Volvo's 2011 S60 T6 compact car is not cheap, and it's not the first or second car that shoppers think of when looking for a fun-to-drive sedan.
But this five-seater has sleeker styling than any recent Volvos, moves forcefully with zippy turbo engine power, has Volvo's well-known comfortable seats and can be loaded with a raft of safety equipment _ some not found on other vehicles.
An example: The S60 with optional technology package includes a world-first pedestrian detection system with full auto brake. It can sense when a pedestrian comes in front of the car and, if the driver does not react, can apply the brakes fully to stop the car.
Cost for the tech package, however, is $2,100 on top of the 2011 S60 T6 AWD's starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $38,575.
The price includes a 300-horsepower, turbocharged, inline, six-cylinder engine, six-speed Geartronic automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive.
Competitors include the better known all-wheel drive, 2011 BMW 328i xDrive sedan with 230-horsepower, naturally aspirated, six-cylinder engine and manual transmission with starting price of $36,525. Also, the all-wheel drive, 2011 Audi S4 with 333-horsepower, 3-liter, supercharged V-6 and a retail starting price of $47,975 with manual transmission is in this segment. Both BMW and Audi models also are available with automatic transmissions.
Many shoppers today have forgotten about Volvo since the company and its cars were jettisoned by Ford Motor Co. and sold to the Chinese carmaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group for $1.8 billion last year. The reason: In the transition, Volvo advertising in the United States has been sparse.
But Geely took pains last year to emphasize Volvo will retain its Swedish headquarters and European manufacturing facilities that include a factory in Belgium where the S60 T6 AWD is built. And there was nothing on the test car with the Geely name or reference to China. Even the window sticker that detailed the largest sources of parts on the car listed Great Britain as the big source of engine parts, Sweden and Germany as the major sources of other car parts and the transmission was from Japan.
The test car also had typical Volvo characteristics, including the diagonal Volvo badging across the grille, impressive Volvo turbo engine and Volvo's "floating" center stack and console area. This area looks like it's scarcely attached to the dashboard because it's styled to flow outward from the dash and into the center console as one single piece. It's a bit overdone, in my view, but it's distinctive, for sure.
Heating and ventilation controls are the same as Volvo used before and it takes a bit of practice to learn them. Same for the confusing radio controls.
And there were so many beeps and lights coming on in the S60 as I drove, I had difficulty differentiating them. There was a sound for going over the lane line, another for coming up too close to the back of another vehicle at a stoplight and there was the rear park sensor for when I was backing up. While I appreciate the safety efforts, there was a sense that this car's sensors might be a bit too sensitive, at least for my driving style.
And no, I never activated the pedestrian detection system.
The seats, as mentioned, were terrific for short and long drives. Years ago, Volvo studied burn victims to better understand the pressure points of car passengers and how to make them most comfortable.
The S60 T6 bolted out of the garage when I pressed the accelerator, with nary any turbo lag. The car ran spiritedly in both city and highway traffic. Besides the 300 horses that the 3-liter, double overhead cam, turbocharged and intercooled six cylinder produces, this powerplant develops a strong 325 foot-pounds of torque at a very low 2,100 rpm. It was palpable and enjoyable, with the accelerator pedal delivering good linear power.
Brakes worked strongly, too, in the test car. The suspension was firmly in control, but didn't deliver a harsh ride. Passengers in the test car felt vibrations from road bumps but didn't feel fatigued or cranky as they do in some other cars where they feel the road intimately beneath them. Front and rear leg- and headroom are on par with many other compact cars.
Fuel economy is poor, though, in this Volvo with a federal government rating of 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway. I wound up with just over 20 mpg in combined city/highway travel. Note that the 2011 Ford Edge crossover sport utility vehicle has the same 18/25-mpg rating from the federal government that this Volvo has.
It's true the S60 T6's rating is better than the fuel rating for the BMW 328i xDrive, but there are many lower-priced compact cars that have much higher fuel economy ratings, because they have naturally aspirated four-cylinder engines.
The main issue I had with this Volvo is how would a consumer looking for a fun-to-drive sedan with a relatively high price pass over a BMW badge or an Audi to get this turbo S60. The Volvo badge just doesn't have the same panache.
There have been two safety recalls of the 2011 S60 sedan. One had dealers update engine control software because it could be too sensitive and cause the car to stall, creating a risk of a crash. The second safety recall, announced five days later last November, was for dealers to check that front seats did not move forward on their rails too close to frontal air bags.