2011 Volvo S60 review:

2011 Volvo S60

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Volvo's Multimedia package, which brings in navigation, also includes an upgraded audio system. This one uses 12 speakers and a five-channel 650-watt amp to produce finely detailed audio. Along with typical bass and treble controls, Volvo includes a five-band equalizer for more exact control over levels.

The sound quality from this premium option is stupendous, enhancing music considerably by bringing out detail at all frequencies. Some of that detail is because of Audyssey Laboratories MultEQ technology, a digital signal processor that is supposed to account for the shape of the car's cabin.

The audio system includes this five-band equalizer for serious fine tuning.

Helping audio quality for broadcast music is the S60's HD Radio tuner, which complements the car's satellite radio. A USB port in the console reads USB drives and can also be used for an iPod cable. The iPod music library interface is nice-looking and offers the usual categories, but getting to it can be a bit tedious.

From the navigation screen, you first have to hit the Media button on the stack, then turn the controller knob we mentioned earlier to highlight iPod, hit the OK button, then scroll through the music library categories, hit OK again, find an album, artist, or genre, hit OK, then hit OK yet again once the correct track is highlighted. Volvo's legendary safety engineers didn't seem to be on the job for the iPod interface.

Turbo six
Where, surprisingly, the S60 really shines is its driving character, offering nimble handling and plenty of power. Volvo equips the S60, in T6 AWD trim, with a turbocharged 3-liter straight six-cylinder engine making 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. Volvo's sense of subtlety keeps the exhaust from roaring, but the car charges easily forward, hitting 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, according to Volvo.

The S60's engine is very good, making a lot of horsepower out of 3 liters.

The car responds well to its gas pedal, with no obvious turbo lag. Acceleration is easy to modulate, whether driving at low speeds or bounding through corners with the tachometer pushing toward redline. It makes for confident passing and merging on the freeway.

Volvo calls the S60's standard suspension a "dynamic chassis," although that does not mean it uses an air or magnetic system to enhance stability. Volvo is referring to the electronic stability systems the car uses, such as traction control. But one unique feature is a corner-braking system, which brakes the inside wheel when going around a corner, causing the car to rotate a little.

On twisty mountain roads, the S60 felt very composed, staying flat in hard cornering and showing little sign of wheel slip, even on wet roads. Of course, its all-wheel drive contributes to road-holding ability. From behind the wheel, the car feels light and easy to maneuver. The front end responds well to wheel input, with little understeer.

The S60's engine gives it power equal to that of a BMW 335i, but the two cars show very different handling characters. Where the BMW allows a little tail sliding, the S60 sticks resolutely to the road. In that sense, it feels more like the Audi S4.

In more-typical driving, the S60 never quite loses its taut character. The suspension is rigid, never soft, which can lead to a bumpy ride over some surfaces.

Volvo also offers an active chassis system for the S60, although it was not present on our test car. This system uses sensors to monitor the ride, with a suspension that can react to the inputs, further enhancing stability. With this chassis option, drivers can select from Comfort, Sport, or Advance modes.

This six-speed automatic transmission is the only option, but its manual gate is not bad.

Suspension and engine both make for a dynamic driving experience, but the limitation of the S60's six-speed automatic transmission keeps it from being a more dedicated sports car. It is not a bad transmission, but in drive mode shifts are typically slow. It does not have a sport mode, but does allow manual gear selection. In this mode, shifts are a little snappier than with most automatics. Third gear proved to offer a wide enough power band for a lot of fast cornering.

Volvo's EPA numbers for the S60 are 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, not bad considering its horsepower. Over a week spent driving the S60 in city traffic, on freeways, and on mountain roads, we saw an average of 18.8 mpg. Breaking the 20 mpg mark would take some careful driving.

In sum
The new cabin tech in the 2011 Volvo S60 is, overall, an excellent addition. But there are good and bad points. For example, the navigation system suffers from a couple of issues. The audio quality from the premium stereo is a major plus to the car, as are the available music sources. And all of the driver assistance features are a big bonus.

The car also earns points for its performance tech. The cornering braking is intriguing technology, as is the available active suspension. The engine is very good, using a turbo to crank out satisfying power. Direct injection would make a nice addition to its tech. The S60 earns bonus points for its all-wheel-drive system.

Volvo also did a nice job designing the car, giving it a unique look with an aesthetic appeal that helps justify its premium status. But the cabin tech interface is more problematic, suffering from unintuitive controls.

Tech specs
Model 2011 Volvo S60
Trim T6 AWD
Power train Turbocharged 3-liter inline six-cylinder engine, six-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 18.8 mpg
Navigation DVD-based navigation system with traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Disc player MP3-compatible single-CD player
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio Bluetooth streaming, USB drive, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system 12-speaker 650-watt system
Driver aids Adaptive cruise control, collision warning, pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, drowsy driving warning, backup camera
Base price $37,700
Price as tested $46,200

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