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2013 Volvo S60 review: The ultimate driving machine for the IKEA set

With its stylish good looks and the sporty performance from its turbocharged engine, should Audi and BMW be worried about the 2013 Volvo S60?

Antuan Goodwin Reviews Editor / Cars
Antuan Goodwin gained his automotive knowledge the old fashioned way, by turning wrenches in a driveway and picking up speeding tickets. From drivetrain tech and electrification to car audio installs and cabin tech, if it's on wheels, Antuan is knowledgeable.
Expertise Reviewing cars and car technology since 2008 focusing on electrification, driver assistance and infotainment Credentials
  • North American Car, Truck and SUV of the Year (NACTOY) Awards Juror
Antuan Goodwin
9 min read

Remember when the name Volvo was synonymous with boxy cars that seemed to say, "I'm sensible, but sort of boring"? Well, those days are over. The 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD that rolled into the Car Tech garage this week is a stylish sedan that perhaps still says, "I'm sensible," through its good value and high-tech safety net of available driver aid options, but also adds a bit of sex appeal with sport sedan performance that perhaps nips at the heels of Audi and BMW.


2013 Volvo S60

The Good

The <b>2013 Volvo S60</b> is quick, with good acceleration from its turbocharged engine, and confident handling. A wide range of safety and driver aid technology is available at all trim levels. Standard cabin tech offers the full gamut of audio sources.

The Bad

The 2013 Volvo S60 lacks the most advanced infotainment features of its competitors. Observed fuel economy was reasonable, but unimpressive.

The Bottom Line

The 2013 Volvo S60 is an excellent alternative for BMW and Audi shoppers looking for a sporty, stylish sedan at a very reasonable price.

Turbocharged inline five-cylinder
I don't spend a lot of time scrutinizing spec sheets before testing a car. I prefer to just hop in, take a spin, and then check the numbers later. So, I was frankly surprised by how alive the Volvo S60's base 2.5-liter, turbocharged five-cylinder engine felt when I matted the pedal. The engine sends 250 horsepower through a single-option, six-speed manual transmission, but the reason for the engine's liveliness -- its eagerness to rocket the midsize sedan past slower-moving traffic -- is its 266 pound-feet of torque, which is available as early in the tachometer's swing as 1,800rpm.

Volvo goes BMW-, Audi-hunting with the 2013 S60 (pictures)

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With the six-speed shifter placed in its Sport position, the Volvo holds each gear just a bit longer, allowing the rpms to build and the turbocharger to spool up and deliver the best power. Brake for a turn in Sport mode and the S60's computer will respond with a throttle-blipped downshift, grabbing a lower gear to keep the turbo at a boil in preparation for acceleration out of the bend.

The five-banger's exhaust note isn't the most pleasant at full bore, but this isn't a proper sports car, so I'll forgive that. The S60 also features a manual shift mode that lets you handle the gear selection yourself by pushing or tugging on the illuminated shift knob, but as with any slushbox "manumatic"-type mode, it's probably best to just let the computer handle the shifting for you in most situations.

Volvo S60 T5 engine bay

The turbocharged Volvo S60 is available with either five cylinders or six.

Josh Miller/CNET

Two hundred and fifty horsepower from the S60 T5 car makes for a more than adequately powerful ride, but for drivers who want a bit more sport in their sedan, Volvo also offers the S60 T6, which is powered by a 3.0-liter turbocharged, inline six-cylinder engine that outputs 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. Still not impressed? Well, there's also the S60 T6 R-Design, which features a tuned version of that 3.0-liter engine that outputs 325 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque. That's more power than you get from the BMW 335i and the Audi S4. Of course, there's more to a great ride than just power, but even bronies know that more ponies are almost always a good thing.

Our Volvo S60 T5 tester is also capable of behaving with a bit of dignity as well. Leave the shifter in the normal D-for-Drive position and the gearbox will behave the way you'd expect a premium midsize sedan's slushbox to. The shifts come sooner to keep the rpms down and the fuel economy up and happen more smoothly for a more comfortable ride. Our S60 T5's suspension offered a good balance of suppleness, for soaking up bumps and road imperfections, and rigidity, so it doesn't feel wallowy around bends, floaty, or vague. There are even three user-selectable power steering settings that allow the driver to adjust the steering feel from weighty and direct to light and easy.

7-inch display

Drivers can track their fuel economy with the S60's display.

Josh Miller/CNET

The EPA estimates that our T5 model will do 20 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway when equipped with the optional all-wheel-drive system (which I'll discuss in a bit). Forgo the AWD system and both of those estimates increase by a single mpg. Our testing cycle, which was heavily biased toward freeway cruising at a quick -- but not excessive -- clip yielded an average of 20.6 mpg, just shy of the EPA's combined estimate of 23 mpg.

All-wheel drive with DSTC (Dynamic Stability and Traction Control)
The S60 is based on a front-wheel-drive configuration. Choose a T5 model with the 2.5-liter engine and all 250 of its ponies will meet the road on the front axle. However, S60 T5 owners can spec an optional all-wheel-drive system that can send power to the rear axle on demand when traction is necessary. I'm told that this system can shuffle up to 100 percent of available torque to the rear axle if it must and can instantaneously reduce torque at any of the wheels if slip is detected, but over a bone-dry week in San Francisco, I didn't run into many situations where I could put the AWD system to the test.

Volvo S60

S60s equipped with AWD can send torque to the rear axle on demand.

Josh Miller/CNET

All of the more powerful, 3.0-liter S60 T6 models come with this all-wheel-drive system as a standard feature.

With or without the AWD system, the Volvo S60 is equipped with DSTC (Dynamic Stability and Traction Control), a multipart traction control system that combines torque vectoring, bias braking, and engine power modulation to keep the sedan between the lines when cornering. An onscreen menu allows the DSTC system to be partially disabled, allowing for a bit more slip and wheel spin when driving in the S60's Sport mode.

The standard S60 T6 is available with an optional $750 adaptive-suspension system that gives the driver control over the ride firmness or comfort. This system is not available on our T5 tester. Further up the totem pole, the S60 R-Design comes standard with a nonadaptive suspension that is 15mm lower than the standard ride height and 15 percent stiffer.

Safety tech
A Volvo just wouldn't be a Volvo without a bit of excellent safety tech, but our tester was mostly lacking the most advanced features. In fact, the only non-drivetrain-related bit of safety gadgetry that I had to play with was the standard City Safety system. This front-looking camera constantly scans the road ahead for pedestrians, vehicles, and other obstructions. If the vehicle detects that you're about to collide with one of these obstructions, it will warn you before automatically applying the brakes. City Safety only works between 2 mph and 30 mph, doesn't activate if you're applying even the slightest bit of manual brake pressure, and will not activate if you attempt to steer around the obstruction. Since I couldn't find a CNET editor brave enough to stand in front of the S60 while I tested the system, we'll just take Volvo's word that it works.

Our S60 T5 didn't even come equipped with a rearview camera, but that doesn't mean that yours won't. The S60 is available with a wide range of optional safety tech.

Park Assist is a front and rear proximity sensor that gives audible distance alerts when parking. In addition to the optional rearview camera, for further parking safety you can add a front blind camera that gives the driver a split-screen view of the road to the left and right of the S60's nose, allowing drivers to see around corners when easing out of parking spots or blind alleys.

Blind-spot monitoring keeps you from literally merging with traffic by alerting you to the presence of vehicles and obstructions in the S60's blind spot -- though even without this system, the sedan has excellent 360-degree visibility. We're glad to see this feature since it wasn't available when we tested the 2011 S60 T6.

Lane departure warning and driver-alertness monitoring systems can help you keep the vehicle between the lines on the freeway and keep you awake on long trips, and optional active high-beam headlamps light the way without blinding oncoming drivers. Adaptive cruise control maintains a safe following distance on the highway and the same sensors are used for a radar-based collision warning system.

If you're a stickler for safety tech and don't mind paying for it, you can run wild with the S60's option sheet. And if you're not a fan of electronic nannies, you can skip the options and still end up with a very safe, sporty sedan thanks to the Volvo's excellent crash test ratings and plethora of airbags.

Essential infotainment only
Volvo may be firing shots across the bows of BMW and Audi with the S60's performance, but this Swede's got nothing on the Germans where cabin tech and comfort are concerned. That's not to say that the S60 is bad, just that the 3-Series and A4/S4 are simply better.

Volvo S60 Bluetooth

The S60's cabin tech offerings are minimal, but fortunately all of the essentials are standard features.

Josh Miller/CNET

The S60's cabin is well-appointed -- particularly when upholstered in our Premium package's two-tone Beachwood and black leather -- and smartly designed, with a minimalism characteristic of the country that spawned IKEA. The sport seats are supportive, but comfortable; the floating center stack angles all of the physical controls toward the driver ever so slightly; and the optional keyless entry and start system lets you hop in and go without taking the keys out of your pocket. (However, there is a charging port on the dashboard that you'll want to occasionally pop your transponder into to keep it juiced.)

The Volvo doesn't boast iPhone app integration like BMW Connected or an always-on 3G data connection like certain Audi models, but it does make a strong go at providing the basics of infotainment tech, many of which are standard features.

All S60 models feature a 7-inch, nontouch display that is controlled by a bank of buttons located midway down the center stack. From here, the driver has access to the audio sources, a few vehicle settings (City Safety and DSTC toggles), and fuel economy information.

Volvo S60 butons

Users interact with the audio and climate systems with this bank of physical buttons.

Josh Miller/CNET

Standard audio sources cover the gamut of what we like to see in a tech car, including a single-slot CD player with MP3 and WMA compatibility, AM/FM terrestrial radio with HD Radio decoding, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, USB with iPhone 5 connectivity, an auxiliary analog input, and Bluetooth for hands-free calling and audio streaming.

Volvo offers two navigation options for the S60: an $800 Garmin portable navigation system, which you absolutely do not want, and a proper in-dash, hard-drive-based navigation system that takes advantage of the large 7-inch display and shows traffic data. Our S60 T5 wasn't equipped with this system, but it's safe to assume that not much has changed since we last encountered this system on the 2012 S60 R-Design and that it's still a pretty good system.

The S60 can also be had with a 12-speaker audio system with 650 watts of amplification (five channels by 130W), which I haven't heard, but has got to be better than the "meh" four-speaker standard setup in our tester. There's also an $1,800 dual-screen rear-seat entertainment system. Skip it and just toss a couple of iPads or Google Nexus 10s back there.

In sum
If you're in the market for a BMW 3-Series or an Audi A4 and you're not a massive technophile who needs Google Maps in the dashboard, do yourself a favor and at least test-drive the Volvo S60 with its AWD system. You might be just as surprised as I am by how well the S60 T5 compares to the German models where real-world performance and comfort are concerned.

You'll find the Volvo to be a pretty good value, too. The 2013 S60 T5 starts at $31,750; we added $2,000 for the AWD system, $2,200 for the Premier package's leather seats, keyless entry, and moonroof, and $700 for a Climate package that adds heated seats and windshield-washer nozzles. We also had optional 17-inch alloy wheels ($250) and a trunk spoiler ($375). Add $895 in destination charges to reach our as-tested price of $38,170 -- a few thousand bucks short of a comparably equipped BMW or Audi model.

Going all in on an S60 T5 AWD and speccing the navigation, all of the safety tech options mentioned earlier (with the exception of the rear-seat entertainment), and splurging a bit on eye-catching copper metallic paint still lands the MSRP at just a hair over $46K.

Tech specs
Model2013 Volvo S60
TrimT5 AWD
Power train2.5 liter, turbocharged 5-cylinder, 6-speed automatic transmission, AWD
EPA fuel economy20 city, 29 highway, 23 combined mpg
Observed fuel economy20.6 mpg
Navigationoptional, not equipped
Bluetooth phone supportstandard
Disc playersingle-slot CD
MP3 player supportstandard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod connection
Other digital audioHD Radio tuner, SiriusXM Satellite Radio
Audio system4-speaker, 160W standard audio
Driver aidsCity Safety
Base price$31,750
Price as tested$38,170

2013 Volvo S60

Score Breakdown

Cabin tech 6Performance tech 7Design 7


Trim levels T5Available Engine GasBody style Sedan