Volvo is, quite literally, a brand in transition. A massive injection of funds following its 2010 purchase by a Chinese concern called Zhejiang Geely is just now yielding fruit in the form of their recently introduced 90-series models. But what of older vehicles like the 60-series, specifically the S60 sedan? Is it still worth considering? Let's drive it and find out.
2016 Volvo S60 Road Test and Review
Variety is the spice of life.
The S60 is one of Volvo’s oldest cars, but it’s also one of the brand’s most diverse: Aside from the standard S60 sedan, Volvo also makes a long-wheelbase version called the S60 Inscription and an SUV-ized version called the S60 Cross Country. And if that isn’t enough, there’s also a wagon, called the V60, offered in standard and Cross Country versions. Theoretically, these 60-series Volvos compete against vehicles like the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Lexus IS and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but none of them offer as wide a range of models as the S60.
The S60 as we know it was introduced as a 2011 model, with new Drive-E 4-cylinder engines gradually making their way into the lineup over the last couple of years and a stretched Inscription model brought on for 2016. Volvo is in the process of re-doing all of its cars, starting from the top down with the XC90 SUV and S90 sedan. That makes the S60 an old-school Volvo—but in our estimation, that is not a bad thing. It’s still a car that has a lot of appeal, though it has its downsides as well, specifically when it comes to interior space.
Photo Credit: Volvo
Styling that holds up.
One of the things we like best about the S60—and this is true about Volvos in general—is how well the styling has held up to Father Time. Despite its age (and by car standards, a 7-year-old design is hardly a spring chicken), the S60 looks fresh and modern, and that's a good trick. Smooth and svelte, the S60 has pleasing proportions and a unique, rounded profile that helps it to stand out in parking lots crowded with BMWs, Mercedes, and Audis—though as you can imagine, that sharp roofline has a negative effect on rear-seat headroom.
Beauty is more than skin deep.
As goes the outside, so goes the inside: The S60's interior still looks good, with gentle, flowing curves that convey a sense of relaxation. We’re also rather fond of the “floating” center control stack, which features a large storage area just behind. One of the more recently updated features on the S60, found on higher-end models, is the adaptive digital instrument panel. It has three different display modes (Elegance, Eco, and Performance), each of which alters the appearance of the gauges. We found ourselves partial to the Performance mode, not so much for its fetching red color as for its easy-to-read digital speedometer.
Sensible climate controls, too many stereo buttons.
We’ve always liked the S60's climate controls, which depict a human figure; if you want air at your legs, you press the figure's legs. We're less forgiving of the gaggle of closely spaced buttons and dials that control the stereo, phone, and navigation systems. The S60’s infotainment uses a dial controller which, in the interest of symmetry, is the same size as the volume knob and twin temperature control knobs. These four dials surround an intimidating array of buttons, including a full telephone keypad, and while the ability to dial the phone with the keypad is intuitive, the overall design makes it harder to perform simple operations like displaying the map or turning on the steering wheel heat. We’ll be only too pleased when the next-generation 60-series adapts the simple arrangement we've seen on the Volvo XC90 and S90, which looks like a tablet computer.
Best front seats in the business.
Volvo has drawn praise for its front seats, and rightly so: They are comfortable, supportive, and seemingly able to adapt to nearly any size or shape of human being. We did a marathon winter drive in a S60 Cross Country—more on that in a little bit—and were surprised to find that our driving days stretched as long as 10 hours with nary a complaint from our lower back or posterior (which normally starts screaming around the 7-hour mark). And we think the seats will age as well as the styling: Entry-level S60 models feature black “T-Tec,” Volvo’s faux leather, while higher end models offer genuine leather in three different shades.
No room in back.
But just as the S60s interior giveth, it taketh away: The S60's back seat is among the tightest in this class, with a low roofline that requires ducking upon entry and exit and precious little legroom, especially if the front seats are occupied by tall folks who need to move their own seats back. Rear seat comfort is on par with smaller competitors like the Mercedes GLA and Audi A3, and that isn't saying very much. Volvo does offer some relief in the form of the S60 Inscription, an extended-wheelbase model that adds an extra 3 inches of legroom, but the Inscription’s trunk volume is identical to other S60 sedans at twelve cubic feet—that’s less trunk space than is found in most subcompact sedans.
Engines: Same size, different power levels.
Volvo is in the process of replacing the S60's 5- and 6-cylinder engines with new Drive-E 4-cylinder powerplants; for the S60, the changeover began in 2015 with front-wheel-drive models and as of 2017 all versions get the new motor. The idea behind this engine system is an innovative one: Traditionally, automakers offer several sizes of engines, with the bigger ones (usually) developing more power. All of Volvo’s Drive-E engines are the same size—two liters, four cylinders—but the output changes: If the car is a T5, its engine puts out 240 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque, and if it says T6, output is 302 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. (The extra power comes courtesy of different induction systems: The T5 is turbocharged, while the T6 uses a unique supercharger-and-turbocharger setup that provides more low-end power.)
Both engines get an 8-speed automatic transmission, and as of 2017 all T5s except the Cross Country use front-wheel drive, while the T6 is paired with all-wheel drive. EPA fuel economy estimates range from 22 MPG city/30 MPG highway/25 MPG combined for the all-wheel-drive T5 Cross Country model up to 25/36/29 for the T5 with front-wheel drive. T6 engines require premium fuel, but T5s run on regular.
S60 Cross Country: The ultimate winter weapon.
Swedes know winter well, so when we had to take a two-day drive through the Rust Belt in the winter, we asked Volvo if we could borrow an S60 Cross Country for the trip. This SUV-ized version of the S60 has extra ground clearance, all-wheel drive, and body and bumper trim that makes it look like a proper SUV. Volvo fitted the car with snow tires for our trip, and as we drove into the blizzard, it felt virtually unstoppable. Even when a white-out brought the experienced snow drivers of Buffalo, New York, to a near standstill, the S60 Cross Country kept going.
Photo Credit: Volvo
A simplified lineup.
Volvo has simplified the S60 lineup for 2017 (a good sign the car will be replaced soon). For 2017, the S60 T5 is offered in a single trim level, called Dynamic, and priced at $34,945 (including a $995 destination charge). The stretched-wheelbase T5 Inscription is priced at $37,795, and the T5 Cross Country model at $45,195. Topping out the lineup is the all-wheel-drive T6 R-Design, priced at $48,395.
At those prices, the S60 seems like a bargain compared to the Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and BMW 3 Series—but those cars have the edge on size (except for the Inscription model, which can’t be had with the more powerful engine or all-wheel drive). If you’re looking for space as well as luxury, you’d be better off comparing the S60 to the Audi A3 and Mercedes CLA (and, if you can do without back doors, the BMW 2 Series), all of which can be had for less money than the Volvo.
So should you buy a Volvo S60?
It’s hard to recommend the S60 when you consider how it compares to the competition—but that won’t stop us. The S60 has its drawbacks, particularly the small back seat (except for the Inscription model), and it doesn’t have the nifty new infotainment system found in Volvo’s latest designs. (We expect that a new S60 with these features will make its debut soon.) But we like the S60’s styling, we love the front seats, and we’re satisfied with the way it drives. And what we like best about it is that it isn’t a Mercedes, a BMW, or an Audi—not that we have anything against those cars, but they are everywhere, and the slower selling S60 feels a bit less like a commodity. We’re looking forward to the new version, but for now we’re quite happy with the old-school Volvo S60.