Every few minutes another press release from Volvo pops into my mailbox. Boom, boom, boom. They come in flurries; here I'd thought Volvo had gone to sleep at the wheel.
Not so. The proof is in the products. I've driven some of the latest, including this updated S60 T6 AWD (all-wheel drive) sedan. It was a revelation.
And not because a Volvo press release said. "The Volvo S60 sedan and XC60 crossover equipped with City Safety and Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake and Pedestrian Detection were among seven models to earn a 'superior' rating in a new and very tough test by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety [IIHS]."
Of course the newest Volvos are safe. Volvo is to safety what the Toronto Maple Leafs are to a disappointing Stanley Cup playoff run – a given. But unlike Leaf ticket buyers, who line up to pay for mediocrity, Volvo customers have become picky, reluctant to buy the product.
Long-suffering Volvo lovers should go for a second take. Here's a thought about Volvo's prospects: As the big German guns in luxury cars head down-market to compete on price with the Honda Accord and Ford Fusion, Volvo might re-claim its place in the world of near-luxury automobiles.
This is the niche Volvo exploited for years. Volvo was profitable here and earned the loyalty of many owners. This is why Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co., Ltd. bought Volvo from Ford years ago.
The S60 T6 is a good place to start if you're wondering what has happened to Volvo. The exterior shape is clean and has nice proportions, with just enough detailing here and there to pique your interest. The look is not German, not Japanese and not American. It's something else and something true to the place from which IKEA chairs come – Scandinavia.
Here, the details matter. Note the new "wolf's eyes" headlamps and the wider grille. Also, Volvo has finally hidden the washer nozzles under the bonnet, where they're out of sight and out of the way on snowy mornings. The old and less-than-elegant chrome frame around the grille is gone, making for a clean front end. A bigger badge boldly says, "I'm Volvo."
But it's the cabin that really shines. I love the simplicity of its simple shapes and surfaces. Volvo fits cars with some of the most comfortable and supportive seats anywhere, and these are superb. Yes, there's the obligatory wood and leather spread about the cabin, and metal frames around the air vents and light controls remind you that you're in a model that starts at $47,550 and came as-tested at $48,800. All tasteful, though.
And a big toast to the designer who thought through the controls and readouts. Within minutes of sliding into a driver's seat, I was able to sync my Bluetooth phone, preset my radio stations, dial up climate settings and check the car's various systems – all without cracking the owner's manual.
What a blessing. Today's manuals are thicker than an old telephone book, so being free of this chore is worth a shot of Akvavit – a traditional Scandinavian spirit that can make your head hurt. Well, operating the S60's gizmos is no headache.
The driving part seems almost an afterthought, no? Well, the S60 takes the road not like a BMW or an Audi or a Mercedes. Cars from this trio feel heavier and harder. Instead, the S60 has a light feel. The responses are not as dynamic as the best from Germany, but an S60 owner can punch up any one of four chassis types – Touring, Dynamic, Four-C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) and Lower Sport Chassis. Before, you'd need to buy the pricey R-Design version for this.
Power isn't a problem, either. My tester had a turbocharged/supercharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder rated at 300 hp, with power sent to the four wheels via a six-speed automatic gearbox. Volvo's idea to pair a compressor with a turbo goes like this: the supercharger gives you start-up power at low engine speeds, the turbo kicks in later to get you flying. All without turbo lag and in need only of regular fuel. To make you feel sporty, paddle shifters are at your fingertips just off the heated steering wheel.
The list of electronic safety aids is numbingly long, but it should be, given the car we're discussing. The IIHS gave this car the top crash test rating – Top Safety Pick+.
Yes, Volvo sent out a press release about that, too.
2014 Volvo S60 T6 AWD
Type: Mid-size premium sedan.
Base price: $47,550 ($1,095 freight); as tested with Premium Plus package, $48,800.
Gas engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged/supercharged six-cylinder.
Horsepower/torque: 300/325 lb-ft.
Drive: All-wheel drive.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.7 city/8.0 highway using
Alternatives: BMW 3-Series, Lexus IS, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, Cadillac ATS.
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