Fast and family friendly

By Jim Gorzelany
CTW Features

 The midsize Volvo S60 sedan remains a safe and stylish choice, with a new turbocharged and supercharged engine making it a speedy one as well The midsize Volvo S60 sedan remains a safe and stylish choice, with a new turbocharged and supercharged engine making it a speedy one as well It wasn’t that long ago that the Holy Grail among automotive engineers was to develop an engine that produced at least 100 horsepower per liter of displacement. While that’s since been accomplished, one automaker is pushing the envelope even further with a new 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged engine that generates an impressive 302 horses, or about 150 horsepower/liter. Perhaps surprisingly, you won’t find it under the hood of some exotic sports car, but rather in the seemingly mild-mannered Volvo S60 midsize sedan.

The Swedish automaker (owned by Chinese automaker Geely) is undergoing a product renaissance, with its stodgy and boxy product line being reinvented with a succession of updated models that display far more flair, fashion and finesse, but manage to retain the company’s core values of safety and efficiency.

Redesigned for 2014, the S60 is arguably Volvo’s most stylish product offered in North America. It eschews horizontal lines and creases for supple curves, with its wide front grille set low and its rear flanks high to create a slippery aerodynamic profile. For 2015 a revised engine lineup includes a base 2.0-liter 240-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder and a 2.5-liter turbo five-cylinder with all-wheeldrive versions in base models, with a hotter 3.0-liter 325 horsepower inlinesix in the sporty T6 R-Design variants.

We recently gave the mid-range S60 T6 Drive-E (MSRP $39,000) an extended test and came away impressed with the aforementioned 302- hp turbo/supercharged engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. With 295 pound-feet of torque affording a neck-snapping leap off the line, a swelling wave of thrust propels this family friendly five-passenger sedan to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds. And it’s an efficient corral of horses, rated at 24/35-mpg city/highway.

Unfortunately, this engine is almost too perky — it took us a while to modulate our lead-footed launches, with the car’s auto stop/start function (it shuts down the engine while decelerating and/or stopped to save fuel) being particularly intrusive. Plus, the front-drive S60 exhibited pronounced torque steer, which is the annoying tendency of a fast front-drive car to pull to one side under aggressive acceleration. Equipping the car with allwheel drive would help in this regard, and while AWD is offered elsewhere in the line, it’s not available here.

Otherwise the S60 is a real charmer. It handles more playfully than the typical midsize model and delivers an acceptably smooth ride that only gets unnerved over extended periods of broken or uneven pavement. Steering is about mid-effort with sufficient feedback to the driver.

The S60’s interior is smoothly and efficiently cast, with the dashboard featuring large and legible gauges and reasonably straightforward touchscreen and tactile controls for the infotainment, climate control and other systems. Volvo’s OnStar-like Sensus Connect telematics system is newly added this year and it comes with a six-month trial subscription.

Front seats are designed with aggressive driving in mind, affording good support for keeping occupants upright in quick cornering maneuvers; they’re not the plushest and most comfortable seats around, however. While front legroom is generous, it can be uncomfortably tight with the front seats all the way back.

Volvo buyers expect their cars to offer the latest safety features, and the S60 doesn’t disappoint in that regard, offering lane departure and blind spot warning systems and self-braking forward collision mitigation systems that work at both highway speeds and in urban traffic, and can even apply the brakes in response to bicyclists and pedestrians crossing the driver’s path.

As if that’s not enough, the S60 offers a new self-parallel-parking function that will identify an appropriate-sized spot and automatically steer the car into it, with the driver only responsible for the brake pedal and transmission lever.

While the S60 doesn’t come cheap, it’s a decent value compared to the midsize luxury competition from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The car’s MSRP ranges from $33,750 for a base front-drive model to $46,950 for the top all-wheel-drive T6 R-design model (about $50,000 fully loaded).

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