Here's One Volvo That's Not for Bow-Tied ProfessorsFor decades, Volvos were dismissed as Lego cars, never considered quite mainstream but more of an oddball's choice. A humanities professor with a penchant for bow ties and Birkenstock sandals would be a fair sketch of the typical Volvo buyer. But the new S60 changes all that. Serving up svelte looks, great driving dynamics and impressive performance, the S60 shatters the Swedish carmaker's boring image.
Under Ford's stewardship, Volvo has blossomed, as the S60 well proves. Here is a car that provides a serious challenge to the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, something that was unthinkable for a Volvo five years ago.
Flowing, organic lines give the S60 a style that is unique yet unmistakably Volvo. Though it is a sedan, it has the sporty edge of a coupe, thanks in large part to the low sweeping roofline and elegant door lines and rear pillar. By pushing out the front and rear tires to the very edges, designers have minimized front and rear overhangs to give the S60 a solid, aggressive stance that is one of the building blocks for good handling.
But what set my heart racing was not the exterior so much as the design and layout of the interior. When it comes to ergonomics, Swedish industrial designers have never been followers. These pioneers wrote the book on the man-machine interface and have been steadfastly pursuing their own way.
And it shows inside the S60 where simplicity and functionality have been wedded in an inimitable way. Design wizardry and original thinking abound even in the smallest detail. Take a small example, the rear passenger air vents. Defying convention, they are located at face level in the B-pillar where I have never seen them installed on any car. All S60 controls and switches reveal a high standard of refinement and precision for delightful tactile experience. The front seats are large, well bolstered, and very comfortable. In back, much of the same holds true except for the center position - it is raised, the squab flat and the backrest doubles as an armrest for the outboard passengers.
Safety has always been Volvo's forte. When Detroit's Big Three were selling glitzy chrome, tailfins and horsepower, Volvo was marching to the beat of a different drummer, pitching safety belts and safety crumple zones. People have come to expect more from Volvo and the S60 delivers that extra margin of safety in spades.
Perhaps the most notable of the new safety technologies are the S60's inflatable curtain and whiplash protection system. In the event of a side impact, the curtain inflates to cover the entire side glass area and protect against head injuries. If you are rear-ended, front-seat passengers benefit from the whiplash system which relies on specially engineered seat hinges to reduce the risk of neck and back injuries.
The S60 comes in two flavors: the naturally-aspirated 2.4 and the turbocharged 2.4T -- and to keep things simple, in a single trim level for both. The naturally aspirated 2.5-liter is an inline five-cylinder which produces 170bhp @ 5900rpm and 23.5kg.m of torque @ 4500rpm. By contrast, the turbo serves up 200bhp @ 6000rpm using a low pressure booster and 29.1kg.m of torque all of which is on tap between 1800 and 5000rpm. With a zero to 100km/h time of eight seconds flat, the turbo is certainly the more fun investment.
Sadly, local customers aren't offered the S60 T5 which gets a sportier suspension setup and a high-pressure turbocharged 2.3-liter inline five cylinder. Developing 247hp, this pavement-ripping monster can hit 100km/h in just 6.8 seconds.
Volvo Korea doesn't offer a manual gearbox but only a five-speed automatic which is fine enough and comes with the Geartronic manumatic. For winter driving, there's a Winter mode switch which puts the car in third gear for slower, controlled takeoffs and minimal wheel spin. Volvo's Stability and Traction Control System is also supplied as standard equipment.
Dislikes? The touchy brakes and thick C-pillar that slightly obscures the rear corner view. Stopping power was more than adequate, but the brake pedal was a tad too sensitive and lacked a predictable, progressive grip that made for some rather abrupt stops at times.
The verdict? Not only is this a great-looking car and a showcase for state-of-the-art safety features, it's also a great handling car that can hold its own against any autobahn cruiser.
Price of the S60T as tested: 59.4 million won ($47,482)
Next Week: Ford Escape
by Oles Gadacz