2016 Volvo S60 T5 Inscription review: Letting go of the wheel for convenience, safety

Roadshow Editors' Rating

7.5 Overall
  • Performance 8
  • Features 9
  • Design 5
  • Media 8

The Good The 2016 Volvo S60 T5 Inscription adds more room for rear seat passengers, while a set of driver assistance features, such as adaptive cruise control, takes some of the stress out of parking and traffic.

The Bad The infotainment system is difficult to navigate and often demands that you take your eyes off the road. Bland exterior styling will not appeal to those who want a character-driven car.

The Bottom Line The cushy ride and adaptive cruise control make the Volvo S60 T5 best for those that have long commutes in heavy traffic.

Taking a deep breath, I steeled myself and whispered, "OK, Hall...trust the car."

And then I took my hands off the steering wheel.

Using the 2016 Volvo S60's parallel-parking-assist feature, the car had already found a suitable spot on the crowded city street. Following the prompts on the gauge cluster to apply the brakes and shift gears, the Volvo neatly wedged itself between a scooter and a Chevy Aveo.

Parallel parking isn't exactly akin to say, driving the Indy 500. Damage to myself and the car would be minimal in the event of a mistake. Still, ceding control to the car can be a scary prospect for some folks.

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The S60 is Volvo's entry-level premium sedan. Buyers have a choice of a short or long wheelbase, as well as an R-Design for a sportier drive, There are three engine options, producing anywhere from 240 to 325 horsepower. The example I drove came with the smallest engine option and front-wheel-drive, but as the Inscription model, it affords rear seat passengers extra legroom.

Parallel-parking assist is not the only driver's aid the S60 has up its sleeve. Front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, a blind-spot warning system and rear cross-traffic alerts are available across every model in the S60 line-up, and you get enough airbags to turn your car into the Stay-Puft marshmallow man during a collision.

A slew of safety features

For $3,000 you can add the Platinum package, which includes additional driver-assistance systems such as collision warning with pedestrian and cyclist detection, and distance alert, which sounds an alarm if you're in danger of hitting a stationary object. Also on tap is adaptive cruise control, which uses radar to match speeds with slower traffic and can bring the car to a complete stop. Finally, lane-keeping assist helps prevent you from drifting over lane lines.

A mere 30 minutes into Thanksgiving holiday traffic and the adaptive cruise control had already won me over. All I had to do was set a speed, say 30 mph, and the S60 accelerated and braked based on the car in front of me.

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Josh Miller/CNET

The radar keeps you fairly well behind the lead car, so be prepared for a few folks to jam themselves into your lane. The Volvo is quick to apply the brakes, even to a full stop, but it's always best to pay careful attention.

The lane-keeping assist vibrates and slightly tugs on the steering wheel if you cross a lane marker without signaling. On smoother pavement the vibration is enough to get your attention, but on rougher streets the feeling doesn't always cut through.

Built for comfort

But let's cut to some numbers, shall we? The Volvo S60 is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, good for 240 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Power goes to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission, but all-wheel drive is available.

After taking the S60 to my super-secret proving grounds in the hills above Berkeley, California, I found the car to be more comfortable cruiser than corner carver. The touring-tuned chassis is not exactly soulless. It's just not soulful like a BMW 3-series or an Audi A4. The S60 applies a brake-based torque vectoring system to wheel the sedan through the corners, but it's really on the highway and the gentle turns where the S60 shines.

The ride is just so smooth. Rough city roads are soaked up with aplomb. The personalized power steering allows you to dial in your preferred resistance. The default is already on the heavy side, but taking it up a notch resulted in a steering feel that favored a full grip on the wheel, not merely a finger.

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Volvo gears the eight-speed automatic transmission towards fuel economy. The S60 gets an EPA fuel rating of 25 mpg in the city, 37 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg combined. To reach those numbers it tends to bog a bit at slower speeds, but that is quickly mitigated by flicking the stick over to sport mode for higher revs. During my time in the car, including a holiday trip from San Francisco to the high desert to Los Angeles and back to San Francisco, I netted 31.1 mpg combined.

An Eco mode promises even higher mpg numbers, but be prepared for very quick upshifts and a sluggish response off the line. I tried it for less than a mile before my lead foot got frustrated and I went back into sport.

The S60 also features idle-stop, where the engine turns off at stop lights to save fuel, but it's a little shaky when the engine starts back up.

Like a grown-up Ikea in your car

It's easy to see why the Swedes are renowned for their design aesthetic, as the cabin is an easy place to spend some time. Leather upholstery abounds, and a heated steering wheel and seats kept the chill away while a sunroof let in some rays. After a nine-hour drive the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I arrived at my destination not necessarily refreshed, but certainly less stiff and sore than I have been in the past. With comfortable seats and an excellent Harman Kardon premium sound system, I spent my drive easily switching between podcasts on my phone and satellite radio.

If you find yourself with rear-seat passengers, the Inscription model bests the other trim lines with three inches of extra legroom in the back. At 5'9 I was comfortable in the back seat and could easily cross my legs.

But it's not all puppy dogs and rainbows on the inside. The infotainment system is surprisingly difficult to operate. The knob used most often is located the furthest away from the driver, so far that my fingertips barely grazed it while sitting completely back in my seat. Destination input is done with either a rotary dial or a keypad, like an old school push button phone. The seven-inch color LCD is fine, but it's not a touchscreen.

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Josh Miller/CNET

And for a company so focused on safety, it's a wonder the S60 lets you mess with all this while driving. Personally, I've always felt a passenger can enter navigation data while the driver does the fun stuff, but most manufacturers have taken the option away. It's interesting that Volvo has not.

Apps like Stitcher and Pandora are available directly from the infotainment unit and the car offers wireless connectivity, albeit only in 3G. It was a cinch to pair my phone via Bluetooth, and the speakers offered good sound quality for phone calls.

Volvo's latest model, the XC90, has a completely revamped infotainment system that is pretty sweet. Here's hoping it trickles down to other models.

Fine line between simple and blah

From the outside, the S60 suffers a bit from a case of the Mondays. It's just not that exciting to look at, especially in the beige-y Seashell Metallic color of the test model. It's as if the designers set out to offend nobody, but ended up satisfying no one.

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The Volvo S60 T5 Inscription starts at $38,7000 in the US, £21,256 in the UK and AU$58,990 in Australia. The Platinum package, with the Harman Kardon stereo, keyless drive, adaptive cruise control, collision warning, distance alert, and more adds $3,000. Tack on an extra $1,300 for heated front and rear seats, steering wheel and windshield washer nozzles. And if you want the parking assist and blind-spot monitoring, be prepared to give up $1,425. All told, including destination, our US test model came to $48,925.

While the adaptive cruise control is worth the $3,000, especially here in San Francisco, the other packages are merely nice-to-haves.

In all, the 2016 Volvo S60 T5 Inscription is a good bet for those with long, laborious commutes. If you're down for something that's a bit more tactile, look towards the S60 T6, with the turbo and supercharged four-cylinder engine and sport suspension. It's a much different experience than the T5.