Review: 2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD

By Kevin Miller

I am no stranger to 300 HP, midsized Volvos. As the original owner of a 2004 Volvo V70R, I’ve watched the development of the S60’s second generation with great interest. As the original S60 remained in production long past its sell-by date, Volvo needed a replacement that could continue the original car’s’s style, while improving on rear seat room and the original S60’s now-antiquated in-car electronics.

Volvo has launched the S60 with a marketing campaign referring to the car as the Naughty Volvo. While the new S60 T6 AWD does not carry the R moniker, it probably could. Rated 300 HP, with a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transaxle, the car does a much better job of smoothly transferring power to the ground than the R-series cars ever did, and Volvo’s latest-generation AWD system makes the car feel less front-heavy than one would be expect, given the car’s front-drive-based foundation. Unfortunately, neither a manual transmission nor the V60 wagon version of the vehicle are destined for the US market.

The S60 I reviewed was finished in a beautiful metallic orange shade called Brilliant Copper – the same color featured in most of the car’s press photos – and featured natural-colored leather upholstery.  The car was essentially orange inside and out.  I found the color palette distinctive, though many people who saw the car found the colors to be garish or unattractive. It is certainly a departure from the silver and beige hues Volvo typically offers.

The S60’s body is a nice evolution of Volvo’s styling language, especially with the three-dimensional shape of the tail lamps and the surfacing that surrounds them. The 18” wheels fill the wheel openings nicely. Still, the car does look a bit nose-heavy (and grill-heavy), and the body’s height is noticeable, especially when the car is dirty so that light doesn’t highlight the subtle curves on the car’s profile. The shape lacks the Coke-bottle profile of the original S60, but is still decidedly attractive and sporty looking to my eyes; my logbook has phrases like “looks modern,” “stylish,” and “fluid.”  Fortunately, the car I tested lacked the available tacked-on silver underbody cladding which is part of an optional appearance package.  One design demerit is that the new S60’s headlight shape is not unlike those found on the Pontiac G6 – surely not an association that Volvo was gunning for.

The S60’s interior continues Volvo’s Scandinavian-chic styling theme, with trademark comfortable heated seats and nice interior materials. Small gripes include a too-short, too-flat bottom cushion for the driver’s seat, pedals that seemed too close to the driver’s seat (or too far from the firewall), and a silver badge on the dash-mounted center channel speaker that reflected in the windshield. Also, the armrest on the driver’s door was not long enough to actually rest my arm on with the driver’s seat in its rearmost position.

A highlight of the S60’s interior is Volvo’s new multimedia system, which incorporates a single color display for audio, navigation, climate, camera, and vehicle setup functions; this is a welcome change from the dual-screen system (as experienced in the 2010 Volvo XC60), which had a color screen for navigation/backup functions, and a monochromatic two-line dash-top display pod for audio and vehicle setup functions. While the new system is appreciated, operation of the system and its non-touchscreen control is not always straightforward.  The navigation display trumps all other functions, meaning that climate and audio settings are not visible at all if the navigation map was displayed on the screen, a frustration shared with the unrelated navigation system in the Cadillac CTS.

Controls for the system are found on the S60’s trademark floating center console, and consist of quite a few small buttons around the perimeter of a rectangular climate control area. Heated seat controls were unintuitive to use even after a week with the car, being located in the center of the dual temperature controls.  The only indication of heated-seat operation was on the main display screen (and only if the navigation system wasn’t active).

Among the vehicle settings on the screen’s “My S60” menu is one for steering effort, where Light, Normal, and Heavy effort levels are selectable. Having tried each, I’d say that the normal level is the right one for the car in everyday use. I initially liked the Heavy setting, but after a while it made driving seem like a chore requiring too much physical effort.

The S60 I drove was equipped with a host of standard and optional safety systems including lane departure, driver alert, City Safety collision warning/distance alert, Adaptive Cruise Control with Queue Assist, and Pedestrian Detection (which I experienced firsthand at the Naughty Volvo launch event in August).  In addition to the car’s backup camera, the S60 I reviewed was equipped with a front-view camera, which gives views to each side as you pull out of a blind driveway or parking garage. I actually used it as intended on a couple of occasions and found it quite useful.

My first three days with the S60 coincided with an early winter storm in Seattle, with several inches of snow and temperatures as low as 10° F paralyzing the region. While you might expect an all-wheel-drive car from Sweden to be unflappable in such weather, unfortunately this one isn’t, at least as equipped. The T6 AWD trim comes with summer performance tires, which offered similar traction to hockey pucks on a rink. With all four wheels spinning under even light acceleration, the car slid every direction except forward, with the DSTC stability/traction control causing plenty of clicking and groaning as it tried to get the S60 moving forward. I literally had to park the S60 and use my own V70R with winter tires until the region thawed.

Because I have small children, I end up installing child seats in every vehicle I review, and I prefer to use the LATCH system anchors for my two-year-old’s forward-facing convertible carseat. That being said, the upper tether anchor location in the S60 was one of the most difficult to access of any vehicle I’ve used. Rear seat headrests fold forward electrically when a button on the center stack is pressed, requiring contortions from the back seat to release the headrest. Still, whether the headrest was folded or upright, there was not sufficient room to route the seat’s upper tether latch/strap. I ended up routing it over the upright headrest, but the proximity of the headrest’s top to the sloped backlight meant it was very difficult to tighten the tether. Once in place, with the driver’s seat adjusted to its rearmost position to accommodate my 6’ 4” frame, my daughter could easily kick my seatback.

For an adult, back seat legroom is adequate as long as those up front are willing to compromise their legroom just a little; sculpted seatbacks provide decent knee room, and I found headroom to be adequate. The rear seats are nicely shaped and even have some bolstering in the outboard positions.

Interior storage was adequate but not what I’d call abundant; each door has a small bin (not large enough for a water bottle), the front console and rear armrest each have two cupholders and a lidded bin. Additionally there is a decent-sized glovebox, map pockets on the back of each front seat, and shallow pockets on the front edge of each front seat bottom cushion.

On the road (once the snow melted), Volvo’s latest 300 HP performance flagship really impressed me with power delivery and handling. The S60 has a firm-but-not-harsh ride that suits the car’s sporting intentions and provides good roadholding. The S60 felt very quick, and though it is a front-wheel-drive-based AWD car, the system’s “active torque vectoring” algorithm really reduces the tendency to understeer at speed which are inherent in such a platform. Still, flooring the accelerator from a stop can briefly overcome the front tires’ traction as weight shifts rearward and before the rear wheels are given power.

The 3.0 liter turbocharged inline six was incredibly smooth from idle all the way to redline, truly the polar opposite of the former S60’s inline five-cylinder in that regard. The six-speed automatic transmission also down- or up-shifted smoothly and readily, though it lacks the programming for rev-matching downshifts that many vehicles now offer, and manually commanding shifts (only in manual gate on the console-mounted shifter) doesn’t hasten shifts at all. Having the transmission in Sport mode alters the ECU programming to really wake the S60 up, and the car was noticeably quicker with more aggressive throttle response and gears were held longer.

My S60 was not equipped with the optional keyless access, which is thoughtless omission on a nearly $50k car. This meant that the key fob had to be inserted into a slot on the dashboard next to the start button to start the car… but then the fob could be removed without any repercussions.  A fancy feature the S60 was equipped with was Adaptive Cruise Control with Queue Assist. That system allowed a speed to be set, and the car would drive that speed while maintaining a following distance, or would slow and come to a complete stop. I was very impressed with the system, though my wife thought the system’s last-minute and heavy-handed responses felt like a bad driver was at the helm.

During my wintry week with the S60 T6 AWD, I covered 231 miles with a mix of approximately 60% city and 40% highway driving, much of it taking advantage of the smooth inline six’s power, returning an average of just 19.2 MPG over the week. That doesn’t live up to the EPA ratings of 18/26/21 city/highway/combined.

The 2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD starts at $37,700. The test vehicle was equipped with the Premium/ Technology/ Climate/ Premium Package combo for $4400 (Power Glass Moonroof, Power passenger seat, Dual Xenon gas Discharge Headlights with Active Bending Light, Adaptive Cruise control with Queue Assist, Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake, Pedestrial detection with full Auto brake, distance alert/Driver Alert Control, Lane Departure Warning, Heated Front Seats, Headlight Washers, Headed Washer Nozzles, Rain Sensor, Interior Air Quality Sensor); Multimedia Package for $2700 (Volvo Premium Sound System with Dolby Pro Logic II Surround Sound, 650 Watt 12 Premium Loudspeakers, MultEQ XT by Audessey, Rear Park Assist Camera, Navigation System with Real Time Traffic and Voice Control); Metallic paint for $550, and destination charge of $850, for a total of $46,200. That isn’t an insignificant sum, but is equivalent to competing European sport sedans from BMW and Mercedes, as well as Cadillac’s CTS.

With its Swedish good looks, cutting-edge safety equipment and driver aids, the Naughty Volvo should help spark Volvo sales, which are sorely in need of such a spark. Its modern interior, stylish new exterior and smooth powertrain make the new S60 the best-driving vehicle Volvo has made since the departure of the S60R and V70R. While the new S60 T6 AWD is not available with a manual transmission, in every other regard it is superior to the previous S60, and becomes a genuine competitor in the sport sedan segment that includes cars like the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, and Mercedes-Benz C Class.

Author: Kevin Miller

As Autosavant’s resident Swedophile, Kevin has an acute affinity for Saabs, with a mild case of Volvo-itis as well. Aside from covering most Saab-related news for Autosavant, Kevin also reviews cars and covers industry news. His “Great Drive” series, with maps and directions included, is a reader favorite.

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4 Comments

  1. Thanks for a thoughtful review. Now I’ll choose between two 2011 models: an Audi S4 7-speed S tronic and a Volvo S60 T6 R-Design, which will be available next Spring.

  2. Kids under 4 years should not ride facing forward. Their undeveloped necks can not handle an impact.

  3. unknown, you’re advocating an extremely conservative approach. The American Academy of Pediatrics just updated their guidance in March 2011 to say rear facing is advised until age two, not four. Yes, the neck issue is a real one, but like everything else in life, sometimes parents have to make choices that balance safety with practicality and their sanity.

    Rear-facing child seats are an incredible hassle, as are screaming children who are bothered by a lack of interaction since they’re facing an empty seatback.

    Link: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/News/pages/AAP-Updates-Recommendations-on-Car-Seats.aspx

  4. I also have a 2011 Volvo s60 and looking for a convertible car seat for my 2-year-old. Given the tight spacing in the back, what seats did you find work best for this model?

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