Volvo S60 Eager to Compete on Safety and Style

CALL ME VOLVO: A larger logo is one indication that Volvo means business with the updated S60. The four-cylinder engine is turbocharged and designed to give you more miles per gallon.
CALL ME VOLVO: A larger logo is one indication that Volvo means business with the updated S60. The four-cylinder engine is turbocharged and designed to give you more miles per gallon.

Ever since its reintroduction for the 2010 model year, the Volvo S60 has been a legitimate alternative to the ubiquitous BMW 3 Series. It’s available in both all-wheel-drive and front-wheel-drive configurations here in New England. For 2014, the second-generation Volvo S60 receives a double helping of technology, and Volvo is hoping to gain a lot of customers through aggressive leasing programs in the coming years. The S60 is key to that effort.

“Value” in this executive class of cars is relative. The S60 starts at $33,300 for the front-wheel-drive T5 Drive-E trim. The T5 AWD moves up to $34,800, and it’s possible to walk out of the dealer spending $42,700 for the full-on T6 R-Design AWD, with its 325 hp engine.

We drove a particularly unadorned version of the T5 Drive-E, which made do with cloth interior rather than the leather seats that add between $2,500 and $3,250 to the price tag, depending on which Premier package you select.

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Leading on MSRP isn’t necessarily the win for Volvo, though, especially now. Volvo has aggressively returned to the lease market after the economic downturn. Where it was previously leasing through an outside financing agency, in 2013, Volvo created its own captive financing company—Volvo Car Financial Services—to offer customers the best possible leasing environment. During the downturn, it meant that leases represented only 10 percent of Volvo sales. For 2014, Volvo is hoping to push that to 40 percent.

It’s part of an overall plan to push Volvo to 800,000 units worldwide by 2020. In the last decade, Volvo has been on a downward slide here in the United States. The company sold 139,000 cars here in 2004; last year, it sold only 60,000.

Part of the challenge is not only meeting the traditional Volvo competitors head-on—BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz, all with fresh new products at this end of the spectrum—but newcomers like Hyundai and Kia, that are delivering significant value in boldly styled new entry-luxury cars, and surprising comebacks like Buick.

If you’ve been considering S60s at all, the 2014’s revisions won’t offer huge surprises, but it did receive a pretty significant styling update for this year. It’s not quite as bold as the previous iteration, though the Volvo Ironmark logo sure is a lot bolder in the grille. You may or may not like that much, depending on how wedded you are to the brand. It’s a styling revision that heads much more toward the mainstream now, which enthusiasts might not care much for, but your average shopper looking to upgrade out of their five-year-old Malibu might find appealing.

The T5 Drive-E isn’t a performance car by any stretch of the imagination. With 240 hp out of its turbocharged four-cylinder engine, it’s more about adequate performance and improved fuel economy than beating out a 3 Series at a stoplight. Volvo has very little in the way of alternative fuel technologies. There’s no diesel in Volvo’s lineup, and there isn’t a hybrid, either. How it manages to stay ahead of ever-more-stringent Corporate Average Fuel Economy ratings is through milking everything it can out of a conventional internal combustion engine.

The Drive-E powerplant is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that offers the same power output as considerably larger six-cylinder engines, driving fuel consumption and CO2 numbers significantly lower. The engine uses low friction technology, an innovative engine management system, and common rail fuel injection to maximize the power extracted from every gallon of gasoline. The 240 hp four is mated to an eight-speed Geartronic automatic transmission, which offers a significantly better driving experience than the continuously variable transmissions that are typically used in fuel-saving configurations like this.

The T5 Drive-E also features an ECO+ function that essentially remaps the engine management, transmission shift points, and even the climate control system to lower fuel consumption by about 5 percent. The result is city fuel economy estimates of 25 miles per gallon and 37 mpg on the open road. In mixed driving, we observed 31 mpg, but that mixed driving was definitely concentrated on the back roads.

Finally, safety has long been a Volvo hallmark, and that’s no different in the S60. The S60 was one of the very first cars to achieve the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) “Top Safety Pick+” award. It’s significant, because the Top Safety Pick+ test procedure includes a much more real-world crash scenario as part of the evaluation. An overwhelming number of accidents happen when cars strike an object like a tree or a utility pole. The challenge for manufacturers is that all of the energy absorbed in a crash is only directed at about 25 percent of the car’s frontal surface, rather than the full bumper. The IIHS test includes a small overlap evaluation, where 25 percent of a vehicle’s front end on the driver side strikes a five-foot-tall rigid barrier at 40 mph.

Also, Volvo made the City Safety system standard on all 2014 S60 models, helping to prevent or mitigate collisions with a vehicle ahead by triggering brief, forceful braking if a low-speed collision is imminent. The system doesn’t intervene in situations where the driver actively steers the vehicle or applies the brakes, even if a collision cannot be avoided. The system works at speeds between 2 mph and 31 mph and can bring the S60 T6 AWD to a complete stop if necessary.

If fuel economy and safety are truly what American car shoppers are interested in buying, the Volvo S60 T5 Drive-E offers the ultimate combination, wrapped in a smart, stylish European sedan. Combined with aggressive lease options, the S60 makes a compelling argument for itself.