Test Drive: 2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD

It Rolls

In Latin Volvo means, “I roll.” Geno Effler, Volvo’s Vice President of Public Affairs, reminded me.

We were standing around a large banquet table in Newberg, Oregon at the national press launch event for the 2011 S60. Geno looked me in the eye, rather boastfully and said, “I know Nick will use that in his article, won’t you Nick?” “Well I sort of have to now,” I replied with a chuckle.

“Volvo means ‘I roll’ and the new S60 rolls. Sounds good, doesn’t it?” Geno beams. I smile in return. Not because the line’s cheesy, which it is, but because he’s right. Volvo has made one hell of a car.Behind the wheel of the 2011 Volvo S60, roaring up Mount Hood, I find myself thinking of the brand-new vehicle I’m in. Volvo’s new three-liter in-line six cylinder engine, with the help of a low-pressure turbo puts out 300-horse power and 325 torques. Effortlessly flying up Oregon’s highest mountain, we ripped past boulders, trees and other cars. Their blurred images pour across my window like rain. I’m in awe of this bright copper Swedish machine.

Earlier that morning, as the sun was rising, I had a chance to test the Pedestrian Detection system with full auto-brake, a world-first in accident avoidance technology. A single boy-sized mannequin dressed in Volvo apparel stood alone 20 yards from the car. I was instructed to drive at him at 15mph and to not swerve or hit the brakes. I hit the gas and head straight for the gray boy-shaped mass. Inches from the boy, without any driver input, the S60 brought itself to a complete and sudden stop, saving the mannequin’s life. My heart racing, my teeth still clenched, I grin. Volvo has taken another brilliant step toward their pledge of having zero fatalities or serious injuries in a Volvo by 2020.

Volvo has a long lineage of safety, reliability, and Scandinavian sensibility. Volvo has never been known for dynamic driving, striking good looks, or pure power. The new S60 changes all of that.

At first glance, the new Volvo doesn’t look like a Volvo at all. Gone are the days of underpowered boxes. The new S60 looks angry but in control. It’s squat, broad shouldered, and aerodynamic with lines inspired specifically by the Spa racetrack in Belgium. With a 0.28 drag coefficient, it’s quite slippery as it moves through the air. The new body has the same relative footprint as the last but since the wheelbase has been extended, it has much more responsive handling. Volvo was able to squeeze 2.1 more inches of rear seat legroom than the previous generation. With the new S60 Volvo adds a best in class five-year/60,000 mile warranty that covers scheduled maintenance and wear and tear.

As we crested the top of Highway 26 and headed down the other side, the seemingly flawless Haldex all wheel drive system came in handy as I hit wayward patches of gravel. I downshifted the transmission with the Tiptronic manual shifter setting and turned up the impressive stereo, which was drawing Neil Young wirelessly from my iPhone4 through Bluetooth. I accelerated into another corner, with little body roll. I was cradled by Volvo’s sport inspired seat, which come standard.

Standard, too, is Volvo’s new “dynamic” chassis. Though the S60 shares a platform with the XC60, little remained the same in terms of handling. Volvo management told the S60 team leaders to build their sportiest car to-date.? Springs were shortened, geometry changed, and bushings stiffened. But the all-new S60 sport steering wheel is where the driving confidence begins. The steering ratio was turned up ten-percent for improved driver connectivity and steering heaviness is also three-way adjustable through the My Car system: all adding together in one seriously fun corner-taming ride.

Hauling down the backside of Mount Hood, as the road became windier, I became more daring. And the S60 never missed a step. There were hints of under-steer at 60mph in 30mph corners but that was it. The wheels never lost traction, never chirped once. After one series of especially hairy turns, I found myself shouting, “I can’t believe I’m driving a Volvo like this.”

Having been a Volvo fan most of my life, driving the new S60 is a nerve-wracking experience. For years I’ve been secretly ashamed that Volvos couldn’t hold up to BMWs in performance, touting that it didn’t matter. But it did. It really did matter, at leas to me. And now they’ve done it.? On September 13th, 2010 K-PAX Racing Volvos first and second place win at the Manufacturers Challenge at Virginia International Speedway. Volvo is now a hard-hitting competitor.

My brief sadness lies in the fact that the quintessential Volvo, the 240, is nothing like the S60. Comparing the two is like comparing the space shuttle to a cheese grater. Gone are the quiet, underpowered and unassuming, boxy Volvos. Enter the dashing good looks and athleticism of the S60. That’s not the Volvo I fell in love with. But the more I drive it, the more I become a convert to the new Volvo.

Ultimately, they say the new S60 is naughty but I think it’s more like Angelina Jolie, fun, sexy, and kid-friendly. If this is the kind of car Volvo can build, why did they wait so long? After 220 miles in the new 2011 Volvo S60, I can say one thing for sure: Like Volvo, this S60 rolls.

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