Has it already been 16,023 miles since we took delivery of our 2012 Volvo S60? The time and the miles have flown by, and now that it's time to give back the Volvo, we've walked away with a better understanding of how the cultish Swedish brand addresses the big players that dominate the compact sport sedan segment.
We picked our long-term tester for its plucky independent attitude, and everything about its personality--from its pumpkin orange paint to its niche-y nook within the automotive universe--reinforces the idea that this is the vehicular equivalent to an outsider in a room full of popular kids. Buying a car is one of the bigger financial investments you'll make in your life, and the S60's $37,725 sticker price certainly reflects a commitment to going the quirky less-traveled route.
How did we feel about the S60 after nearly nine months? Let's break it down.
Regrets? We had a few.
Ordering a new car--especially a long-term tester--is an exercise in balance. On one hand, there's a natural temptation to load it up with every available option in order to evaluate the full spread of a manufacturer's offerings. On the other hand, there's an unfair advantage to ordering a car with no consideration to sticker price. That said, we did our best to outfit our S60 as we would our personal car: Using the $31,150 base turbocharged 5-cylinder model as a starting point, we added a Multimedia Package (with premium sound, navigation and a park-assist camera) for an extra $2,700. The $1,900 Premium Package included leather, a power-operated passenger seat and a power moonroo--a pretty irresistible deal, in our book. Metallic paint ($550) and keyless ignition ($550) rounded out our relatively modest options list, bringing the grand total to $37,725.
But at the end of the day, we also missed a few items. While heated seats ($700) were unnecessary in our balmy Southern California climate, in retrospect we would've liked to add the $2,100 Technology Package, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and distance alert. Also, a time machine would've been handy, as it would have enabled us to opt for the newly added option of electronically controlled all-wheel drive (a relatively steep $2,000)--not for the odd wet weather day in Los Angeles, but instead to mitigate the car's tendency for torque steer under hard acceleration due to its front-drive setup. Despite our misgivings about the S60's build sheet, we did appreciate that our tester rang in well below the $40,000 mark.
Life with Volvo, Day to Day
It's easy to get caught up in the emotion of a new car, but long-term life is another story. And while we were initially excited that our distinctively colored 2012 Volvo S60 stood out in a crowd, its unique orange color scheme didn't wear too thin after months of ownership. Similarly, the S60 proved a pleasant companion for daily chores; though we had gripes with the operation of its multimedia system, the S60 had no shortage of endearing qualities that made us dread giving it back.
First, those seats! We stand by our belief that Volvo makes some of the most comfortable perches in the business, a fact which was reinforced by several lengthy road trips including a nearly 800-mile round-trip to a Volvo press event in Scottsdale. The S60 also deserves high marks for its just-right proportions; neither too big nor too small, this Volvo felt compact enough to maneuver through traffic and into parking spots, while providing a spacious enough interior to accommodate four passengers.
However, the S60 was not as precise or viscerally rewarding as some of its rear-drive German counterparts; nimble and zippy, it certainly was fun to fling around town, especially when its transmission is in its more aggressive Sport mode, but one particular excursion to Angeles Crest Highway reminded us that this 3,548-lb sedan is more capable than outstanding when it comes to high-performance driving.
Routine errands were easy with the Volvo; one-touch door locking and unlocking helped when our hands were full of groceries, and kid-loading duties were easy since that function works on the rear doors as well as the fronts. Routine maintenance also proved a friendly experience at a nearby Volvo service center, and the car's only out-of-the-box defects--loose sunroof trim and a stinky odor from the air conditioner--were remedied easily enough, though it did take several weeks for the sunroof trim to arrive; at least it was replaced while we waited.
At the Pump
The Volvo S60 T5 is rated at 20 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, and during our time with the S60 we burned through just over 700 gallons of gas, averaging a grand total of 21.72 mpg--a number consistent with our primarily urban driving environment, seasoned with the occasional highway stint and road trip. Our actual fuel economy revealed the trip computer was fairly accurate for the most part, though it had a tendency to be optimistic by one to two miles per gallon. Despite our sincerest efforts at hypermiling, we couldn't eke out more than 28.6 mpg from a tank of gas; however, we're more likely to blame our lack of discipline than the car's inability to surpass the 30 mpg mark.
Would we have liked to see better fuel economy from the S60? We suspect we might have preferred the tradeoff of the all-wheel-drive T6's grunt for its EPA rating of 18/25 mpg, and the 6-cylinder's meatier powerband would have enabled more judicious throttle application. On the other hand, maybe it would have encouraged us to speed more, too, a potentially pricier proposition when all is said and done, especially if law enforcement gets involved.
Bottom Line: Anxiety Eased
Going into any automotive purchase can feel like a gamble, and straying from the big players--BMW, Mercedes-Benz, or any number of others--can feel like you're upping the ante of risk. If anything, our time with the Volvo S60 has reinforced our belief that the Chinese-owned Swedish carmaker builds capable, durable cars whose reputation for safety is also bundled with enough luxury and driving enjoyment to make them a viable alternative against mainstream European and American rides.
Will the S60 completely satisfy weekend autocrossers and wannabe racers? As we explained in our Volvo vs. BMW Smackdown, not quite, but considering its value proposition coupled with our experiences of almost entirely trouble-free motoring, not to mention its high quality interior and reassuring 5-year/50,000-mile free scheduled maintenance plan, we'd say that the Volvo S60 is quite the sleeper within the competitive world of sports sedans.
The most revealing emotion of all? We were truly sad to give back the Volvo, and we'll miss its unexpectedly warm Nordic personality, but coming soon to our long-term garage is the 2013 BMW 328i, which should provide an intriguing counter-argument against the S60. Stay tuned!