It has to be said: this is a lovely little car. The Volvo S60 has been around for the best part of a decade now; and originally dented, if not broke, the mold of “boring” Volvos
that looked as if they were designed by a hod-carrier with a housebrick-fixation. Not a company much given to producing suspiciously same “all new” models every year, the reflective safety-obsessed chaps at Volvo have finally got round to improving what was already a very good medium-sized car.
The 2011 S60 is compact and quietly sleek, and from the driving seat, it has the feel of solidity and the presence of a much larger car.
It sports an Audi A5-like undulating shoulder-line instead of the current S60's characteristic square-shouldered look. The front end has a strong family resemblance to the XC60 small crossover. Well, breeding will out!
The classic Volvo genes are as usual there but subtle: doors shut with the characteristic Volvo “thud,” the watch-like feel of perfectly fitting parts all working in concert with all the appropriate nuts and bolts done up tight and the satisfying heft of the steering wheel sculpted for a perfect grip. They all speak of Big Car and the S60 is very much the Little Big Man. Small enough to scamper through traffic and powerful enough to show a very fair set of legs on the open road. This latest iteration of the S60 is the best yet.
Part of the impression of muscularity comes from the fact that the engine — a strong three-liter turbo charged in-line six cylinder unit — is very smooth and delivers its 300 bhp willingly and with lots of torque. This drives the six-speed transmission through a full-time four-wheel drive setup. The standard setup — Dynamic — is meant to give the S60 its sporting character. If you need a little less feel over potholes, you can opt for the less aggressive "Touring" setup for no extra charge. If you want the best of both worlds as the test-car had, the optional Four-C adaptive suspension, which has driver-selectable "Comfort," "Sport" and "Advanced" settings, is for you.
Conceived as a Volvo with a sporty feel — and any remarks about oxymorons and racing trucks direct to Malmo please — the comfort setting is not the least woolly and gives plenty of road feel and feedback through the steering wheel.
Marginally useful in Jeddah are the innovative (and mercifully optional) pedestrian detection and vehicle systems. The former detects pedestrians and applies the brakes, if the driver does not, with the full intent of not colliding with them. Other key active safety features on the 2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD include standard City Safety, which can help you avoid rear-ending other vehicles at speeds of up to 30 kph.
In Jeddah, that would end up one of three ways: S60’s rusting quietly at road junctions having been instructed to wait for years by the system; hundreds of S60’s with crumpled rear ends extemporarily redesigned by ancient SUV’s or the systems being subtly modified for use as a targeting system. Oslo bears no relation at all to Jeddah except that they both have Ikea stores and pedestrians.
Volvo is keen to emphasize that the 2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD is also the sportiest sedan it has ever built. However, the S60 still isn't going to change your mind about buying the similarly sized and priced BMW 3 Series or Infiniti G37, most especially if you are looking for cheap thrills on twisty back-roads. It is, however, a fine alternative to middle-of-the-road cars like the Acura TL, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, especially if you are attracted by its avant-garde design or legendary Volvo safety and durability. It is still a sensible, insanely safe, comfortable and solid compact car that has a surprising nimbleness when given a little encouragement.
Driver and passenger seat comfort and support are exceptional thanks to Volvo's orthopedically correct seat design. They stay that way even after several hours on the road. The rear seats are supportive, but leg and foot room are tight for adults over 1.7 meters.
The 2011 S60 has the slim center console design, skewed slightly toward the driver, that has become a signature feature in Volvo interiors. The straightforward dual temperature adjustment dials and the humanoid pictogram for fan mode adjustment is uncluttered and practical, but the herd of small audio buttons is fussy and could be tricky to use while in motion. Dashboard instrumentation — part analogue and part digital — is clean and bright. But, the electrically operated parking brake, which appears increasingly frequently on modern luxury cars, I frankly detest! There are all sorts of good reasons why it should be purely mechanical, not least catastrophic battery failure; and that happens!
Interior materials in the 2011 Volvo S60 are on par with the rest of the entry-level luxury sedan class. Heavy matte-finish graining on the dashboard may not appeal to you, but it is very practical, as it barely reflected in the windscreen when driving into direct sunlight — a big bonus in the Kingdom.
The rest of the leathers, vinyls and plastics in this cabin are of solid quality and the aluminum style trim adds considerable character.
Offered with a minimum of customer options, the S60 comes as a well-built, competent and very safe and comfortable car. If you have never driven one, enjoy a surprise reformation of your attitude toward the previously staid image of the Swedish carmaker and wangle a test drive. You won’t regret it.