If you ask just about anyone to describe a Volvo, chances are that descriptors such as “boxy,” “safe” and “station wagon” will more than likely come up with great frequency. Now, there is obviously nothing wrong with an automaker being known for its vehicle safety, but boxy sedans and station wagons just weren’t cutting it in Volvo’s lineup.
Beginning with the all-new XC60 crossover and S60 sedan, Volvo has helped reinvigorate its lineup with added style, safety and technology, and the recent addition of Volvo’s new Drive-E engine technology shows the continued commitment from Volvo to create cleaner, more advanced and more exciting vehicles in the mid-level luxury segment.
Following an extensive styling update for 2014, Volvo went to work on the S60’s drivetrain for the 2015.5 model year (the Drive-E engines are a mid-model year addition while the previous engines carry over). Like many other automakers these days, Volvo looked to downsize its engine lineup, and its new family of Drive-E engines utilizes direct injection and forced induction to improve power and fuel economy while reducing displacement and weight.
Both Drive-E engines consist of an aluminum 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder with the T5 model getting a turbocharger and the T6 featuring both a turbocharger and supercharger working in unison. This latter engine is what we had the chance to experience for a week under the hood of the 2015.5 Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E, and it features two of the best names in forced induction using an Eaton supercharger and a BorgWarner turbo.
While the 2.5-liter inline-five (T5) and 3.0-liter inline-six (T6) are available for the S60’s all-wheel drive models, the front-drive S60 T6 features the twin-charged Drive-E that is tuned to produce 302 hp and 295 lb-ft (400 Nm) of torque available from just 1,800 rpm all the way up to 5,500 rpm.
This output is on par with the 325-hp inline-six, while providing better fuel economy than the previous base five-cylinder engine. The Drive-E engine allows the S60 T6 to achieve EPA-rated fuel economy estimates of 24 mpg city, 35 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined (9.8, 6.7 and 8.4 l/100km, respectively) putting it at the top of the class for its segment, and that doesn’t even factor in the better mpg ratings from the T5 Drive-E.
Both versions of the S60 using the Drive-E engines feed power to the front wheels through a new eight-speed Geartronic automatic transmission that can be manually shifted via the shift lever or the
steering wheel paddle shifters.
Volvo’s new engine helped shed precious pounds from the S60’s curb weight.
In base form, the S60 T5 has dropped almost 100 pounds (45 kg) compared to the same model from the 2014 model year, and with a curb weight of 3,472 pounds (1,575 kg), the S60 T6 Drive-E we drove weighs 340 pounds (154 kg) less than 2014 S60 T6 AWD
and is 212 pounds (96 kg) lighter than the 2015 T6 AWD R-Design.
Since the inline-six wasn’t offered as a front-wheel drive model, both of these are somewhat of an apples-to-oranges comparison, but you get the picture.
The true joy of this twin-charging is experienced once you’re out on the road where the reduced curb weight helps make the S60 handle better. With all that mass removed from the S60’s nose, it is more compliant when pushed in the corners and there is no understeer when pushed hard.
To make matters even better, Volvo offers the Sport Chassis on the S60 T6 Drive-E models equipped with the optional 19-inch “Bor” alloy wheels. This unique chassis tuning includes a stance that has been lowered by 15 mm, sportier rear dampers and an R-Design strut tower brace. Since we didn’t have the opportunity to drive this S60 back-to-back with a non-Sport Chassis model, it’s hard to say just how much these changes actually improve the overall dynamics of the car. As it stands, this front-drive S60 T6 Drive-E is surprisingly fun, which isn’t a commonly associated term with Volvo.
The fun comes with the impressive throttle response (with no turbo lag) that allows this car to accelerate from 0-60 mph in just 5.6 seconds, and as quiet as this Volvo’s interior is, there’s even a hint of supercharger whine when you step hard on the accelerator pedal.
Despite the plentiful amount of torque readily available at almost all engine speeds, it is worth noting that torque steer is nonexistent. Sadly, as sporty as the engine and chassis were, the electric power steering was tuned a little too light and could have been more direct, while the brakes feel more like an economy car rather than a true luxury sedan with sporty aspirations. The brakes weren’t awful; they just didn’t feel like they were up to the same level of performance as the engine and the rest of the chassis.
When spirited driving isn’t required, Volvo’s new ECO+ functions help squeeze the last mile from every gallon of gasoline. ECO+ includes ECO-climate (air conditioning compressor disconnects to reduce loads on the engine) and ECO-coast (conserves energy by disengaging the engine from the drive wheels during deceleration), and even the Start/Stop technology we’ve come to see on many cars is uniquely tuned for the S60 in that it can shut the engine down at 4 mph (7 kph) as the car coasts to a stop.
This suite of fuel-saving technologies seemed to be of more assistance in city driving rather than highway driving since our city averages consistently outperformed the official EPA estimates and our highway numbers were pretty much on par. After a full week with the S60 (including plenty of acceleration tests), the digital trip computer showed an average fuel economy of just under 29 mpg (8.1 l/100km) after traveling about 400 miles (643 km).
The new Drive-E engines deservingly take most of the spotlight when it comes to the 2015.5 Volvo S60 T6
However, Volvo also made some improvements to the sedan’s chic and functional interior. The most notable is that the standard Volvo Sensus infotainment system now adds Sensus Connect, which includes cloud-based apps (such as Stitcher, Pandora, Yelp) and an Internet browser that can be operated when the vehicle is at a complete stop.
These functions are controlled using a rotary dial located on the button-heavy center stack, and while it takes a little while to get used to navigating web pages and apps one link at a time, it’s generally an easy system to operate. When it comes to the seven-inch display screen, the good news is that it is set deep enough into the instrument panel that there is no chance of glare coming off the screen, but the bad news is that it is a disappointingly small screen considering the amount of real estate available.
Other enhancements delivered for the 2015.5 model year include a new Convenience Package, which is standard on Platinum and optional on lower trims, that adds Keyless Drive, rear park assist camera, a flip-up grocery bag holder in the trunk and power retractable outside mirrors.
There’s also the new 12-speaker, 650-watt Harman Kardon Premium Sound System and Volvo On Call. Volvo On Call is a telematics system that brings automatic collision alert, GPS location tracking (for use by first responders) and an SOS button for the driver to activate, if needed. For those who like to stay connected, the most important aspect of Volvo On Call is the standard 3G-based Wi-Fi Hotspot it provides. Sensus Connect and Volvo On Call both require a paid subscription, but Volvo picks up the tab for the first six months of ownership.
Even with these changes, the overall look and feel of the interior hasn’t changed all that much leaving the interior with its Ikea-like ambiance. The first thing you notice about the interior of this S60 T6 Platinum is the saddle brown (Beechwood) leather that covers the seats and door panels. There is also supple black leather wrapping the steering wheel and shift lever, and the rest of the interior is finished with bright metallic trim and plenty of soft-touch materials.
Front passengers are welcomed with comfortable yet supportive sport bucket seats, but it’s the driver who has the best view. Aside from the perfectly sized, leather-wrapped steering wheel, the S60 also provides the nifty Thin Film Transistor (TFT) gauge cluster, which allows drivers to select from three different themes: Elegance, Eco and Performance. The Performance theme is the best looking of the three with the large circular cluster housing a massive tachometer and a digital speed display. For rear occupants, the sport-inspired bench seat would be a bit tight for three adults, but that’s par for the course in this segment. With just two passengers, the rear accommodations almost give the feeling of bucket seats with the raised center portion creating ample side bolstering.
There’s also the fold-down center armrest with cup holders and a storage compartment. When it comes to cargo capacity, the S60’s trunk is on the small side with just 12 cubic feet (339 liters) of cargo space.
Four years ago when the current Volvo S60 made its big debut, it was one of the more dynamic and sporty looking entrants in the compact luxury car segment, and while this design is still undeniably handsome, it just doesn’t quite compare to the styling of more current offerings like the Acura TLX, BMW 3 Series, Cadillac ATS and Lexus IS.
The 2014 update brought a cleaner front end with LED daytime running lights, but for the most part, this design is the same as it was in 2010. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as the S60 – along with the XC60 – has helped improve the brand identity for Volvo, although with newer competitors coming out each year, this look is aging fast.
Safety has always been paramount to Volvo, and the 2015.5 Volvo S60 lineup is no different. In addition to the full five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
and the coveted Top Safety Pick+ from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
), the new S60 offers many advanced technologies.
This, of course, includes Volvo’s innovative City Safety system, but the Platinum trim level comes standard with the Technology Package as well, which adds Adaptive cruise control, collision warning with full auto brake, Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection with Full Auto Brake, Active High Beam headlights.
Another safety feature that comes standard on the S60 Platinum as a part of the Technology Package is the Lane Keeping Aid. When the forward-mounted camera notices the car starting to drift out of its lane, it will first buzz the steering wheel to give the driver haptic feedback.
If the driver still doesn’t react and the car continues to change lanes without a turn signal, the steering system automatically guides the car back into its lane, but it does so in a rather abrupt manor that could catch drivers off guard if they aren’t expecting it. Finally, this tester was fitted with the $900 Blind Spot Information System package adding blind spot monitors, cross traffic alert (for backing up) and front and rear park sensors.
Above all else, Volvo’s desire to be competitive in the mid-luxury set comes down to its pricing
The 2015.5 S60 T5 Drive-E is right in the sweet spot. In base form, the S60 T5 Drive-E is right in the thick of the segment with a starting price of just $33,570 in the US, and if you can restrain yourself from checking any option boxes, the MSRP of the S60 T6 Drive-E is still a reasonable $39,000. Knowing that most customers won’t be opting for the base, stripped-down models, this fully loaded Premium trim level was still competitively priced with an as-tested price $46,525.
Prices in Europe are a bit higher, with the new generation of engines asking €37,500 for the T5 Drive-E and €45,500 for the T6 model. That's just the starting price, though, as optionals can quickly get the price tag upwards of €50,000.
It is still going to take some time before Volvo can shed its stereotypical boxy car image, but new products like this 2015.5 Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E should help speed that process up. While the styling and some of the cabin tech still lags a little behind the competition, the performance and driving enjoyment exhibited by the Volvo’s updated entry-level sedan definitely do not.
There is still some time before Volvo can put any real heat on its German, Japanese and even American luxury rivals, but based on the 2015.5 Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E, don’t count this brand out just yet.