Back in the Sixties, nothing on the road looked quite like it, and back then that's what people said about the boxy Volvo 144. Today, the same can be said of the 2011 Volvo S60... because it is far from boxy. At all.
Cuboid no more
Seriously practical and seriously safe, Volvo's boxy image was quite a good fit. That's why it stood out in the 60s as cars were growing fins and curves, following the longer, lower, wider aircraft fuselage idiom. Today, Volvo still takes practicality and safety just as seriously, even if ever since the late 90s, Volvo dropped the cuboid looks for curves and more compound curves.
Without a doubt, Volvo has to keep the S60 on the extremes of style as it competes with the crème de la crème of Germany: the BMW 3-series, the Mercedes C-class and Audi's A4. Peter Horbury, the Englishman who led the style metamorphosis of Volvo in the 90s is back leading Volvo to the next beyond. From the curvaceous 4-door coupe-roof S60 of the 90s, Volvo has created, Ahem, a new curvaceous 4-door coupe-roof S60 for the noughties. Only this time its even more bold in form as well as detail. The overall outline is up to the minute and only the the latest Hyundai Elantra and Honda City shadow it.
Sweden: 1 / Germany: ?
Premium stereos. Multiple air bags. Climate control. Leather. Choice of GTDi's (Gasoline Turbo Direct Injection) 180hp 1.6-liter or 203 PS 2-liter fours and 304 PS bi-turbo 6 cylinder. Front wheel drive or all wheel drive. 6-speed Geartronic transmissions or dual clutch transmissions. Fully independent rear suspension and MacPherson strut front suspension. The tale of spec sheet puts it on par with Germany's best.
Leading with safety
However, when it comes standard passive and active driving safety aids, Volvo opens up a lead way beyond the standard multiple air bags. First, there's half a dozen dynamic driving aids from dynamic stability control, traction control and advanced stability control for all-weather high speed driving whether going straight or speeding through consecutive curves. Then there's torque vectoring corner traction control. There's City Safety, an automatic full braking system when detecting a stationary obstacle allied to the adaptive cruise control that takes over those stressful stop-and-go traffic queues. This system automatically brakes the car whenever the Volvo closes into the lead. With pedestrian detection, the Volvo will brake automatically whenever a pedestrian suddenly jumps in front of the car. Nodding off at the wheel, wandering from your desired lane? The lane departure and driver fatigue warning wakes you up with an amusing gong. All these conspire to keep you from getting into an accident thus avoiding triggering any one of those multiple airbags.
Now these electronic driving aids are also offered by some of the German marques, but none of them fit such a comprehensive combination of these safety aids as standard in their mainstream sports sedan. One can still add to the options list by ordering reversing camera view and active curve following headlamps.
Swede through and throughout
Even now that Volvo has turned genuinely global with Chinese volume car maker Geely as its owner, Volvo will still define style beyond national borders. As in any 21st century Volvo, the driving experience doesn't end with just an appreciation of the exo-skin and the oily bits that make driving it so much fun, thus you'd wonder if Volvo's were still practical. The interior finishes, surfaces, illumination and shapes can only be Volvo. There is that unique Swedish touch where matte natural-looking grains blend positively with soft polished alloys, which Horbury incidentally redefined as Swedish design plus plus.
Sport and comfort
The new S60 is far sportier than the car it replaces. The 2.0L and 1.6 T4 variants' ride is supple, unlike the top-of-the line 304 PS T6 all wheel drive model that needs the Germanic-like shock absorber rebound check. Uncompromising in float, it felt like kind of choppy ride akin to a Mercedes AMG. One advantage Volvo has over the Germans is the soft deep cushioning of the Swede's seats.
The 203 PS 2.0-liter direct injection turbo can hit 230 km/h in 6th at a 4,800 rpm. 0-100 takes 8.2 seconds. Turbo power delivery comes in at 1750 rpm. Parsimony at all costs driving will yield fuel consumption figures between 11.7 to 12.9 km/liter. The six-speed dual clutch automatic snap shifts in smooth virtually uninterrupted style, like racing sequential gearbox and unlike early twin clutch transmissions, this one doesn't roll down an incline when in "D".
Safe sex ?
Thus it will boil down to price and the way Volvo projects safety in such sexy youthful style. That was one thing the Volvo 144 and 244 of old could never be, no matter what any spin doctor says. In a market that only pays lip service to safety, Volvo is stubbornly heralding its core beliefs. But this time, they have drawn level to the prestige default brands in aspects of quality, ride, braking and performance that there is hardly anything to distinguish the S60 from the Germans.