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Volvo shows that creating a safe car doesn't mean it can't also be fun to drive
Special to The Globe and Mail

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Friday, October 19, 2018 – Page D4

SANTA MONICA, CALIF. -- 2019 Volvo S60 BASE PRICE (T5 AND T6): S60: $42,400-$53,900; V60: $43,900-$55,400

Engines: T5: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged; T6: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-/supercharged; T8/Polestar: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-/supercharged/plug-in hybrid Transmission/drive: FWD or AWD, 8-speed automatic Fuel consumption (litres/100 km): T5: 9.9 city/6.6 hwy; T6: 11.1/7.3 Alternatives: Acura TLX, Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Cadillac ATS, Genesis G70, Infiniti Q50, Jaguar XE, Kia Stinger, Lexus IS, Lincoln MKZ, Mercedes C-Class

Fun can sometimes be found in unexpected places.

For instance, there was a memorable drive through the Rockies two years ago in a Volvo S60. The little sedan wasn't spectacularly fast, it didn't cleave to pavement like a Corvette, but its powertrain was willing and slick, its chassis wieldy and alive with feedback.

It simply felt right - a masterclass in how continual development can overcome the limitations of an aging chassis. But it also raised a question: Can a total redesign still keep what was best about the old car?

Then again, arguably the new S60 (ditto the V60 wagon) isn't entirely new. It's the last Volvo to migrate to the Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) that also underpins the S90 sedan, V90 wagon and XC60 and XC90 CUVs. The XC90 dates back to 2015, so Volvo has had some practice building SPA-based vehicles.

As with its predecessor, the S60 competes against compact premium sedans such as the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, Cadillac ATS and others. Unlike any previous Volvo, the S60 is built in the United States (the V60 still comes from Europe).

At MSRPs ranging from $42,400 to $53,900, the sedan lineup at launch comprises a 250horsepower FWD T5, and AWD 316-hp T6s in three trims. Next summer, the T8 plug-in hybrid will arrive, claiming 400 hp, or 416 hp in hot-rodded Polestar form, and an electric range of 34 kilometres.

The outgoing S60/V60 was a relative bit player in Canada, outsold last year almost six-fold by the BMW 3 Series, for example.

Why should you consider the new S60 in a segment brimming with automotive talent?

When I put the question to Volvo Americas chief executive Anders Gustafsson at dinner, his first response is not altogether unexpected: "We're a little bit different," he begins. "First of all, we have something that stands out and that is our brand values related to safety."

Then he lobs one back at me.

"But you, you have been enjoying the car today. It's tough reading body language, but I think you like the car too."

He's got me there. I do wish the steering was more incisive oncentre and relayed more feel (R.I.P the 2017 model), but that's more personal taste than a criticism. Otherwise, yes, the new S60 felt fine - and fun - to drive.

The swiftly smoothly power delivery was the same as I enjoyed in the old model. And through the canyons of the Santa Monica mountains, the chassis moves of the R-Design model were flat-out athletic. Descending into the Conejo Valley through route 23's rapid-fire succession of tightly coiled curves, my stomach called "time out!" before the car showed any discomfort.

Back at dinner, Gustafsson continues: "Back to your question, it's a car in that segment that is really loaded with all the safety features that exist normally on the bigger cars ... which we have transferred into this car. That is the decision we have taken."

The list of standard safety tech is indeed impressive. City Safety includes forward collision warning, emergency braking and steer assist, with pedestrian, cyclist and large-animal detection. There's also oncoming-lane mitigation; lane-departure warning; and intersection auto brake.

Missing from the standard list are adaptive cruise and active lane keeping assist. They come with the available Pilot Assist package, which provides semiautonomous driving (although Volvo still mandates "hands on the wheel and eyes on the road") and asks only $1,500. It's worth getting, if only for the adaptive cruise control.

These days, safety does sell.

But this new Volvo is no one-trick pony. What it lacks in the pure road feel of that fondly remembered 2017 S60, it makes it up in refinement, performance and style.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

RATINGS LOOKS The one fixed element of Volvo's Scalable Product Architecture is the cowl-to-front-axle distance, a.k.a. "premium gap."

It gives the front-drive-based S60 the proportions of a reardriver - and may also explain why the S60 is a little longer than most of its peers.

INTERIOR Rear-seat legroom is now competitive and the driver's office combines great at-the-wheel adjustability with clear sight lines and Volvo's signature seating comfort - although the tall centre tunnel (for the battery pack on the T8 PHEV version) may be confining for some. The vertical nine-inch touchscreen is distinctive but, like most of its kind, not as user-friendly as its maker believes (for example, most HVAC functions are screen based). Notable options include a four-zone climate control and a cooled glove box.

PERFORMANCE Engine noise, vibration, and harshness varied a little from car to car, but at best it's sublimely smooth (if a bit bland sounding) while serving up strong, effortless acceleration in the T6s we drove. Claimed 0-97 km/h times range from competitive (6.2 seconds for the T5, 5.3 for the T6) to seriously rapid (4.4 and 4.3 for the T8 and Polestar).

Starting fully charged each way, the Polestar showed 8.2 litres/100 km for the drive up to Ojai from Santa Monica, and 5.9 coming back, but its recuperative brakes lacked linearity.

TECHNOLOGY The base infotainment system includes CarPlay, Android Auto, WiFi hotspot, SiriusXM and four-year Volvo on Call (but not Navi). Also of note: panoramic sunroof standard even on base.

CARGO Cargo volume is an aboveaverage 392 litres, and when folded the seatbacks lie almost perfectly flat and flush with the cargo deck. Need more? Consider the V60 wagon.

VERDICT 8.5 Safer than ever, but also stylish, speedy and sophisticated.

Associated Graphic

The 2019 model is the first version of the S60 to be built upon Volvo's Scalable Product Architecture.

The Rolls-Royce Cullinan is a massive machine with 22-inch wheels, a 6.75-litre twin-turbo V-12 engine, the largest-ever version of Rolls-Royce's pantheon grille and a weight of 2.75 tonnes. Yet, this SUV has a quiet interior, with all leather made from field-raised Swiss cows. Oh, and of course, motorized tailgate seats - complete with drinks table - that slide out of the trunk at the press of a button.


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