published Saturday, June 9th, 2012

Test Drive: Volvo's S60 sedan features stylish skin

The Volvo S60 combines a sleek body with impressive safety features.
Staff Photo by Mark Kennedy
The Volvo S60 combines a sleek body with impressive safety features. Staff Photo by Mark Kennedy

FAST FACTS

Model: 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD.

Exterior color: Flamenco Red Metallic.

Interior color: Beige leather.

Engine: 3.0 liter, six-cylinder turbo.

Horsepower: 300.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic.

Fuel economy: 26 mpg highway, 18 mpg city.

Dealer: Chattanooga Volvo.

Price (as tested): $41,970.

Twenty years ago, a Volvo was a lock box on wheels -- safe but stodgy.

In the last decade, though, Volvo's fleet of sedans and SUVs has seen a dramatic makeover. The S60 ups the ante with jaw-dropping styling that rivals the best from Jaguar.

This week, our test car was a 2012 Flamenco Red Metallic S60 T6 from Chattanooga Volvo on International Drive.

Product Specialist Randy Francisco said the mid-trim S60 T6 and the base S60 T5, which has a five-cylinder engine and costs a few thousand less, are both selling briskly.

STYLING

The S60 is one of those cars you want to walk around slowly and admire. From a three-quarters front view, the headlights sweep back dramatically, like the eyes of a cat on the run.

While old Volvos looked like they were drawn with a T-square, the S60 sheet metal has very few flat surfaces or 90-degree angles.

The attractive fascia features the familiar Volvo emblem embedded in a three-blade, chrome grill. A steeply angled windshield says speed, and the rounded rear panels give the car the appearance of strong hips.

Inside, the S60 is an example of the virtues of "less is more." In an era when the center stack of most luxury cars is about as easy to decipher as a Rubik's Cube, the S60 is a model of simplicity.

On a test drive, I found I could adjust the radio volume and the air conditioning fan speed without taking my eyes off the road. Simple controls are an underrated safety feature. Shoulder and leg room in the front seat is voluminous, although back-seat knee room is modest.

The S60's blind-spot monitoring system worked flawlessly. A little amber light in the A-pillar illuminates when there is a vehicle in (or approaching) your blind spot. As I get older, it's hard to turn my neck far enough to check the blind spot, so this $700 option is a true luxury item.

PERFORMANCE

With all this styling and safety, you might expect the S60 T6 wouldn't be a performance leader. But you'd be wrong. Our test car featured an six-cylinder turbocharged engine that makes 300 hp. The throttle response is amazing as the car leaps from 45 mph to 65 mph with just a flick of the foot.

For true performance junkies, there's a new S60 T6 R-Design, which tweaks the V-6 to extract 325 horsepower while retaining the T6's all-wheel-drive function.

On a test drive on Kings Road near Chickamauga Lake, the S60 T6 was well-behaved through winding curves and uphill grades.

BOTTOM LINE

Some Volvo buyers will only want to know the S60 T6 is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick. In reality, it is much more.

Our test car stickered for $41,970 without navigation, which can be added for about $2,800. At 26 mpg highway, the S60 T6 is frugal for a 300 horsepower machine.

With the S60, Volvo buyers can experience class-leading safety and head-turning styling, too.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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