo Premium Sound system proved outstanding, whether mellowing out to some Al Green or punishing the speakers with Band of Skulls. Either way, the S60 will help to erode your hearing, no problem.
2015 Volvo S60 Review and Road Test: Safety and Ratings
- Technology Package adds Lane Keeping Aid feature for Drive-E models
Given that “Volvo” and “safety” are essentially synonymous, the company’s approach to Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) is curious.
I had no trouble securing a forward-facing child seat to the lower anchors, but had a helluva time tightening the upper tether strap. Using a button on the dashboard, the driver can fold the rear head restraints to improve visibility to the rear. However, you can’t install a child safety seat with the head restraints in that position, and when they are raised there’s little clearance between the tops of them and the rear glass. That made tightening the child seat’s top tether strap unexpectedly difficult. Height adjustable head restraints would be helpful, allowing parents to thread the strap through and then tighten at a more natural angle.
This notation aside, the 2015 S60 is a very safe vehicle, and in addition to a standard City Safety autonomous braking system can be made even more so when the reasonably priced Blind Spot Information System Package and the Technology Package are added to the car. These options contain a number of safety-related upgrades, and several of them are quite helpful. In the driving impressions section below, I’ll talk about one that is more aggravating than anything else.
2015 Volvo S60 Crash-Test Ratings:
Let me put this in no uncertain terms: you can’t buy a car that is safer than a 2015 Volvo S60, unless you’re getting a Volvo S80. That’s because these two Volvo models are the only cars that get a “Top Safety Pick+” rating in standard format with standard equipment. Any other models that earn the same rating require buyers to spend extra on optional technology.
Additionally, the S60 is one of those rare vehicles that receives 5-star ratings in every individual crash-test assessment, including resistance to rollover, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Clearly, if safety is a priority, it doesn’t get better than a 2015 Volvo S60.
2015 Volvo S60 Review and Road Test: Engines and Fuel Economy
- New Drive-E engines for front-wheel-drive models
- New 8-speed automatic transmission with Drive-E engines
- Start/stop technology added with Drive-E engines
- Eco+ driving mode with Drive-E engines
- Electric steering with Drive-E engines
- New Sport Package with paddle shifters, 19-inch wheels, sport suspension tuning for all except T6 R-Design AWD model
The most important thing you need to know about the 2015 Volvo S60 is that it is now equipped with a pair of sophisticated new Drive-E powertrains, in addition to 5-cylinder and 6-cylinder engines carried over from the previous model year in conjunction with the optional AWD system. Forget about those, though, unless you really need four driven wheels. Instead, get the front-drive S60 and invest in a set of snow tires for when the white stuff flies.
In the S60 T5 Drive-E, the new turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine generates 240 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 258 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,500 rpm to 4,800 rpm. Installed in a car weighing 3,433 pounds, this makes for lively acceleration across a broad portion of the engine’s rev range.
When installed in the S60 T6, this new Drive-E engine adds a supercharger in addition to the turbocharger. The idea here is to bump power output even higher while simultaneously reducing turbo lag in order to make the car feel more responsive right off the line. The result is 302 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 295 lb.-ft. of torque from 2,100 rpm to 4,500 rpm, and I speak from experience when I say the power curve feels terrific from the driver’s seat.
Both of the new Drive-E engines are paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission that includes Normal, Sport, and Eco+ driving modes, and is offered with paddle shifters in conjunction with the sport suspension and 19-inch aluminum wheels. Automatic stop/start technology is also standard, shutting the engine off when the car is idling and quickly restarting the engine when the driver releases the brake pedal.
In Normal driving mode, the transmission upshifts quickly in order to conserve fuel. In Sport driving mode, the transmission holds engine revs and makes the S60 feel more responsive. In Eco+ driving mode, the climate system’s effectiveness is reduced, a coasting mode engages when the driver releases the accelerator pedal, and the transmission shift mapping is altered all in order to maximize gas mileage.
The goal of the new Drive-E engines is to improve fuel economy, and Volvo says the S60 T6 Drive-E gets 24 mpg in the city, 35 mpg on the highway, and 28 mpg in combined driving. However, to achieve those values, Volvo must have driven the car solely with Eco+ mode engaged, because I averaged 23.6 mpg over several hundred miles of driving, most of which were compiled on the highway.
Admittedly, though, I did not spend much time with the Eco+ system engaged because on warm, sunny days it quickly results in an uncomfortable cabin. Plus, an obnoxious odor from the air vents rapidly permeated my test car.
2015 Volvo S60 Review and Road Test: Driving Impressions
I may not have gotten the kind of mileage Volvo promises, but I’m still impressed by the Volvo S60 T6 model’s Drive-E engine and 8-speed automatic transmission. Smooth, effortless acceleration is always just a push of the accelerator away, especially when the transmission is in Sport driving mode. Regardless of whether you’re taking off from a red light, turning left across traffic, or merging onto a fast-flowing freeway, the S60 T6 is ready to rock and roll.
Volvo has also done an excellent job with the S60’s new electric steering. Three effort-level settings are available – Low, Medium, High – and I preferred the Medium setting, which felt the most natural through the S60’s pleasantly plump steering wheel rim. Remarkably, torque steer is nearly nonexistent when accelerating out of a turn, an impressive trick given the amount of horsepower and torque flowing to the car’s front wheels.
When equipped with the optional 19-inch aluminum wheels and low-profile performance tires, the S60 T6 grips tenaciously, but still demonstrates a tendency to push wide in really tight corners taken at double the recommended limit. This Volvo proves better to drive around higher-speed corners and down two-lane roads with gentler bends and transitions, where it feels exceptionally sure-footed. That adept handling and impressive grip come at a cost, though, and that’s a stiff, jittery ride quality over bad pavement.
The S60 is perfect for highway travels, where nothing but wind noise and the occasional sharp jolt from the suspension encroach upon a sublime experience provided that the optional Lane Keeping Aid system is turned off. Lane Keeping Aid uses a camera to identify lane markings, and when the driver appears to be unintentionally straying from the lane it adjusts engine torque in order to re-align the S60 in the assumed intended lane of travel.
My first negative interaction with this technology occurred about 15 minutes after getting into the S60 for the first time. I was driving in the left lane of the northbound I-405 freeway approaching Los Angeles International Airport. On this stretch of road, a large expansion joint separating slabs of concrete runs parallel with the pavement, stretching down the right quarter of the lane for as far as the eye – and the S60’s camera system – can see. Evidently, the Lane Keeping Aid system thought that gaping expansion joint was a lane marker, and I fought with the steering’s inaccurate attempts to correct lane drift before finally just shutting it off.
During the week that followed, I tried to acclimate to the system on other roads and under different driving conditions, and it sometimes actually worked as intended. But, more often than not, the car surprised me by taking control of the steering and performing unwanted and usually unnecessary corrections.
2015 Volvo S60 Review and Road Test: Final Thoughts
At the start of this review, I explained that the 2015 Volvo S60 is a car that I could once again recommend. Here’s why.
If you want the safest vehicle, this S60 tops the list in its class. If you like plenty of seamless power combined with impressive fuel economy potential, this S60 appears to deliver, especially if you live at elevation, like in Denver. If you want seats that prove comfortable for long stints behind the wheel, this Volvo has ‘em unless you really want a ventilation system. Plus, the 2015 S60 looks better than it has in a really long time.
This car isn’t perfect, of course, but it’s definitely improving with age.
2015 Volvo S60 Review and Road Test: Pros and Cons
- Powerful, refined, sophisticated, fuel-efficient Drive-E engines
- Outstanding crash-test ratings
- Affordable safety technologies
- Comfortable front seats
- Cramped back seat, small trunk
- Confusing, distracting controls
- Aggravating Lane Keeping Aid
- High price tags
Volvo supplied the vehicle for this review
2015 Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E photos by Christian Wardlaw