Update1 - Additional info from Volvo Cars US in Performance article section.
Update2 - Clarifies that S60 Inscription is the new LWB model, and the only one imported from China.
Solid experience in any business can make you a bit cocky. You know your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats intimately.
A brilliant skillset for any field. One that helps you achieve results faster and better than others.
In the car reviews business, that often means you think you know a car pretty well... without even driving it. From other models in the brand's lineup, from previous generations and from reviews you have read.. you just have a good predictive sense sometimes.
That's how we started our week with the 2016 Volvo S60 T5. We expected a slightly floaty, slightly boaty but overall very competent Lexus ES350 rival. Even after years of disliking its style on the road... nothing could prepare us for the S60's total mediocrity.
America's first Chinese-made car slammed our hopeful predictions to the ground like an MMA fighter. Sure, it's ugly from all angles. And old: this basic car has been on the market for more than 10 years. But cloud-like refinement, quietness and comfort should make all those trendy concerns irrelevant, right? A superb car for calm retirees?
Perhaps in isolation, without driving any rivals. But that same buyer group would be better served looking for comfort, ease of use and efficiency in a base Altima than this S60 Inscription.
Find out what exactly made us dislike the S60 Inscription so much via the standard headings below: Exterior, Interior, Performance, Pricing and Summary.
The S60 will soon be a hometown hero for your Charleston-based author. Volvo Cars US is building a factory to make the next-gen S60 for 2018 less than an hour from CRD HQ.
And this was actually our first Volvo press fleet loaner. So all the cards are stacked in favor of finding "something" to like about car. Some way to imagine that a buyer group will like its qualities, even if they are a wide miss for you personally.
An important note: we call this the S60 and S60 Inscription in this review. Only the S60 Inscription is being imported from China versus Sweden for all other S60s.
The disappointment with the S60 starts right when you lay eyes on the car. It is not attractive whatsoever. More than that actually. It is nauseating from all sides.
Many Volvo's have been visual turds, of course. Right back to the 240DL! (*And before. And since).
But that car actually drove super smoothly, had rubbery but balanced rear-drive handling and was immensely practical. Not attractive, but who cares?
The S60 is a similarly aggressive level of ugliness that almost makes you take note. This optional $560 metallic Seashell paint does not help. The car looks best in dark colors. At night. With the lights off. The core look is so ghastly... it makes even an Avalon seem stylish.
"I'm gonna' make this car pretty, dammit!"
That was our FB post on the way out to shoot photos of the S60. It is a big challenge. In addition to the bulging overbite of the hood, the protruding snout of a grille and the Taurus-spec LED DRLs... the S60 Inscription just has no good angles. (To our eyes).
Moving into profile... and you are confronted with a sleek roofline in back and actually respectably-small overhangs. Then you look a bit closer at the wave-pool effect of the rear haunches. The flowing beltline mini-crease that seems lost -- trying to find the trunk edge but unable to make it there in one straight shot.
In back, the S60 is pretty nice. Fairly clean with nicely integrated twin exhgaust finishers in the lower bumper, and LEDs for the brakelights.
Exterior letter grade: D
Okay, surely the S60's interior will be its redeeming achievement? We have fond memories of the thumping stereos, squeely-fun torque steer and world's-best seats from the 850 Turbo.
First sitting in the S60 is an instant disappointment. The seats are still comfy, but they are mounted a good five inches too high off the floor. In their lowest setting. They also lack an extendable squab support for under-leg comfort. Or adjustable headrests.
The steering wheel is an unpleasant, large and old-fashioned design. It is adjustable for rake and reach -- but needs far more of both. It sticks up too high, and is too far away. You feel like you are driving a CR-V, basically.
Next up: the button-mess of the center stack controls. Complex, confusing and unhelpful at all times. Non-touchscreen is non-helpful, slow and low-res, even for its yestertech 7-inch dimensions. See the numbers in the middle? Like you are going to dial a car-phone? What year is this?
Between this unhappy region lives the OMNI_VENT! Capitals are ours, but the size and placement of this single central vent are bold all by themselves. Apparently, this one vent was so important that the mid-right HVAC vent had to be relocated to the dashboard. Bizarre, ugly and impractical. It is rounded like a child's toy. Under 2 years-old.
What's this? The side mirrors are supposed to be power foldable. But they do not fold. And the driver's side mirror was broken -- it would not 'click' into its main position. So when we hit 55-mph, the mirror would start folding itself away slowly from the air pressure. It took four times of adjusting its position via the cabin controls before we realized the actual mirror was just flopping around out there.
No mind. Let's set off... admiring the Inscription pack's V-shaped wood inlays and soft leathers for the seat faces. A clunk of the gearlever into Drive and we're off.
Interior letter grade: C-
Update from Volvo USA:
""All of the safety systems you mentioned, including lane keeping aid and forward collision warning are switched off via buttons on the center stack. The S60 Inscription is built exactly like the S60s from Europe, except for the 3 additional inches of legroom in the rear.""
Behind the wheel, the car is almost surreal in how poorly it drives. The technology and safety tentpoles of the Volvo brand are even major demerits on the ancient S60. Their intrusive, invasive alerts, steering corrections, constant ESP attempts to help, grabby brakes and general awfulness make them the first thing you will disable. We could not find the Off buttons for many of these systems, despite looking through menus and every button. The collision alert, for example, blasts up a bright red HUD square right in your field of vision when it thinks you are too close to another car. Because there is no other Heads-Up Display function, the first few times this happened it scares the S*** out you. Especially at night.
In all, the safety systems make the car drive like a nervous wreck. Almost any other, far cheaper Camry or Accord will hum along effortlessly and inoffensively.
Beyond the actively-bad safety features... things actually get worse for the S60. While quiet on the road and even at full throttle, the car is curiously bouncy over bumps and around corners.
six-speed automatic has immensely wide ratio spacing. This is an Aisin unit, we believe, best known for its appearance in many, many vehicles from 2004. (Transmission parts content is Japan, but it might not be a full Aisin unit.) We stand corrected. The window sticker notes this is an eight-speed 'Geartronic' automatic.
Regardless, it is miserable. The car is happiest at idle, without even a foot on the throttle.
When you give it half gas, the car does nothing. It meeeuuuwwws up a few MPH. Full throttle!?
Appallingly slow, buzzy and pretty rough on the 1-2 and 2-3 upshifts. Where is the power and the 258 pound-feet of torque? Seriously. Where is it? We'd ballpark a 9.5-second sprint to 60-mph for this S60 T5. Worst-in-class.
This 2.0-liter, 240HP engine is strong. We know it is strong from its other outings in Land Rovers and posh Fords. Somehow, the power has gone missing. We're be shocked if this car was actually making 175 horsepower. It is glacially slow, yet also has torque steer somehow. And ESP and TCS intervention, despite no chance of even squeaking the tires off the line in a brake-torque launch.
Then again, this is not the *same* engine. It is the same blueprints, but built by a totally different company using different suppliers. Much poorer ones.
To make a bad drive even worse... the steering is imprecise, needs constant correction at highway speeds, and is bad in all three of its 'firmness' modes. In Heavy, it is too heavy. Light makes the car drive like a spaceship -- with only a vague sense of where you are headed. Back to standard then. A compromise, sure. But the least bad.
Finally, our efficiency on the road was never above 26-mpg, which is a far cry from the 37-mpg highway that the window sticker promises.
Performance letter grade: F
The S60 T5 Inscription stickers from $38,700 for 2016, plus a $940 destination charge. Options on our test car were the Platinum pack for $3k with a long list of safety, comfort and convenience tech. We did love the one-touch door unlock buttons on all four exterior handles. Some cars have only driver's door, and some none at all. These lock or unlock the car without bothering to blip the keyfob. Other favorite detail? The frameless rearview mirror is delightful.
$1300 climate pack includes heated seats, wheel and washer nozzles. But not windshield wiper de-icers or cooled seats. $1425 for the Park Assist Pilot / BLIS pack is a must skip. Bad value and immensely irritating.
All in, the total for this car is $45,925. Which feels like about $10k too much.
Value grade: C-
We came away from this review with the S60 firmly at the bottom of our mid-size luxury sedan ranks, below even the Buick Regal GS, which shares a similar high-30s base price and $45k total to the S60.
There are redeeming qualities to the S60. But, like the S60's piggy design, they are best appreciated from the passenger seat vs. the driver's one.
We have no qualms about a Chinese-made vehicle. But this Volvo was so unlike any other we've ever driven... that it makes us worried for Volvo's future. It would be nice to try a Swedish-built S60 back-to-back with this Chengdu-made example.
Hopefully the next S60 and its Berkeley County, South Carolina assembly will be much closer to the Volvo we know and love. And an ocean away from this tired, sad and unlovable luxury car.
The harshest review we've ever written. The 2016 S60 T5 Inscription FWD is a D-grade car, and one that bodes very poorly for future Chinese imports.