2015 Volvo S60 first drive review: Swede dreams (are made of this)

 

2014 Volvo S60

Volvo’s S60 remains solid as a rock, more fun than a national park…

When Annie Lennox and David Stewart (aka The Eurythmics) first released Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) in 1983, Volvos were known as very safe sedans and wagons, featuring a 3-box profile for the former and 2-box outline on the latter. As upright as Ron Paul and as sexy as Maggie Thatcher, the Volvo lineup was built with vault-like solidity and – generally speaking – stone-axe simplicity. And while Annie might not have driven one, Volvo’s target consumer at the time was ‘anyone with a pulse’, selling to both the practical and the impulsive. Thirty years later, Volvo’s newest S60 is still safe, although perhaps a tad less practical. And the box – whether liked or loathed – has left the building.

If you haven’t been paying attention (and many haven’t…) since Volvo abandoned the box with the launch of the S80 and S60 well over a decade ago, Volvo has spent the last several years rethinking itself. With virtually everything but today’s subcompacts wrapping themselves in a ‘safety’ slogan, it’s more difficult for Volvo to distinguish itself with that one descriptive, even if Volvo was arguably the first to do it. And Volvo’s celebrated effort with ‘design’ put off the loyalists, many of whom liked their Volvo boxes to look like, well, boxes. Volvo found itself caught in the middle, entirely too ‘safe’ for those with a penchant for BMW or Benz, and way too sexy for those wanting to drive Margaret Thatcher.

2014 Volvo S60

S60’s sheetmetal is new from A-pillars forward.

Of course, all of the above angst was complicated when Ford Motor Company threw in the towel, famously divesting itself of Volvo, Land Rover and Jag-u-ar. Many still argue that Ford CEO Alan Mulally should have kept Volvo and dumped Lincoln, but the die was cast; Volvo was sold to Chinese manufacturer Geely. And while, at a recent press launch for the refreshed S60 and newly introduced V60, ‘Chinese’ wasn’t on any menu, change in ownership almost always brings about a change in managerial confidence. Today you wouldn’t know it from either the PR or the platforms, all of which put their best ‘lb-ft’ forward.

Thankfully, Volvo eschews the ‘all-new’ (and overused) descriptive, instead calling changes to the Volvo S60 simply the ‘largest refresh’ in Volvo history. Significant changes to the S60 architecture include new front styling that ‘accelerates’ its sporty character, interior upgrades that enhance both its visual and seat-of-the-pants appeal, leading-edge safety technologies and – as you’d hope – a number of equipment enhancements intended to (hopefully) bolster Volvo’s value argument.

The refresh, not incidentally, includes an all-new family of engines using the same nomenclature – T5 and T6 – as the old engine family, despite the old units being five and six cylinders, respectfully, while the new family is 4-cylinder only. This happens, we suppose, when the Chinese try and speak Swedish…

2014 Volvo S60 Interior

Volvo S60 interior:

We’ve always liked the Volvo S60, in either of its two iterations; happily, the refreshed visuals do nothing to screw it up. Everything from the A-pillars (which frame the windshield) is new, including hood, front fenders and fascia. The grille is wider, and Volvo’s tradition-clad ‘Ironmark’ is larger and flanked by new headlights. Not to be overshadowed, the lower intake is both larger and wider, and gains – are you sitting down – bright accents! The budget was obviously blown up front, as the rear gets little more than new LED light guides (?) on the taillights, along with new integrated exhaust pipes.

While having little to base it on other than the very naked eye, the front seems to be pulled in a bit relative to its predecessor, which at least suggests less front overhang. Regardless, an already tidy exterior remains tidy and – perhaps – slightly more adventurous.

Biggest news, of course, is under the hood, where inline fives (and what was that about?) and sixes are replaced by two variations of one undersquare four banger, both displacing 2.0 liters. The more pedestrian of the two, the T5, is a turbocharged unit delivering 245 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Connected – at this writing – to only the front wheels (all-wheel drive buyers will have to opt for the old T5 or T6 for the immediate future), this new powertrain is more than adequate in propelling the test V60’s mass, hooking up to the 8-speed auto with all the speed necessary.

Even better – but in no way necessary – was the T6 variant. Here, that same 2.0 liter four wears both a supercharger and turbocharger. Since the supercharger is always running, regardless of rpm, it provides the immediate off-the-line response those with heavy feet so desperately need, while the turbo spools up at higher engine rpms. The end result on the dyno is 302 horsepower and an almost identical 295 lb-ft of torque. It is – as the Stella ads almost incessantly suggest – a thing of beauty.  And the powertrain will still deliver roughly 28 miles per gallon in combined City/Highway driving.

Our S6 was comprehensively equipped, offering both a sport chassis to enjoy and sport seats to contain that enjoyment, a 7-inch Sensus HMI screen, paddle shifters, premium sound and 19-inch alloys. Under the heading ‘Safety and Driver Support’ our Volvo enjoyed City Safety, Adaptive Cruise, Lane Keeping Aid, Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection with Full Auto Brake (which alerts you to both pedestrians and cyclists in your path; buses – of course – are still up to you…), and Park Assist Front and Rear.
Notably, both the Braille Institute and AARP have expressed their satisfaction with Volvo’s electronic addendum.

As equipped, options can push the S60 T6 Platinum, with a base price of $38K,  well north of $40,000. Taken within the context of the segment, where BMW’s 2-Series can easily reach the same price point, we were pleased by the Volvo’s level of both added-on content and built-in integrity.

In combination with an architecture still attractive and significantly improved efficiency, Volvo may not have buyers beating down the doors, but dealers might at least consider bigger doors. As Ms. Lennox so beautifully put it, “I travel the world and the seven seas…Everybody’s looking for something.” Volvo’s looking for more buyers, and for those buyers looking for more Volvo…well, their refreshed Volvo S60 would seem to deliver.