Crisp, But Not Audacious

2019 Volvo S60 T6 R-Design Review: A Sports Sedan for the Sensible Guy


November 2, 2018 Cars By Photo by Volvo
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The 2019 Volvo S60 is the latest car from the Swedish automaker. A compact sedan, the S60 is the entry-level Volvo that is designed to be more sporty than its big brother, the S90 luxury sedan.

The Good: The nine-inch tablet touchscreen is responsive and easy to use if a little distracting. Interior touch-points feel great and overall comforting.

Who It’s For: Volvo caters to a more mature audience, a crown the S60 will satisfy. Those not in need of a large family car but who still want something with a more grown-up demeanor will find this entry level Volvo a good fit.

Watch Out For: Just because it’s sportier than the S90 doesn’t make it a sports car. Fun can be had, but it makes a better impression in other ways.

Alternatives: Other premium compact sedans that compete with the S90 include:

• Audi A4 ($36,000, base)

• Mercedes-Benz C-Class ($41,400, base)

• Lexus IS ($38,310, base)

Review: Haven’t been paying much attention to Volvo lately? I don’t blame you. Though they’ve been around for ages, Volvo cars tend to get relegated to the background, mainly for being far too sensible than exciting while flashier cars hog the spotlight. For its part, Volvo has seemed okay with this, doing things its way until 2015, with the release of the XC90, where heads starting turning its way. Thanks to its sharp design, crisp interior, upgraded tech, the car set a standard that all Volvos would reinforce over the next few years, the latest of which is the S60 sedan.

The S60 concentrates the XC90 and S90’s design language into a compact entry-level sedan that carries over very little from the outgoing model. Built on the same scalable architecture as the XC and S90s, the S60 is now longer and lower, reducing the front and rear overhang for an overall sleeker profile. All of it is pulled together to the front fascia by the “Thor’s hammer” headlamps in the front, while its rear partly retains the stumpy rump of the outgoing model, though it doesn’t appear to end so abruptly.

Exterior style updates certainly make a difference, but the interior cabin is where the Volvo S60 excels. The single-piece, door-to-door metal dashboard trim is like an exposed rafter, physically and decoratively giving the cabin features structure. In the center is the nine-inch Sensus Connect touchscreen, the most tablet-like of interfaces outside of a Tesla. It’s actually divided into two screens, with the lower portion displaying immediate data, while the large upper part houses most menus and settings. Its great to look at and works quickly, but it’s almost too analogous to an iPad, in that some things don’t feel optimized for quick in-car inputs and can pull attention away if you’re not careful. This is balanced out by everything being very intuitive and easy to discern.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that just about every surface, button, and dial just simply feel nice to the touch. The Nappa leather seats are so incredibly soft, it’s almost a shame that you’ll be separated from them by clothes most of the time. Knobs for air vents and other inputs feel weighty, too. Not Bentley heavy, but enough heft to their movement that it feels like a solid premium material and not a plastic parts-bin afterthought.

You can’t talk about a Volvo and not talk about its safety features. As a company that prioritizes this aspect with as much importance as performance, you’d be right to expect loads of tech baked in to give the driver a second set of eyes. Auto braking, for instance, continues to be available, now able to recognize large animals and bicyclists as well as pedestrians. While that protects others from you, there are several systems to protect you from yourself. A suite of functions like steer assist and brake support work together to mitigate the unfortunate. Steer assist in particular now nudges you back into your lane if it detects the car meandering over the line in an unpredictable manner. It is thankfully a nudge and not an aggressive pull, as I’ve noticed in other cars who employ such functions. The list of preventative safety measures as well as injury mitigating touches is a long one, and like other Volvos, the S60 is one of the safest cars to not get into an accident with.

With its four trim levels, the S60 also has many propulsion options. At the base end, the T5 engine is a 2.0-liter turbo four-pot that sends 250 horsepower to the front wheels. The T6 takes the same engine but adds a supercharger into the mix, producing 316 horsepower to drive all four wheels. The T8 ups the ante further, hybridizing the car for better fuel efficiency when you need it, and extra horsepower when you want it. This maxes out the power output to 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque. All this flows through an eight-speed automatic and rides and a double wishbone front suspension and an integral link rear.

Polestar, Volvo’s performance division even got to add its touch to a version of the S60. The Polestar Engineered edition is the semi-secret fourth trim that only unlocks when you sign up for Volvo’s car subscription service, Care. the special trim adds specific badging, distinct gold seatbelts and brake calipers, but more importantly adds performance enhancements like Öhlins dampers, an increase in output to 415 horsepower, a front strut bar and 19-inch alloy wheels to roll on. If you want one of these, you may have to wait a while. Volvo plans to only produce 20 this year, and they’re already spoken for.

Polestar touched or no, the S60 is meant to be the sportier model in the lineup. While it succeeds in being more engaging than the S90, luxury and comfort remain its strengths. I started my time in the T6 R-Design, getting a feel of the non-hybrid configuration before saddling into the Polestar Engineered version. I set out for the Californian hills to put both to work, and though there was fun to be had, it was mostly due to the switchbacks at my disposal. Both the T6 and T8 Polestar lagged behind my throttle presses when I tried to power out of an apex. The Polestar’s dampers made a difference in mitigating the body roll, allowing me to enjoy myself, but either iteration performed just well enough to enjoy cutting through the hills that I happened to drive through.

The S60 is quite happy to switch back into a luxury setting, where the car very much made a difference in both highway cruising and bumper-to-bumper traffic. Employing the Drive Assist system eased the drudgery of motorway driving, with light steering help and automatic lane-keeping so that the commute was less tedious.

Verdict: Like the rest of the vehicles it joins in the lineup, the Volvo S60 is sensible in every regard. Its powertrain options focus on efficiency but still deliver on power, but not more than is necessary. Styling is crisp without being audacious, and the safety systems make it a smart buy, just not much of a passion purchase. Every part of your brain knows getting a Volvo makes the most sense, it’s just that you’ll find your heart levying its objections when it’s time to choose.

What Others Are Saying:

• “The front seats are some of the most supple and supportive I’ve ever had the privilege of sitting in, and a low beltline and expansive windscreen offer a commanding view of the world outside.” – Steven Ewing, Roadshow

“It’s easy to swipe around and find most of the functions or to switch between a full-screen map and what’s playing on the stereo, but some bits of the interface need work” – Aaron Gold, Automobile

“Grip levels were remarkably high, with mild understeer apparent only in a couple of corners when we were really hustling.” – Steve Siler, Car and Driver

2019 Volvo S60 T6 R-Design Key Specs

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Horsepower: 316 horsepower
Torque: 295 lb-ft
Weight: 3,907 lbs
0-60: 5.3 seconds
Top Speed: 155 mph

Volvo hosted us and provided this product for review.

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