Electronics chime and lights flash as the lane-departure system warns if you stray from the straight and narrow, a head-up display lets you know you’re getting too close to the car ahead, a blind-spot system alerts to anybody trying to sneak up on you, adaptive cruise control makes you tag along behind the car ahead, park assist helps prevent you backing into things, a driver alert keeps you from becoming too dozy behind the wheel, auto braking prevents rear-enders and if a pedestrian makes a suicidal dart from the sidewalk the brakes are slammed on.
Welcome to driving the 2012 Volvo S60 T5.
Volvo has been attempting to sell itself with more sports sedan style and sizzle of late – urging owners in a recent ad campaign to be as “naughty” as they want to in their S60s – in an ongoing effort to shed the dowdy faithful-family-retainer image of old.
And its new owner, China’s Geely, plans to take the brand further up-market by leveraging newly developed design language in future models – which will start to show up by 2014 – that will have plenty of performance from new turbo, four-cylinder engines allied with improved planet-friendly efficiency.
But don’t be fooled, Volvo still takes safety more seriously than a Swedish nanny pushing a pram full of triplets.
That, unfortunately, tends to distract from the fact that the second-generation S60 – “even” in its recently released T5 form, rather than the hot T6 and even more smoking R-Design – is a pretty nice car to actually drive all by yourself, without electronic aids getting involved in the process.
Volvo in fact seems to have become aware it might be better to let the driver get on with things unless a full-on emergency intervention is required, so maybe the electronic aids will make themselves a little less obvious – rather than mildly annoying – in the future.
The redesigned S60 was introduced for 2011 in turbocharged, 300-hp, inline-six-powered and all-wheel-drive T6 form and joined for 2012 by the 325-hp, six-cylinder R-Design version and the front-wheel-drive, five-cylinder T5.
The S60 sedan is just a little longer than a 3-Series BMW, which puts it at the shorter end of the mid-size category, although it doesn’t come up at all short in styling terms, with its particularly neat and all-of-a-piece front-end treatment and perky tail end. Volvo stylists have obviously deleted anything remotely related to “boxy” from their terms of reference.
Compact exterior dimensions and a tightly wrapped coupe-like shape obviously mean interior space in this four-door sedan isn’t overly generous, but there’s enough room to carry a pair of rear-seat passengers in reasonable comfort. The trunk is a small for the category 339 litres.
The interior treatment is Scandinavian in its simplicity but far from austere. The test car’s optional wood trim and leather looked good, but I’d prefer the aluminum trim, which works particularly well with the “floating” centre stack. Front seats are fitted to your form and locate you properly in relation to the wheel and controls and the cabin is quiet at speed.
With a starting price of $38,300, all the equipment items you’d expect are on deck, but move to the test car’s $39,900 Level II and you get a sunroof, power passenger seat, keyless entry, heated seats, wood inlays, auto-dim mirror with compass, rain sensor, leather wheel, push-button start, a front spoiler and additional exterior bright work.
Adding $13,205 in options to this – including navigation, many of the electronic driver aids mentioned above, leather trim, retractable mirrors, special 18-inch wheels and a premium sound system with Bluetooth – upped the ante to a rather startling $53,155.
The S60 T5 is powered by Volvo’s turbocharged, 2.5-litre, five-cylinder engine, which makes a muted but unique sound and generates 250 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque, all of the latter available from just 1,800 rpm.
A six-speed shift-it-yourself-if-you-like automatic gets this to the front wheels, and helps produce fuel economy numbers of 10.5 litres/100 km city and 6.6 highway. Average fuel usage after a week of highway and mainly rural driving was 8.4 litres/100 km.
With all that torque available, around-town drivability is very good, with an accelerative punch available any time it’s required. And with 0-100 km/h taking less than seven seconds, it’s a decidedly quick car.
And one with driving dynamics that, while they won’t match the 3-Series, certainly feel like they would be competitive with front-drive competitors. There’s a sense it wouldn’t relish being pushed really hard, but it steers responsively and with a nice degree of fluidity, while delivering a firm and controlled ride that handles the rough stuff with an imperturbability that is also kind to the occupants’ posteriors.
This Volvo is a well-put-together package of exterior and interior style with underlying engineering (and software development) that makes it perform well and deliver a high level of safety – and considerable driver appeal.
2012 Volvo S60 T5
Type: Four-door sedan
Base Priced: $38,300; as tested, $53,155
Engine: 2.5-litre, DOHC, inline-five-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 250 hp/ 266 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.5 city/6.6 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Acura TL, Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, Cadillac CTS, Hyundai Genesis, Infiniti G37, Lexus IS, Mercedes-Benz C-Class