When I first thought about it, the Pacific Coast highway, through Santa Monica near Los Angeles, seemed like an odd location for a media drive with Volvos new S60 and V60 models. Especially when one considers the horrendous traffic conditions that plague those stretches of road. But as we turned off the busy streets, and began winding down into the deep, scenic Malibu canyons, I had a sudden change of heart. Of course, a great road is made all the better by a great car. So lets back up for a moment and start there.
Day one, with nearly six hours behind the wheel of the S60 R-Design, we are well enough acquainted at this point to practically be old friends. Since its total reinvention a few years back, Volvo now boasts the very youngest vehicle range in America. The S60 is the final model to receive the makeover magic and finally be on level ground with the rest of the gang. Volvo has proven to be a highly adaptable company. Quick to pivot and flex under changing markets and consumer expectations. This has thrust the brand back into the automotive spotlight, re-inserting itself near the top of the heap for innovation, design and overall quality.
Volvo has no plans to slow all this amazing forward momentum either. With an eye on ever-increasing safety, and the lofty goal that every car be fully, or at least partially electric by 2019, there’s plenty of exciting changes to come. For now though, a T5 engine for front-wheel drive models, and a T6 for all-wheel drive, continue consuming their share of good ol’ fashion gasoline. Making 250 hp and 316 hp respectively. The newest T8 configuration combines gas and electric in the AWD Polestar model to deliver an impressive 400 hp.
The latest S60 is the third generation of the popular sedan, and is poised to take the American market by storm. Volvo just completed a new production plant in Ridgeville South Carolina, whose primary function will be to spit out the sultry S60 to keep up with demand. While the V60 wagon shares many of the same features and configurations as the S60, due to low demand in America for the beautiful wagon shape, production of the V60 will remain largely overseas. Why the American market can’t embrace the wagon style like the European market has remains a mystery to me. Maybe it’s their more common one car per household to our 2-3 per ratio that requires their one vehicle to really wear every hat and serve every purpose.
Trim strategy for the new S60 follows four core packages. The Momentum trim comes with plenty of style, and a long list of standard equipment. The Inscription model gets the full luxury treatment, with elegant interior upgrades. The R-Design blends sophistication with lots of edge and sporty flair. Finally, at the top of the heap is the impressive Polestar model, with next-level engineering. The Polestar combines a gas engine and electric motor to vastly improve power output and overall performance.
The latest S60 range delivers clear performance and technological advantages over many of its class competitors. Easily out-powering the likes of the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class, Audi A4 and S4 or Lexus IS350. Good as that all is though, for many consumers, the most important elements of a newly designed car are only skin deep, relying entirely on its visual impact and design. For those who care about the hoods shape, more than what’s underneath it, the S60 doesn’t disappoint.
In one word, the new S60 and V60 are elegant. A soft shoulder and deep waist, with lines that glide effortlessly, kicking up at the rear door frame and finishing at the back give the impression of quite but sure confidence. A blunt nose and long, lowered stance with features concentrated down low help serve up plenty of attitude. Plus, those beautiful headlamps, shaped like mythical Thors mighty hammer, continue to stand out in all the right ways. The new S60 is nearly 5 inches longer and 2 inches lower than the previous model. The extra length goes almost entirely to the back passengers, increasing leg room. With a longer, lower stance, combined with every other major and minor design upgrade, the new S60 exudes a natural Scandinavian elegance that stands out from the pack in a subtly impressive way. There’s small visual difference between each model variation, but each holds it own, making a strong, lasting impression without any unnecessary risks, gimmicks or big loud ‘Hail Mary’ design flops.
Open the door and slide inside for an even stronger second act. A rich variety of luxury materials offer a visual and tactile smorgasbord to be enjoyed by the driver and everybody else on board. Suede structural pillars, precisely machined and texturized metal panels and speaker covers, padded leather, soft seats and natural wood accents are all on the menu. Everything is plated and presented in clean, uncluttered Scandinavian fashion. Volvo seems to capture its overall mission with the modern luxury and natural simplicity of its beautifully refined interiors. Careful attention is paid across the board, from the biggest to the most minor detail, and its in those small details especially that Volvo separates itself from the pack, gracefully transitioning from good to great. Ambient light gently fades on and off. Handsome stitching can be found peppered around the cabin. The quality feel and weight of each knob and dial can’t help but be appreciated. Everything adds up to create something that looks and feels intentionally special.
Each S60 and V60 model is blessed with a long panoramic sunroof, designed to drench the cabin in natural light. A useful feature in the sometimes cloud covered gloom of Sweden. Also, 4-zone climate control can be found standard. There’s even ventilated Napa leather with built-in massagers and crisp, clean audio from Bowers and Wilkins or Harman Kardon. Everything helps to raise the bar even more against the competition. The metal mesh inlays, unique leather seats, paddle shifters and black headliner really helped my R-Design S60 stand out. Volvos’ Sensus Connect operates smoothly and intuitively on a crisp 9 inch display. It has a simple to navigate four tile system with plenty of integrated apps and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard. You’ll easily find nearly everything your media consuming heart desires. An upgraded chipset means much faster processing, start-up time, voice command response, navigation refresh and back-up camera activation as well.
I snaked my way into the sun scorched canyons of Malibu and Calabasas, past happy horses and rugged countryside, peppered with vineyards, pumpkin patches and towering oaks. With so much quality time behind the wheel, I had ample opportunity to see how the new S60 handled every tight twist and turn thrown its way. On roads that may have been better suited for a Mazda Miata drive, the S60 absolutely shined. It remained level and composed no matter the angle or speed I entered a sharp corner at. On the whole, it behaved like a much smaller car than the four-door sedan it actually is. In the polestar model especially, with nearly 500 lb ft of torque at your disposal, you’ll be grateful for the AWD set-up with those big gold Brembo brakes, extra stiff suspension with Ohlins dampers, a front strut tower bar and stunning 19 inch custom wheels that happily host lots of sticky rubber.
As a brand completely transformed, Volvo rounds the line off right with the new S60 and V60. Each model variation is different enough to entice almost anyone, while the polestar delivers incredible performance and intriguing technology. This isn’t even mentioning the jaw-dropping V60 wagon that would be my personal zero-hesitation pick. What helps the Volvo brand separate itself even more is its tireless effort to make even the smallest detail special. And I’ve found that each small detail can really add up to make the overall car that much better.
Like the originally surprising drive location pick from Volvo, the brand delivers goods you wouldn’t initially expect to find. If you haven’t been watching closely, the idea of a Volvo from years past may seem like bad L.A. traffic with only the occasional ocean vista and sun kissed bluff. But turn right off the highway, away from the busy morning commuters and Starbucks drive-throughs, and you’ll find yourself in near-perfect driving paradise. While the old idea of Volvo didn’t quite have a place on a road like that, the new Volvo S60 and V60 continue to surprise us all in a line-up of cars so elevated from their former selves, that they now seem to be a perfect fit.
By: Brandon Randall