For 2013, Volvo has added optional all-wheel drive to the base T5 model, which is what I tested for this review. The all-wheel-drive T5 delivered on value and style, with a driving experience that had both highs and lows.
For automobiles, "Swedish style" used to be an oxymoron. Volvos were boxy and Saabs only stopped looking bland right before the company went bankrupt.
The S60 is stylish in the same way an Ikea kitchen is stylish. With some intriguing curves around the headlights and aggressive angles around the "r"-shaped taillights, the car's aesthetic is unlike anything from German brands like Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. For the sizable contingent of people who view owning a German luxury car as a stigma they don't want to be associated with, the S60 could be an alluring alternative.
Brushed metal gauges and liberal use of metallic trim throughout the cabin add an expensive feel.
The dark tan leather seats in my test car were supple and supportive, and they looked great. Interior room is comparable to the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4.
Interior materials are nearly at BMW levels in most respects. The padding around the doors and dashboard is a bit behind the German sedans, but touch points like the center controls, the steering wheel and the armrests are right on par with the A4, 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
The S60 has a turbocharged five-cylinder engine — yes, five — putting out 250 horsepower.
That's 10 hp more than the new turbocharged four-cylinder in the BMW 328i, but the BMW weighs less and gets 10 percent better gas mileage. And in real-world driving, this S60 was really thirsty — I got roughly 20 mpg in mixed driving. It's rated 20/29/23 mpg city/highway/combined. The front-wheel-drive model is not much better, at 21/30/24 mpg.
Acceleration is sluggish, mainly due to the six-speed automatic transmission that drew harsh criticism from nearly every editor who drove it. Taking off from a stop and even at low speeds were where I most noticed problems. At higher speeds, the transmission still has issues kicking down to pass.
While the cabin was really quiet, the T5 engine itself makes a horrible gurgling sound under even light acceleration.
There's a more powerful, turbocharged six-cylinder model called the T6. It comes only with all-wheel drive and costs $41,345 (all prices include destination charges).
I was also surprised at how heavy the Volvo's steering is. While the new 328 has lighter steering than you'd expect from BMW — to appeal to a broader group of shoppers — Volvo has gone the other way. It's heavy for seemingly no reason at all. Handling is good, but even with all-wheel drive it doesn't carve corners exceptionally well. And at slow speeds the large steering wheel takes a fair amount of effort to turn, which will irk anyone navigating parking lots.