They say the sedan is dead and that the public only wants crossovers and SUVs now. If true, that’s really too bad, because I think we’re in something of a golden era for the four-door. At the cheaper end of the market, you can’t beat the new Honda Accord. Increase the MSRP a little—cars starting in the mid 30s, say—and it’s hard to find a clear winner because we’re spoiled for choice. And now that choice is a little harder thanks to this: the new Volvo S60.
This is Volvo’s first American-made car, built at a new plant in Charleston, South Carolina. And it’s the latest car to use Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture, the toolkit that also gave us the XC60 SUV, plus the bigger S90 sedan, V90 wagon, and XC90 SUV. We’ve been quite taken with each of the previous SPA Volvos we’ve tested; they’ve looked good, felt well-screwed together, and the Sensus infotainment system is better than most. (If you follow those links you can read about all that in greater depth.) As a rule, I prefer smaller vehicles to larger ones and cars to SUVs, so the S60 (and the new V60 wagon which you can read about tomorrow) have been the SPA cars I’ve been waiting for.
Here in the US the S60 comes in several variants, and the first option involves powertrains. The front-wheel drive T5 starts at $35,800 and is powered by a 2.0L four-cylinder gasoline engine. This modular design is common across the Swedish automaker’s lineup, and the T5 sports a turbocharger, 250hp (186kW), and 258lb-ft (350Nm). Similarly, there’s also only one transmission across the range: an eight-speed automatic from Aisin.
Next is the T6. It starts at $40,300 and adds all-wheel drive, as well as an engine that’s now turbo- and supercharged and good for 316hp (236kW) and 295lb-ft (400Nm). Under normal conditions, the Borg-Warner system will send all that “umph!” to its front wheels, but the car can send up to half its torque to the rear wheels if necessary.
There’s another option if you want AWD: the T8 plug-in hybrid. It starts at $54,400 before any tax credits, which haven’t been announced but should be $5,002 if this page is any guide. The 2.0L keeps both its forced induction systems, but it does lose 3hp (2.2kW).
It also loses all the mechanical bits aft of the engine: instead of a driveshaft or torque tube, the transmission tunnel houses a 10.4kWh lithium-ion battery, which powers an 87hp (65kW) electric motor between the rear wheels. Add that up and you get 400hp (298kW) and 472lb-ft (640Nm), which is not bad when you consider how many fewer horses and Newton-meters you get for your money at other brands.
Volvo was keen to stress that the S60 is the most driver-oriented SPA vehicle. That may have been implied by the S60’s styling, which shares a lot with an electric, 600hp, SPA-based) car called the Polestar 1. It was obvious when we were presented with a more potent S80 T8, one that borrows both Polestar’s name and its subscription-only model.
The hybrid side of the powertrain remains the same, but the gasoline engine has been persuaded to give a little more power (328hp, so 415hp total) and torque (317ft-lbs, 494ft-lbs total). Behind the Polestar-specific alloy wheels (which do look good), you can see bigger brakes, and the gold calipers practically shout their presence.
Less visible but still present and just as gold are the Öhlins adjustable dampers. Adjustable in the sense of “I’m at the track, I’ll just pop the hood and twist the valve” as opposed to pushing a button to engage sport mode, which I think is both refreshingly honest and also a good excuse to admire the strut brace that is also unique to the Polestar Engineered S60.
On the inside everything is clad in a mix of technical fabrics and black leather. The front seats are segmented and offset by bright gold seatbelts. I think it looks amazing, but then I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. The interior in general shows just how far Volvo has come since we drove the previous-generation S60. “How far Volvo has come” was actually that review’s subtitle, and it’s a good filter through which to look if you want to see the changes in ergonomics, UI/UX, and so on.
Even with its all-black interior, the Polestar never feels gloomy. Part of that is the big panoramic roof, and part of that non-gloominess is the useful increase in size over the previous generation car. That’s all in the length (187.4 inches/4,760mm, up 4.9 inches) and mostly in the wheelbase (113.1 inches/2,873mm, an increase of 3.8 inches), which in turn mostly benefits passengers sitting in the back. The new S60 is actually even a bit narrower (72.8 inches/1,849mm, -0.7 inches) and considerably shorter (56.6 inches/1,437mm, -1.8 inches), yet it feels more spacious in part due to new designs for the seats and door cards.
Driving the new Polestar car made clear that Volvo had solved my chief complaints about its predecessor. The suspension is quite well damped, although our drive route didn’t feature much of the worst that Southern California has to offer. The car feels much lighter, which it almost certainly isn’t, because the steering is now much lighter.
Unfortunately the steering isn’t particularly communicative, and even on a twisty canyon, you’ll have more fun with something rear-wheel drive like an Alfa Romeo Giulia or a Kia Stinger. As long as it’s dry and sunny, that is. Overcast skies were the best that LA could do, so I’ve yet to find out whether the S60’s all-weather ability is as good as I expect. For long drives in bad weather (or amidst heavy traffic) the Volvo would be the one I’d pick.
The S60 is still waiting for the EPA’s final ruling on fuel economy, but the Volvo is estimating city/highway/combined mpg for the different powertrains as 24/36/28 for the T5, 21/32/25 for the T6, and 27/34/30 for the T8 hybrid. Volvo also estimates the T8 at 72mpge and says it should have an EV-only range of 21 miles. If you are looking for a car which will be driven by electricity more (or all) of the time, look elsewhere (or come back in 2020). The Chevrolet Volt is a fine plug-in hybrid that need never visit a gas station, and the Tesla Model 3 is fantastic to drive (by all accounts) and obviously completely electric.
But Volvo isn’t on the prowl for the sportiest drivers or greenest drivers for the S60. The carmaker is looking for anyone who would otherwise consider a 3 Series or an A4 or a C-Class. The BMW is about to be replaced, and I haven’t driven a current C-Class, but it’s very evenly matched with the Audi. Both have broadly comparable driver aids which are more capable than most, although the Volvo offers more safety alerts (e.g. large-animal detection) and more of them as standard.
The infotainment systems leave little to choose from, other than personal preferences when it comes to UI design. Audi’s digital dashboard is a little more advanced, and the simulated needles on its speedometer and rev counter never stutter or flicker like they do in the Volvo. But Volvo’s tile-based touchscreen UI is more intuitive, and running CarPlay or Android Auto within a tab is a better implementation than anyone else in the industry. And Sensus has had an upgrade compared to the last time we encountered it; Volvo says an updated chipset has cut the time it takes to start up, switch to the backup camera, or recalculate directions for example.
The S60’s Swedish design certainly offers the segment something fresh, and the closely related XC60 has proved quite a hit in the mid-sized luxury SUV segment. Its also priced aggressively against the Germans, although it may even get an even bigger edge thanks to that factory in South Carolina, should the trade war escalate…
Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin