2019 Volvo S60 first drive: Up to speed

When Volvo launched its latest platform, called Scalable Product Architecture, with the current XC90 SUV back in 2014, it made everything else in Volvo’s lineup feel instantly out of date. Volvo's S60, its compact sedan, was the last in line to get the upgrade, but now its time has come.

With the new platform comes growth — the 2016 S60 is 4.9 inches longer and about an inch wider than the previous S60. While that doesn’t sound like much, add in its 1.8-inch lower stance than the outgoing model, and the S60 has some serious curb presence. Compared to the outgoing car, the new model is nipped and tucked in all the right places. The new S60’s hood height is lower, which exaggerates the rest of the car’s fresh sheetmetal.

The new S60 also introduces the Polestar Engineered models to the lineup, following the path of companies like Mercedes-Benz with its AMG line. On the S60, the Polestar Engineered model sits at the top of the hierarchy and uses the T8 twin-engine plug-in hybrid for motive force, then gets a set of Ohlins nonadjustable dampers, extra power and gold-painted Brembo brakes. The Polestar Engineered S60 also sports a set of 19-inch wheels.

Along with the chassis architecture and engine choices, the new S60 also inherits Volvo’s current interior and Sensus infotainment system. The S60 is the first model to roll out with an updated chipset, but all ’19 models will get the refreshed system. Like the S90, the scaled-down Volvo has a simple and clean interior, with minimal buttons and an expansive stylized dashboard.

The S60 follows the same trim hierarchy as the rest of the Volvo line — Momentum trimmed cars serve as the entry point. From there, R-Design models get extra features like a Harman Kardon sound system, paddle shifters and LED fog lights. The Inscription models add even more luxurious features like leather upholstery, 10-way power front seats and chrome window trim. 

The Execution

A 2.0-liter I4 fitted with a turbocharger and a supercharger power the T6 R-Design. The compound-boosted engine sends 316 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque through an eight-speed automatic transmission. From there, the power hits an all-wheel-drive system before transferring to the pavement.

The Polestar Engineered version sports the same 2.0-liter twin-charged engine, tuned to 328 hp, along with an electric motor. The plug-in hybrid squeezes 415 hp out of the system in total, making it one of the most potent Volvos you’ll be able to snag at a dealer.

The numbers don’t lie — the Polestar-prepped S60 feels considerably more powerful. The electric motor and the more aggressive tuning on the internal combustion engine set you back in your seat. The T6-prepped S60 is not exactly a slouch either, with an acceptable 5.3-second 0-60 time. If you can’t swing the extra coin for the hybrid T8 twin-engine S60, you won’t have any problems getting around traffic in that one.

The S60 T6’s nonhybrid powertrain means there are no regenerative brakes — just good, standard binders. The Polestar Engineered S60's brakes, however, are harder to modulate. The initial pedal feel is light, with the Brembos grabbing aggressively later in the stroke. The nonhybrid S60 provides a better and more controllable pedal feel. When it comes to slamming on the brakes, both with stop you just fine.

The Ohlins dampers in the Polestar Engineered S60 feel softer than the standard-issue S60 dampers, surprisingly, soaking up the bumps well despite the upgraded wheel size. When pushing the Polestar Engineered S60, it feels firm enough and capable, but it won’t rattle your fillings loose over bumps. The standard S60 feels more firm to me, with the suspension less forgiving of road issues.

Both models use the same electric power steering system, and it’s probably the weakest link of the S60 driving experience. When you scroll the Volvo’s drive mode selector into the more sporting mode, extra effort is added to the wheel. It feels artificially heavy and not any more connected to the road. In every other mode, the steering is light. Still, it does go where you point it with a decent amount of directness.

The electric power steering might feel numb, but it’s an essential part of Volvo’s Pilot Assist suite of driver aides. The adaptive cruise control works without a hitch — pushing the car along without having to manage the throttle or brake. It works at high speeds, too, but really pays dividends during a slow-speed crawl. The lane keep assist works well, too. You have to keep your hands on the wheel for legal reasons, but it feels like it's driving itself. The system also tacks an extra $2,500 onto the price.

There is a standard suite of Intellisafe city safety features like oncoming lane mitigation — which senses when your car crosses into oncoming lanes and tries to push you back — low-speed automatic braking to reduce collisions and a large animal collision avoidance system. The lack of available moose or bison made the latter hard to test, but Volvo says the system slows you down even if you don’t see it.

The upgraded Sensus system is standard across the board and makes the infotainment feel snappier all around. If you’re trading in your older S60, you’ll have to mourn the loss of your physical controls for the climate controls, but you will get a more useful setup. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard, with the former activating quickly after plugging in your phone.

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