Pros: Perfect crash-test scores; lovely front seats; strong turbocharged power with either engine; stylish interior; available all-wheel drive
Cons: Average to below-average fuel economy; tight back seat and trunk; not especially sporty for a sport sedan
The 2012 Volvo S60 is designed to make you forget all about the dime-a-dozen German sport sedans that seem to be the default choice these days. The S60's two engines, for example, exude quirky Swedish character through their turbocharged power and unusual five-cylinder design. The front seats are sublimely comfortable and supportive-another Swedish hallmark. And the dashboard, with its coolly minimalist layout and "floating" center stack, looks like the sort of thing Ikea would come up with if it ever got into the car business.
The S60 is a breed apart; that much seems clear. But whether or not it's a better breed is a tougher question to answer. The S60 doesn't help its cause with its mediocre fuel economy, which is becoming increasingly apparent as new models like the BMW 3 Series improve their efficiency by leaps and bounds. The Volvo isn't as athletic as most of its competitors, either, and the back seat is surprisingly cramped given that the S60 is not exactly a small car.
But the 2012 Volvo S60 certainly isn't afraid to be different. In a segment known for its follow-the-leader mentality, the S60's Scandinavian flair might be enough to give it the edge it needs.
Comfort & Utility
The 2012 Volvo S60 is offered in T5, T6 AWD and R-Design versions. In addition to their different drivetrains, which are covered in detail below, these trim levels come with different rosters of standard equipment. The base T5 starts with 17-inch alloy wheels, a power driver's seat with adjustable lumbar support, T-Tec synthetic upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, a seven-inch information and entertainment display and an eight-speaker audio system with iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity. The T6 AWD adds 18-inch wheels, electronically adjustable steering, sportier tailpipes, leather upholstery and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. Electronically adjustable dampers are optional. The R-Design tacks on unique 18-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension (although the adjustable dampers are unavailable), various sporty styling cues, a power passenger's seat and exclusive leather upholstery. Notable options include xenon headlamps, a sunroof, a navigation system, a 12-speaker Dolby Pro Logic stereo and a rear-seat entertainment system with monitors installed in the front headrests. Much of the equipment that is standard on the fancier models is optionally available on the T5.
The S60's front seats are things of beauty on long trips. They don't have the million-way adjustability of, for example, BMW seats, but they honestly don't need it. You simply sit down in the S60's seats, drive for hundreds of miles, and get out feeling like you just started. The R-Design adds extra bolstering for cornering support, but these seats are still at their best when you're pointed straight ahead. Too bad about the back seat, then, which is unexpectedly snug for both legs and heads.
Volvos have had some of the prettiest interiors in the business for years now, and the S60 might have the best one yet. From the distinctive graining of the supple dashboard material to the signature "floating" center control panel and available Ikea-like wood trim, the S60's cabin is a wonderful place to spend time. We appreciate its distinctiveness, too; from the driver's seat, there's no mistaking this car for anything but a Volvo. Even the font used for the gauges and buttons is unique. Ergonomics are another strong point, and we particularly enjoy Volvo's trademark human diagram of buttons for directing airflow.
Alas, the S60's 12-cubic-foot trunk is like its back seat: small. The S60 is not really a small car, so we expected more. Still, you can squeeze a couple of golf bags in there, so it's hardly a deal breaker.
The S60's standard iPod/USB/Bluetooth connectivity is welcome but increasingly de rigueur at this price point. What we're most excited about is the standard seven-inch information and entertainment screen, which finally puts Volvo's cabin technology in line with its cutting-edge interior design. It's not a touchscreen, but we're cool with that. The control buttons are straightforward, and they ensure that you won't get fingerprint smudges all over your display. We also approve of the optional navigation system, which doesn't have the sharpest graphics in the industry but is refreshingly easy to use.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The base S60 T5 features front-wheel drive and a 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-5 that makes 250 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. The T6 AWD steps up to-you guessed it-all-wheel drive and a six-cylinder engine, specifically a turbocharged inline-6 with 300 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. The R-Design keeps the same fundamentals as the T6, but cranks up the boost to 325 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. All S60s employ a six-speed automatic transmission.
In truth, the T5 engine delivers more than enough punch for most folks' tastes, and we like its offbeat five-cylinder thrum at full throttle, too. It also delivers superior fuel economy at 20 mpg city/30 mpg highway, which isn't great by class standards but easily trumps the 18/26 mpg rating of the AWD models. But there's the rub: the T5 can't be had with all-wheel drive. So if traction on snow and ice is a serious concern, you'll have to step up to at least the T6, which isn't a bad thing-the turbocharged inline-6 produces serious acceleration, putting the S60 T6 on par with high-performance stars like the BMW 335i, even if its fuel economy is far behind.
We'd appreciate better manners from the six-speed automatic, though, as its firm, deliberate shifts feel a few years behind the times. Also, we're not sold on the R-Design's performance value: it doesn't feel significantly quicker than the T6.
The 2012 Volvo S60 comes with standard stability control and six airbags as well as a slew of driver aids designed to reduce accident risk, including a collision-warning system and whiplash-reducing front seats.
True to its reputation, Volvo has created a crash-test superstar with the S60. In government crash testing, the S60 was awarded the maximum five-star rating in every scenario, while the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the S60 its top rating of Good in every category.
Putting aside the R-Design's racy pretensions, the S60 is hardly a sports car in disguise like the BMW 3 Series or the Infiniti G37. No, this Volvo is simply a solid, smooth, swift luxury sedan with an unconventional sense of style, and if you ask us, that's a great combination. The ride is agreeable, road noise is subdued, and while the chassis is capable enough in corners, it doesn't beg for attention like, say, the Infiniti. We could commute in an S60 every day and be perfectly content.
Other Cars to Consider
Acura TSX - The four-cylinder TSX gets spanked by the turbocharged Volvo, but there's also a TSX V6, and we think that's an interesting alternative to the S60. It has a compelling price, too.
BMW 3 Series - Redesigned for 2012, the 3 Series boasts amazing fuel economy (24/36 mpg with the 328i, 23/33 mpg with the 335i), ample power and a larger interior with room for adults in back. It'll cost you, though, if you're not careful with the options.
Volkswagen CC - You'll give up a little power if you get the turbocharged four-cylinder CC, but you'll get a lot of style in return, and the CC's just a pleasure to drive. Surprisingly decent back seat, too.
Stick with the T5. It's reasonably priced, plenty powerful, and hey, the Swedes have been driving through their harsh winters with front-wheel drive for decades now, so the T5 should do just fine in the white stuff.