Volvo-speak for safe and sporty.

by Eric Peters

There are sporty Volvos - really! Even four door sporty Volvos, with 247-hp turbocharged engines and - wait for it - five-speed manual gearboxes. It's all true; it's just not especially well-known. You have to be familiar with the lingo. And in Volvo-speak, "sporty sedan" comes out roughly in the following code: S60 T5.

The $31,800 T5 is the high-performance version of Volvo's midsize sedan, the S60. It replaces the old S70 sedan and looks very much like a new S80 T6, Volvo's larger, luxury-performance sedan. If the S60 looks similar in overall concept and execution to the S80 T6, it's because both cars share a common platform and reflect Volvo's effort to transmogrify its line from safe but stodgy cars to safe cars that are also neat cars.

Like the $40,900 S80 T6, the S60 T5 features a transversely (e.g., sideways) mounted, turbocharged engine - only it's a five cylinder instead of the S80's in-line six - upgraded suspension, wheels, tires, and special trim inside and out. It has a similar interior and, from a distance of about 20 yards, it's hard to tell the cars apart.

Manual transmission sets T5 apart

However, one can order an S60 T5 with a manual transmission, a feature not available in the automatic-only S80 T6. This fact renders the S60 T5 in some ways more enjoyable from an enthusiast driver's perspective than the S80 T6, even though the S80 has a bigger engine (a 2.8 liter straight six vs. the T5's in-line 2.3 liter five) with significantly more horsepower (268-hp for the S80 T6, 247-hp for the S60 T5).

The presence of the manual gearbox goes a long way toward making the S60 T5 of interest as a serious sport sedan: a car to think about alongside such contenders in the entry luxury/sport sedan niche as the BMW 330i, Lexus IS300, C-Class Mercedes and Audi A4. Those cars are generally more expensive and (excepting the Audi) are rear-wheel-drive, which is an advantage in terms of absolute handling capability. But the front-drive S60 T5 is the first Volvo that could trot onto the field with those machines and not seem completely out of its league.

The fact is the S60 T5 is a most enjoyable car; you appreciate it more and more as each mile clicks effortlessly and comfortably away in those wonderful Volvo seats. It has excellent throttle response and pulling power under all conditions, and it doesn't mind at all being driven a little hard. Sure, you'd be handicapped somewhat by the front-drive layout on an autocross circuit, but rear-drive sport sedans are handicapped by such things as rain and ice, which the front-drive Volvo can cope with far better.

A well rounded standout

Bottom line: If you are looking for a good all-weather sporty sedan with enough beans to deliver when you need it - and enough class to stand out from the crowd - the S60 T5 could be a good choice. It's not the most formidable sedan in its class, but it may be among the most well- rounded. People tend to be quite surprised when they discover how affordable it is.

Like all Volvos, the S60 T5 is very well padded with safety gear, with dual front airbags with crash severity sensors, side airbags and side curtain airbags. Traction control is also on the docket, and it can be turned-off completely for tire-scorching launches if that's your thing.

All new T5s also feature heated, eight-way adjustable sport bucket seats, an excellent eight-speaker stereo system with in-dash CD-player, 16x7 rims with 55-series HR-rated tires, power windows and locks, leather-trimmed steering wheel, plus unique T5 trim inside and out. Major options on the T5 are leather seats ($1,300) and the GPS/satellite navigation system ($2,500).

Things to quibble about? Volvo's radio controls are somewhat inscrutable - though not as bewildering as those found on certain Mercedes-Benz models. This, however, is only a problem for the first few days you're with the car. After you figure it out, it's a can o' corn (as they say down South).

Anyone looking at a mid-30s sport sedan should take this Volvo out for a run before deciding. You might be pleasantly surprised.

2001 Volvo S60 T5

Price: $31,800 base
Engine: 2.3-liter turbocharged V-6, 247 hp
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Wheelbase: 106.9 in
Length: 180.2 in
Width: 71.0 in
Height: 56.2 in
Curb Weight: 3406 lb
EPA (city/hwy): 21/28 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front and side airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction control
Major standard features: Automatic climate control, keyless entry, power adjustable heated sport seats, power windows/mirrors, performance suspension, eight-speaker in-dash CD sound system
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles

© 2001 The Car Connection


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