Volvo S60 T5 car reviews

Review Notes: 2005 Volvo S60 T5 Manual SR
Personality Edgy but pleasant sports sedan
Unusual features Safety measures — e.g. anti-whiplash seats
Above Average: Power on-the-ready, safety
Needs Work In: Headlight controls
EPA gas mileage 21 city, 28 highway

The Volvo S60 is about as far from the staid GL wagons as one would hope Volvo would ever get. The optional turbocharged in-line five-cylinder engine provides loads of power, while cornering is capable and the cabin is quiet. The traditional Volvo styling has been carefully modified to make the S60 look sporty, while the remaining design cues imply (as does the engineering) that safety is more than an afterthought.

Our S70 model had front wheel drive with the aforementioned five-cylinder turbocharged engine that produces great power at a moment's notice, with just a little turbo lag; it's smooth enough to seem like a V6. Despite the strong pulling power, the S70 had good highway mileage and very little torque steer (the tendency of powerful front-wheel-drive cars to lose front-tire grip and, hence, control under full acceleration, because the same tires are being used for turning and for acceleration).

The T5 (turbo-five) engine provides over 235 foot-pounds of torque through practically its entire range, and also pumps out a surprising 257 horsepower (peak torque is 258 lb-ft at a low 2,100 rpm). That's a lot of power for a relatively light vehicle (never confuse safety with weight) and, taken with a well-matched automatic transmission, the result is instant acceleration under any condition we could think of. Highway speeds, parking-lot speeds, ordinary streets - you name it, simply pushing down the pedal a bit results in a quick launch forward. Sometimes, when the turbocharger kicked in while the automatic kicked down, the result could be less than smooth, and indeed it takes some practice to get the drivetrain to respond smoothly and not softly jerk forward. Power has its rewards, but it also has its problems. As it happens, this time around we had the six-speed stick-shift, which concentrates nearly all the active clutch motion into a very small band, which makes smooth shifts a bit difficult (especially combined with the engine power).

Despite having substantial amounts of power available at all times, the five-cylinder engine is usually smooth at idle and almost invariably quiet.

Unlike the V70, we found that EPA gas mileage ratings were fairly accurate, and in fact very favorable - due largely, we suspect, to the high sixth gear, which hinders highway acceleration a bit unless one downshifts, but certainly pays off in spades when it comes to gas mileage. We actually achieved the EPA estimates (21 city, 28 highway) without difficulty, and driving at 55 mph in sixth gear make allow mileage in the 30s. Turbocharged engines reward gentle driving with high economy, and reward spirited driving with brisk acceleration.

The automatic transmission is a five-speed manumatic with a winter driving mode, which seems a bit superfluous considering that you can simply choose to start out in second - but most drivers never use the manual gear selection feature, so the winter mode button makes sense. (Winter mode starts the car in second to increase traction.) The gearshift is sensibly designed; from Drive, you can knock the shifter over to the left, and then push it forward to raise a gear and backward to lower a gear. Despite the five gears, there's a big gap between second and third gear, but the engine torque minimizes its impact.

Cornering is generally quite good, with the Volvo feeling confident in turns and with no tire squeal except in power turns - probably not an issue with the all wheel drive version. Helping drivers to stay out of trouble is a stability control system, which uses the antilock brakes and traction control to help pull back from bad situations; we found in normal use that it is never needed.  The ride, however, is rather stiff, though not uncomfortable and certainly better than many competing sporty cars. Wind noise is fairly low.

An option not on our model is built-in booster seats for children; these are in the "ordinary" rear seats, but because they use the standard adult seat belts, they are not safe for children in the lower half or so of the weight recommendations. While three year olds and four year olds may fit, and may be within the minimum weight specification, they won't stay inside the constraints of a standard seat belt and in an accident are likely to be completely unprotected. For older children - probably seven to nine years - the booster seats can be very helpful and convenient. They also fold easily back into the main seats and when folded in are practically invisible.

The interior is certainly miles away from the old 240, and in fact is much more strongly resembles a Chrysler 300M (indeed, the resemblance to a 300M with the luxury package is fairly strong). Our experience with the V70 was with the wood-and-leather package, but on the S60, we had the standard trim, with shiny charcoal-colored plastic trim panels where the wood would be (it still had leather). The dashboard is oriented towards the driver, with the passenger having a space curved away, and real wood trim is on the doors and, sparingly, on the dashboard; it is also on the steering wheel, and on an accordian-style cupholder cover. The instrument panel has the now-common four gauges, the big speedo and tachometer and smaller temp and fuel gauges on either side, all surrounded by chrome trim rings. A driver information center is on the left, providing, with a twirl of a stalk ring, average gas mileage, distance to empty, and average speed; it also displays helpful status messages, such as "LEFT REAR DOOR OPEN." Overall, the interior is very attractive and surprisingly lavish at a time when Chryslers and Cadillacs are going to the spartan black-and-aluminum look.

The keys are worth a mention, since they use the same system as recent Volkswagens - the key itself flips into (or pops out of) the fob in switchblade-knife style. Though fun for kids and different from most other cars, it isn't quite as easy to live with as the new "fob on key" system. Key controls are lock, unlock, panic alarm, and perimeter lights on.

Controls are largely sensible if often unconventional, though there are some exceptions to the sensibility. The cruise control activation button has to be pressed just right to work, but when it does, it lights up "CRUISE" on the dash, and "CRUISE SET" when a speed is locked in - a helpful distinction abandoned by other automakers in their cost-cutting binges. (The cruise control is designed to be engaged while gripping the wheel's crossbar, which as far as we know is not recommended by any driving school of government agency; unless you have a very long thumb, you won't be able to activate it while gripping the wheel itself). Getting the hang of the various wipers and washers - for the windshield, rear glass, and headlights - took a while, and on our test car, activating the rear washer sprayed a little fluid on the front, too. The front washers automatically activate the headlight washers, which spray a surprising amount of cleaner onto the hood.

Volvo uses European fender lights, a good safety feature. Our car had both front and rear fog lamps — in parts of Europe, it’s illegal to use the rear fogs when there isn’t any fogs, as it should be. There is no headlight shutoff; you can choose between having headlights on all the time, and having driving lights on. The “off” position keeps the headlights and tail-lights on, but keeps the running lights off.

On-steering-wheel radio controls are included, along with wheel-based cruise. The climate control includes an automatic fan and vent feature, and you can override either one. The vent control is intuitive and convenient, with the three vent areas shown pictorially, and any or all can be used at once. Sensibly marked thermostat knobs have temparature markings that don't move. The fan many positions, from dead quiet to very loud and forceful. The air conditioning is surprisingly powerful. On the whole, we wish more automakers would study this car's climate controls.

The stereo is easy to use, though advanced features are a bit confusing without the manual. Sound is quite good, and we appreciated the quick-action, separate knobs for bass, treble, balance, and fade, as well as separate buttons for FM, AM, and CD.The layout is sensible and not distracting.

The power seats include not one but three memory positions. Lighting inside the vehicle is good, with plenty of light in front and back. There are also a number of storage compartments, including a place for highway passes in the dashboard, map pockets up front, and a dual level center console which is not especially large. The rear seat also gets  a covered center console and cupholders, along with a 12 volt power outlet that parents may not appreciate.

Interior space is limited, surprisingly so in light of the V70, whose interior is very similar in style and whose engine choices are identical. You can fit four passengers in comfort as long as short and tall people alternative front and back positions - but tall people in front and back would be a mistake. The trunk is nicely sized but the opening is relatively small; the hinges do not intrude. The S60 features unusually friendly seat releases, clearly marked and in the trunk, so that the seats can be moved down to increase cargo space. An option on our car was an electric rear-headrest flipper to make moving the seats down a little easier, though some makers make it easier still by having a mechanical rear-headrest flipper that activates when you release the seats. Then you don't have to realize that you forgot to move the headrests down, stick the key in, and press a button up front before returning to the trunk.

Our test car was at the top of the S60 range, with the turbo-five cylinder engine, and carried a list price of just under $34,000, which is reasonable for the amount of car you get (though a Hemi-powered 300C is the same price, without as many safety features). Less potent engines come at lower prices. Our test car, though, ended up being $39,495, thanks to expensive but mostly frilly options (metallic paint, $450; heated front seats, $450; laminated side windows which greatly reduce noise, $450; a six CD stereo with surround sound, $1,200; black allow mesh inlays, $250; leather seats, $1,400; rain sensor that we could never find working, $125; moonroof, $1,200). The car also listed as having water repellent glass, but we didn't notice much of a difference. The base stereo is quite good and we didn't hear $1,200 worth of improvement from the surround-sound version, though the built-in CD changer on that optional unit is handy.

Standard equipment on this car (T5 SR) includes stability and traction control, side impact protection system for driver and front passenger, pretensioners on all seat belts, whiplash protection, anti-theft ignition and remote alarm, time-lock fuel door, fog lights (front and rear), dual-zone climate control, automatic up and down windows (all of them!), tilt-telescope steering column, heated folding outside mirrors, three-way seat/mirror memory, dust and pollen filter, rear air vents, trip computer, CD stereo with Dolby, eight speakers, and 4x25 watt amp, cruise, and steering wheel controls. In short, you get a lot of car for that base $34,000, and that includes extensive safety features (some engineered in, such as an anti-roll suspension).

The S60 is a very international car, with the largest source nation (Sweden) providing only 20% of the vehicle's parts, followed by Germany (16% and probably the manual transmission and sensors); less than 1% is from the US and Canada. The S60 is built in Belgium.

The Volvo S60 is an enjoyable sedan with power ever at the ready, but a comfortable if firm ride, a suspension tuned to handle the power - at the outer limits of front wheel drive capabilities - an unmatched number of safety features, and convenience not common in sports cars. Those who want the safety and don't need the power - or who don't want it, since it can be hard to make smooth transitions - can save some money and opt for the 2.4 turbo or the naturally aspirated engines, which are both adequate. Either way, this isn't your father's (or your professor's) Volvo.