Before test-driving the 2012 Volvo S60, I considered Volvos to be functional cars that included cutting-edge safety features. Put another way, I thought Volvos were dutifully practical family cars that weren't necessarily fun to drive.
Then I got behind the wheel of the 2012 Volvo S60. I found the acceleration to be so smooth and the handling to be so lovely on my test car that I double-checked the car's logo a few times to make sure this wasn't one of those sporty German cars in disguise.
With its 3.0-liter turbo engine that delivers 325 horsepower, the 2012 Volvo S60 T6 R-Design was a blast to drive, and it debunked my previous notions about Volvos being simply practical. The icing on the S60 T6 cake is since it's a Volvo it's still got the cutting-edge safety features that put any driver's mind at ease, especially a driver with small children like me.
The S60 was redesigned for 2011. For 2012, the luxury sedan is all about new trim levels. Previously offered in only the all-wheel-drive T6 trim, Volvo has added the T5 entry-level trim and the top-of-the-line T6 R-Design, leaving the original T6 as the middle child. The T5 trim has front-wheel drive with a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, and the upper-level T6 R-Design trim I tested has all-wheel drive and some extra ponies under the hood with a turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine.
The 2012 Volvo S60 has a starting MSRP of $31,300, and the T6 R-Design trim starts at $42,950. My test car had a price tag of $46,875.
Thanks to its redesign, the S60 is not the boxy Volvo from days of old. Sure, it's a midsize sedan produced by the brand that built its name on safety, but the S60's exterior looks verge on sexy. It has a low roofline, curves in the front and rear, and a compact body. Of course, my test car's Passion Red paint color only added to the S60's sex appeal.
The doors were heavy, but my older children managed to open them independently and were easily able to climb in and out of the S60. Given the car's low lines, the trunk also sits low, which made loading things in and out particularly easy.
For someone used to a minivan's minimum cargo volume of almost 40 cubic feet, the prospect of the S60's diminished 12-cubic-foot trunk was daunting. The front passenger seat tries to make amends for the meager trunk space as it folds flat to allow for more interior hauling space. Truthfully, the 12 cubic feet weren't horribly paltry. I did fit enough groceries in the trunk to feed and refresh my whole neighborhood as I was in charge of a neighborhood party.
The upper-level S60 T6 R-Design that I tested comes with a turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine that delivers 325 hp. Moving down the trim level ladder from there, the original T6 — now the midlevel trim — has the same engine but delivers 300 hp and the new entry-level T5 has a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine that produces 250 hp.
The S60 with the 3.0-liter engine gets an EPA-estimated 18/26 mpg city/highway, and the smaller engine gets 20/30 mpg. Both engines use premium gas.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Groove-On
Like all good Scandinavian design, the S60's interior is simple and functional. The materials have an upscale quality and look nice without trying too hard. The floating center stack, which has storage space carved out underneath it, was trimmed in aluminum and artistic to behold.
The center stack is also easy to use. The climate control system has an icon of a person on the center stack that makes warming up the different parts of your body easy. Are your feet cold? Press the icon's feet to get warm air flowing to your tootsies. Your kids will think it's nifty. My test car came with the optional Multimedia Package ($2,700) that includes navigation with voice control, an upgraded sound system and a backup camera.
For those of us with children, the five-seater's sporty design and sedan-ness doesn't make much room for little ones. This is a car that can handle only two child-safety seats at a time — no matter the type. To that point, only two average-sized adults can fit comfortably in the 60/40-split rear seats, though these sportier rear seats are not unusual in this entry-level turbocharged market. Think of them as a casualty of the stylish design and dominating need for speed.
There is no way I could take my family of five up to the mountains for a weekend in this car. Of course, that would force my husband and me to steal away in it on our own for a weekend, and that's not such a bad thing.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Volvo has all but bet its brand reputation on the premise of revolutionary safety, and the S60 is no exception. It almost goes without saying that the 2012 Volvo S60 is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick. To earn this safety award, a car must receive the top score of Good in front, side, rear and roof-strength crash tests. The 2012 S60 hasn't been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The S60 has standard front-wheel drive, antilock brakes with brake assist, an electronic stability system, traction control and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows. In addition, the 2012 S60 comes with some standard perks such as rear seat belt monitors, which alert you if anyone in the second row has unbuckled their seat belt, and the Home Safe Lighting feature that uses the car's headlights to illuminate your path right up to the front door. Even more exceptional is Volvo's City Safety system that is standard on the S60. This system helps reduce the incidence and impact of rear-end collisions in traffic by automatically applying the brakes in a too-close situation if the driver does not.
Optional safety features include the Pedestrian Detection system that will brake the car to avoid hitting any pedestrian taller than 31 inches should they wander in front of your car without you noticing. You can also opt for all-wheel drive, blind spot and lane departure warning systems, and a backup camera.
The only safety issue I was disappointed by was the S60's lower Latch anchors. They were deeply embedded in the leather seats and took some maneuvering to access and use. Furthermore, thanks to the S60's sexy design, the curvaceously slanted rear window is at such an angle that using the top tether anchor was tough. I was still able to install my child-safety seats, though. Given all the other great safety features in the S60, I don't feel inclined to complain too much, but I'd love it if Volvo made them a little easier to use.
Starting MSRP $31,300–$42,950
City: 18 – 20
Highway: 26 – 30
325-hp, 3.0-liter I-6 (premium)
300-hp, 3.0-liter I-6 (premium)
250-hp, 2.5-liter I-5 (premium)
6-speed automatic w/OD and auto-manual
New or Notable
• New T5 and T6 R-Design models
• New 250-hp, turbo five-cylinder for T5
• New 325-hp, turbo six-cylinder for T6 R-Design
• Pedestrian collision avoidance technology
• Front- or all-wheel drive
What We Like
• T6 performance
• Stylish design
• Wealth of safety features
What We Don't
Photo Courtesy of Courtney Messenbaugh, Cars.com
Photo Courtesy of Courtney Messenbaugh, Cars.com