Reviews

2011 Volvo S60 Walk Around

The chief designer of the S60 says that his mission was to pump up the volume, to make it look more like a coupe. Mission accomplished, we'd say.

We've been saying it for years, that gone are the days when Volvo styling reflected stodgy Scandinavian practicality, so it's a cliche to say it now. We'll say it another way: the S60 is as sleek and stylish as sedans come. Great care went into the details, for example the symmetrical angles of the trapezoidal air intakes in the front fascia, two in the corners under the headlights, and the long horizontal intake at the bottom of the seamless nose. The Xenon headlights mirror those shapes, and the tidy grille is perfectly appropriate to the small size of the car's forward-leaning face. Small vertical trapezoidal LED parking lights snuggle up against the grille.

There are no bulging fender flares to overstate or even brag about performance. Just smooth lines from the front fenders to rear, where the hips meet the graceful coupe roofline. The only chrome on the side of the car is a thin strip surrounding the windows and stating the grace of their outline. The standard 18-inch wheels are split seven-spokes, nice but we've seen better, on the C60.

Interior

The snug and comfortable leather seats in the S60 are gorgeous in Beechwood Brown, and they're standard equipment; if we weren't so cautious about hype we'd put an exclamation point at the end of that sentence. Some of the shapes inside, for example the slightly shiny trim on the doors, could be sculpture. Shimmer Graphite aluminum inlays, they call it, which sounds better than our shiny trim. Lovely little touches, such as strips of Beechwood Brown leather over the seatback pockets.

The interior is well thought out, from cupholders to storage compartments. That's because it's only slightly changed from recent Volvos; they've had some years to make it all work. The instrumentation is clean and stylish like it's always been, the tach and speedo having a black background, white lettering, red needles and brushed metal rings. The headliner is a rich fabric.

At the rear, the trunk is a spacious 12 cubic feet, with enclosed hinges and a pass-through to the 60/40 rear seats. There are 2.1 inches more rear legroom than the previous S60, with a longer wheelbase but the same overall length. But that still isn't a lot or rear legroom, only 33.5 inches. The S60 is a sports sedan, not a roomy one.

Our test model had the Premium, Technology, Multimedia and Climate Packages, totaling $7100. So we had a nice big power moonroof to add spaciousness to the interior, 650-watt Dolby Surround Sound with 12 speakers, rearview camera and navigation system, among quite a few other things. The rearview camera screen is the 7-inch navigation screen, and it's split, angled in the center to give a view off to the sides of the car.

The navigation system worked well for us, with that 7-inch screen in the top center of the dash. It has far more options and capabilities than we were able to try out, driving from the Oregon wine country east to the high desert, for a few laps at Oregon Raceway Park to further test the cornering and brakes. But we can say it didn't confuse us, which is more than we can say for many. Meaning, it's intuitive, as far as we got into it.

The screen displays more than rearview and navigation. It's home to the information from the new DCI, or Driver Control Interface, including audio settings. Functions can be operated by a thumbwheel on the right steering spoke, or with buttons on the center stack.

Volvo invented that center stack that's like a thin wall with storage space behind it. The face of the wall is like a neat keyboard, with dials and buttons mostly for radio tuning that are easy to understand and use.

The Technology Package includes pedestrian detection with full auto brake, adaptive cruise control, collision warning with full auto brake, distance alert, alert driver control, and lane departure warning. It's not hard to find arguments that Volvo engages in overkill (no pun intended) with safety systems. Engineers burn the midnight oil to find new ways to reduce the driver's responsibility in the control of his or her car, although Volvo would never word it that way. There's also the flipside and maybe stronger argument that such systems can save the driver from making a fatal mistake. Their latest invention is pedestrian detection, which brings the car to a halt at any speed below 22 mph, without the driver's involvement, when a pedestrian is in the vehicle's path.

We tested the system on a dummy named Junior. Foot off the brake, holding the speed at 20 mph. The car came to a halt, but we knocked Junior over, just barely (he forgave us). A Volvo engineer said it was because there were raindrops on the car's windshield, obscuring the sensor's visibility. We've found that raindrops sometimes set off another Volvo safety system, the optional BLIS, or Blind Spot Information System.

The Lane Departure Warning system is intended to alert the driver whenever he or she has unintentionally drifted into another lane. An alert sounds off when a camera senses the car is crossing lane dividers without a turn signal from the driver. It's quite useful for alerting drivers who are drifting off to sleep or are distracted by cell phones. That's a good thing. However, we found the system can be annoyingly aggressive at times. It was going off constantly while motoring along Southern California's Pacific Coast Highway, causing us to search for the off switch. PCH is a busy, mostly straight four-lane road, but the dotted white lines separating the lanes weave back and forth in many areas to make room for left-turn lanes, and in this situation, Volvo's Lane Departure Warning system was beeping at secondary intersections where we were cheating those apexes and touching the leading and trailing edges of some of those lines. Pressing a button on the center stack turns the system off in those situations when traveling below 40 mph, but you're stuck with it at higher speeds.

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