2015 Volvo S60 T6 Review
By Ken Glassman
A Hooligan Volvo Sedan? Yes, but . . .
Ever since the 1960’s Volvo’s built their reputation by being a boxy (homely?) vehicle that was reliable, fuel efficient, roomy, and most of all . . . a very safe vehicle. It sold safety, when American cars were selling big engines and style, and Japan was selling cheap cost. College professors, wearing tweed sport coats with patches on the elbows, and young conservative families interested in safety seemed like the average buyers. But in the last 20 years or so, all car companies built safety into their cars, and Volvo no longer stood out for those attributes.
Volvo today, like many other car companies (think Buick), are trying to distance themselves from their stodgy past reputations. Volvo is still touting their safety features, but packaging them in cars with sexier styling, and greater performance. Volvo has achieved their goals with this front wheel drive S60 T6 Drive-E (boy that’s a mouthful).
For some unknown reason, Volvo has kept their old T5 and T6 designations, which stood for 5 or 6 cylinders, for their new 2-liter, 4 cylinder engines. The base T5 Drive-E engine is a turbocharged unit with 240 horsepower. The T-6 in the test car is both turbocharged and supercharged, and it puts out a stunning 302 horsepower, with 295 pound-feet of torque. That a lot of ponies from an inline four, which makes it feel more like a small V-8. You can expect zero to 60 times under 6-seconds, which is impressive.
Yet, gas mileage is rated at a thrifty 24 City / 35 Highway. On the downside, the start/stop engine feature is not as refined as those on most other cars. You can hear and feel the engine re-start when removing your foot from the brake pedal. It isn’t really annoying, but it just isn’t as seamless as most other vehicles equipped with that feature. If you put the transmission in Sport mode, that feature is automatically turned off, however.
My gas mileage suffered, since with the amount of power, and torquey feel to this engine, the car just begs to be thrashed around and not driven like a college professor. The 8-speed manumatic with Sport setting, or paddle shift and gear shift capabilities urge the driver to dial it up at every opportunity. When shifting for yourself, each up or downshift is immediate and smooth, just like other European luxury sedans. And the chassis is up to the task of hard driving and cornering, with little body roll in the turns.
Steering is quick and responsive, with good feel and road feedback. Under hard acceleration, however, you feel some front wheel drive twitchy torque steer, making aggressive corner exits a bit herky-jerky . . . but, oddly, that’s part of the fun. This Volvo lets you dart about in traffic, and is quick enough to make you want to pull out and pass slower traffic on 2-laners. It can be a real hooligan ride when you’re in the mood.
Ride quality is luxury plush, well damped, and it feels solid. But it never feels mushy or loose when pushed hard. Brakes are strong with good feel, offering the driver even more confidence to drive aggressively.
I find the exterior styling to be handsome, with a new front end, and nice character lines on the hood. A profile look, with its sleek aero roofline, is striking, even if the sides of the car are a bit plain. But the front and rear corners have some pop, and the duck tail rear end and aggressive looking dual exhaust tips make the car look like it should at this luxury price point.
Interior accommodations are excellent, and luxury car handsome. The heated leather seats are absolutely the best ones I’ve ever sat on. They are wide enough to be all day comfortable, yet provide outstanding bolstering around the hips and rib cage. Too many other sport seats are uncomfortable for anyone who buys their jeans in a size larger than 32” waist, and just too narrow and confining. These seats don’t confine you, they embrace you. And the stylish saddle stitching are first rate. The only thing to criticize about the seats, is that the lumbar adjustment isn’t electric. There is a dial on the right side of the seatback which requires a contortionist to reach and adjust. Poor execution on that point. Our car had the saddle colored seat inserts, and matching door panels, which broke up the otherwise monotone dark interior. The moonroof, however, allows for sunlight to brighten the cabin as well.
Rear seats are also coddling and comfortable for 2 adults. Tall people might want for a bit more legroom and a bit more headroom, as the sloping shape of the roofline, intrudes on headroom. The trunk is large, and nicely finished, with the rear seats folding flat for more cargo capacity.
The new dash is simple, with an electroluminescent gauge packaged in front of driver. It’s almost like a motorcycles’. A single large gauge with the perimeter tach needle, and digital speed readout in the center. A small screen shows radar cruise control and adjustable following distance. Another nice touch is a Speed Limit display showing the speed limit on the road you’re traveling on. That feature is usually shown on the Nav screen, but this is better placement. Temp and fuel gauge flank the center dial, and small readouts to show MPG and Elapsed time, trip A and B. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find distance to empty reading.
The test car had the $3,750 Platinum Package, which includes upgraded sound system, and active dual Xenon headlights, and a list of high tech features, like Adaptive Cruise Control, Collision Warning with full Auto Brake, Pedestrian/Cyclist Detection with Auto Brake, Distance Alert, Lane Departure Warning, Active High Beam, Blind Spot Monitor and more. The Lane departure warning sends a vibration through steering wheel, that feels like you’re driving over road reflectors, and gently corrects and guides the car back on intended path. The front and rear collision warning activates a series of red warning lights that show up on the lower windshield to let you know when you’re getting too close, and will flash when you get really close and then activate the brakes. Just a reminder that Volvo still stands for safety.
But all is not well in Volvo-land. This car has all the electronic connectivity you’d expect, but they make it very hard to use and enjoy it. The center stack features the electronic controls but they lack in too many ways to overlook.
Beneath the small Navigation screen is a control panel with telephone dial pad, and myriad buttons surrounding that. Dials to tune radio and volume are below that with the radio tune dial on the right becoming a multiuse dial to control the various settings screens, and infotainment systems. It is maddeningly difficult to use, and poorly designed. It’s like the BMW iDrive, except harder to use, and even less intuitive.
The dial pad can be used to dial the phone if you choose not to use the voice operation, but those buttons also double as the radio pre-set buttons. One problem we found was that if you were driving with the Nav screen showing, and wanted to change the radio station by using the dial pad, the Nav screen would come up with delta points along the perimeter, which I couldn’t understand the purpose for, and not change the station. You have to push the radio button on the center stack to get to the radio, and then use the dial pad to use the pre-sets. You could use a redundant control on the steering wheel to change the station, but that only goes up and down your preset dial list, and not get a direct change. And the Nav screen doesn’t show the radio station you’re listening to, so unless you’re on the radio screen, you don’t know what channel you’re on. Pairing my smart phone went easily enough, but not the contact list.
Another of the interior design faults, is that there is no place to place your cell phone or music device. Most manufacturers have a cubby at the bottom of the stack for those items, and have the plugs to recharge the phone, And USB and Aux plug. The Volvo has a 12-volt plug between the cup holders, and the other plugs are hidden in the small center console. There is a tray behind the lower center stack, but that is very difficult for the driver to access, and even dangerous to try while driving, so it’s not much use.
So while Volvo has included all the connectivity and features you’d expect in a luxury car, accessing them is very difficult cumbersome and poorly designed. No wonder the suicide rates in the Nordic countries is so high.
I’m not a techie person, and don’t use all of the available electronics features found on modern cars. When I’m in the car, I drive. I listen to the radio, and only occasionally use the cell phone for brief calls. I use the Nav system and expect it to be easy to input an address, and navigate easily with the address book, and other Nav features.
I don’t want my car to distract me by reading me text messages, or dictating them. I don’t retrieve e-mails or dictate them. I don’t need the car to be a hot spot, or call someone to make my dinner reservations, or order flowers for my wife. I just want it to be easy to operate those basic things I use. So as much as I loved driving this car, I hate to say it, but the electronics would be a deal breaker for me.
The base price of the S60 T6 Drive-E is $39,000. Adding the Platinum Package, and the $1,550 Climate Package, which adds the heated seats, steering wheel, windshield, and washer nozzles, along with $900 for the 19” wheels, and $900 for the Blind Spot, Cross Traffic Alert, and Park Assist, and you get a bottom line of $47,575.
At that price, there are many stylish cars, with excellent performance, luxury appointments, and are fun to drive. And all of them will have a much better infotainment systems. When Volvo sorts out theirs, I’ll be happy to revise my judgement.
2015 Volvo S60 T6 Review
By Ken Glassman