CENT 2019 Volvo S60 first drive review: Familiar formula with a twist - Roadshow

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At first blush, it's easy to write off the 2019 S60 as yet another take on Volvo's familiar formula. But look closer, spend some more time with this svelte Swedish sedan, and you'll see that, in many ways, it represents the best of what Volvo has to offer.

Volvo introduced its Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) in 2014 with the launch of its XC90 SUV, and this modular platform now underpins every 60- and 90-series model in the company's portfolio. The S60 is the new kid, but incorporates all the tweaks Volvo has made to its SPA rubric over the years. It's even got a few performance tricks up its sleeve.

Family resemblance

The 2019 S60 is immediately recognizable as a modern Volvo. "Thor's Hammer" LED running lights cut through the headlamp housings and extend inward toward the sedan's grille, while squared-off corners on the lower front fascia give the S60 a more assertive appearance than its larger S90 sibling. A long dash-to-axle ratio -- especially for a front-wheel drive chassis, and interestingly, the only fixed-length part of the entire SPA architecture -- and short rear deck give the S60 proper sport sedan proportions, while a chiseled rump prominently wears a bold taillight signature.

Inside, it's a similar tale of familial resemblance. Every S60 gets Volvo's 9-inch Sensus infotainment touchscreen front and center, with a simple row of redundant controls below. Soft leathers, beautiful metal brightwork and open-pore wood line the dash, doors and center console. The front seats are some of the most supple and supportive I've ever had the privilege of sitting in, and a low beltline and expansive windscreen offer a commanding view of the world outside.

Rear passengers enjoy ample accommodations, the new S60's 3.8-inch longer wheelbase affording improved back seat legroom. With 13.8 cubic feet of cargo space, the S60's trunk is perfectly adequate for swallowing a week's worth of luggage, and the back seats fold for even more storage. But if frequent Ikea runs are your thing (see what I did there?), you'll obviously be better off with a V60 wagon or XC60 SUV.

Nicely appointed, super stylish and fitted with the best seats in the business. The S60's cabin is pure Volvo.Volvo

Sensus, now with less frustration

If there's one area in which Volvo's interiors have tended to struggle, it's infotainment. Which is why I'm happy to report that the S60 -- and, in fact, all vehicles produced from here on out -- get improved Sensus Connect hardware.

Every new Sensus system gets an upgraded chipset, which Volvo says improves processing power by 50 percent. Key areas of improvement include a reduction in system startup time (historically a big problem), navigation processing and readiness to display the backup camera (ditto). And indeed, everything works as advertised. Sensus fires up right away, and quickly responds to inputs. Previously, Sensus was kind of like a teenager -- slow to wake up, and if you asked it to do too much right away, it'd freak out and shut down. That should now be a thing of the past.

Sensus still isn't perfect, of course. The home screen itself is easy to navigate and beautiful to behold, but various vehicle settings are scattered throughout menus located on different screens, or in drop-down menus. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both included as standard equipment, however, and I love that the smartphone mirroring tech doesn't take over the entire Sensus display -- it's housed in the bottom quadrant on the home screen, for you to expand and collapse as you wish.

2019 Volvo S60

2019 Volvo S60

Sensus Connect might look the same, but thanks to a faster processor, it's way better to use.Volvo

Turbocharged and supercharged, with optional electric boost

You can buy the S60 with the same T5, T6 and T8 Twin-Engine powertrains found in Volvo's other SPA models, which all center around a 2.0-liter gasoline I4 engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission. The T5 exclusively uses front-wheel drive, while the T6 and T8 send power to all four wheels.

The T5 only adds a turbocharger to the 2.0-liter engine, resulting in a perfectly adequate 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Opt for the T6 and Volvo throws a supercharger into the mix, as well, for increased output of 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet -- numbers that best its 2.0-liter-equipped Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class rivals. Volvo says an S60 T5 will accelerate to 60 miles per hour in 6.3 seconds, while the T6 AWD shaves a full second off that time.

In T6 R-Design spec, I find that the S60 eagerly hustles along the canyon roads north of Malibu, California. There's an instant of hesitation before the full torque thrust arrives at 2,200 rpm, but power remains strong throughout the rest of the rev range in each gear. The automatic transmission shifts smoothly and doesn't require unnecessary coaxing to downshift for immediate power delivery. Steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters are a nice touch, but do little to really enhance the drive.

That's fine, because the T6 goes about its business with refined confidence. Not too hot, not too cold -- the S60 drives with a demeanor that feels incredibly well-rounded for this sedan's intended purpose. It's wonderfully compliant and comfortable on long stretches of the 101 Freeway, but offers taut reflexes when pushed around bends. I'd like a bit more weight to the steering effort in the car's standard mode (switching into Dynamic fixes that), but generally speaking, the S60 is perfectly pleasant in all situations. It's easily as enjoyable as an Audi A4 or Mercedes C300.

Three different powertrain options, including a plug-in hybrid with 400 horsepower, are available.Volvo

If you want a bit more power, you'll get it via electric assist. The S60 T8 Twin Engine combines the 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged engine with a 10.4-kilowatt-hour battery that drives a rear-axle-mounted electric motor, for total system output of 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque.

The T8 is a plug-in hybrid system, meaning you can drive the S60 on pure electric power, albeit only for about 20 miles. Volvo estimates T8 fuel economy of 27 miles per gallon city, 34 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined, compared to 21, 32 and 25, respectively, from the less powerful T6. That said, expect the T8 to cost about $8,000 more than a similarly equipped S60 T6.

Polestar Engineered

A few lucky buyers -- well, subscribers -- will get an even more potent hybrid system. The S60 is Volvo's first car to get its Polestar Engineered treatment, which adds go-fast goodies from the company's performance arm. The powertrain gets model-specific tuning that ups output to 415 horsepower and 494 pound-feet of torque -- healthy numbers, though this version weighs nearly 4,000 pounds. Polestar Engineered cars also get a front strut bar, gold-painted Brembo brakes, Öhlins adjustable dampers, 19-inch wheels and a few unique styling elements, like black chrome tailpipes and gold seat belts.

Truth be told, I have a love/hate relationship with the S60 Polestar Engineered treatment, though really it has nothing to do with the Polestar parts themselves. Those Öhlins dampers are a joy of joys, allowing for a great ride and handling balance on freeways, while still allowing the S60 to dig in and hang on while cornering on engaging roads.

The best part about the Polestar Engineered treatment? Öhlins dampers. They're fantastic.Volvo

Instead, it's the T8 Twin Engine powertrain that makes this model hard to really enjoy. Throttle response is twitchy, power delivery is wonky and peaky, and the brakes are awful. Not the Brembo brakes -- those work just fine. I'm talking about the jarring sensation that occurs when you switch from heavy regenerative braking to mechanical stopping power. Putting the car in Power mode or individually selecting Dynamic mode for the brakes ups the regen factor, and I guess improves linearity and smoothness of braking force, but after a few hours of driving, I couldn't quite get the hang of it.

Driven in a similar fashion on the same roads, I really found the T6 R-Design to be a much more cohesive experience. Give me those Öhlins dampers on a non-hybrid version -- that's the Polestar Engineered S60 (or V60) I want.

Not that it really matters for you, my friend, since all 20 US-bound S60 Polestar Engineered cars are already spoken for. But Volvo assures me this treatment will make its way to other models in the not-too-distant future.

I love gooooold. And Brembo brakes.Volvo

Buy, lease or subscribe

Instead, you'll be able to pick from Momentum, R-Design and Inscription trims, starting at $35,800. Volvo is packing the base Momentum with lots of standard equipment, too, including LED lights, 18-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof and the company's City Safety suite of driving aids, which includes collision warning with full auto brake, as well as pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection.

"We don't do stupid things [like] lower options or trims," says Volvo North America CEO Anders Gustafsson. "This car will absolutely not be a rental car. These are very well-spec'd cars."

The S60 R-Design starts at $41,900, while the more luxurious Inscription comes in at $42,900.

You can also go the Care by Volvo subscription route, which bundles the cost of your car, insurance and maintenance into one monthly payment. Volvo will offer the S60 Momentum for $775/month or the R-Design for $850/month. And the company says it won't have any trouble meeting subscription demand this time around, either.

The US is only getting 20 Polestar Engineered S60s to start, and they're already spoken for. Womp womp.Volvo

Swedish excellence, made in America

Look for the S60 to start trickling into showrooms right as we replace our 2018 wall calendars with 2019's. They won't have to travel far, either -- every S60 will be made at Volvo's brand-new manufacturing facility in South Carolina. This plant currently has the capacity to build 150,000 cars per year, and will eventually take on production of the next-generation XC90, due in 2021.

For now, the 2019 S60 completes the transformation of Volvo's lineup. It's as solid, stylish and easy to like as every other new Volvo, and better positions the S60 within the highly competitive class of compact luxury sedans.


Editors' note: Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, the manufacturer covered travel costs. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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