Test Drive: 2011 Volvo S60  volvo car test drives luxury cars
2011 Volvo S60. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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2011 Volvo S60

Having spent my life as little sister to an advertising executive, I know a bit about that industry, including the importance of a catchphrase that will hopefully stick in the minds of consumers. The one a certain Swedish automaker has chosen for its new S60 is that it’s the “Naughty Volvo.” This is just plain silly, because if this all-new sedan belongs on any list, it definitely ends up on the side of “nice.”

The S60 was temporarily discontinued for 2010 pending this complete redesign, and it was definitely worth the wait. This is a lovely car, if a little too overbearing when it comes to protecting me from myself.

It comes in a single model, an all-wheel drive four-door sedan that starts at $45,450. Mine was further embellished with a $4,500 “Driver Support Package” of various electronic nannies, along with 18-inch wheels in place of the standard 17-inch rims and a gorgeous coat of Vibrant Copper paint that caught the eye and refused to give it back. No wonder: at an additional $790, it was $190 more than the wheels cost. Other available options, not added to my vehicle, include a navigation system, a “4C” chassis to toggle between sportier or comfort modes, a back-up camera and active headlamps that turn with the wheels on curves.

Test Drive: 2011 Volvo S60  volvo car test drives luxury cars
Test Drive: 2011 Volvo S60  volvo car test drives luxury cars
2011 Volvo S60. Click image to enlarge

The single engine choice is a turbocharged inline six-cylinder that makes 300 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque, but runs on regular-grade gasoline. I was very impressed with its smoothness and ability anywhere along the throttle’s travel, and I’m not the only one: it was named one of Ward’s 10 Best Engines for 2011, a prestigious award and the first time Volvo has made the list. It’s mated to a competent six-speed automatic transmission. There’s manual shift mode on the gearshift lever, but I would have expected a “naughty” car to come with paddle shifters, which the S60 does not, even as an option.

The engine is officially rated at 11.3 L/100 km (25 mpg Imp) in the city and 7.7 (37) on the highway. In combined driving, I averaged 11.6 (24).

The S60’s all-wheel system is a Haldex unit that runs primarily in front-wheel drive, but it’s so well balanced and the system proactive enough that in most conditions, it almost feels more like a rear-wheeler. The steering can be adjusted to one of three programs for steering feel; I found the medium and firm calibrations more engaging than the floppier light setting. The chassis is stiff and the ride is firm in the manner you want for a driver’s car, and being behind the wheel makes all the difference. My husband initially complained about the S60’s ride, saying it wasn’t as pliable as he’d expected in a car that looked so luxurious. “Wait till you drive it,” I said, and I was right (as usual, of course). The overall tightness makes for a nice, confident feel when taking corners.

Test Drive: 2011 Volvo S60  volvo car test drives luxury cars
Test Drive: 2011 Volvo S60  volvo car test drives luxury cars
Test Drive: 2011 Volvo S60  volvo car test drives luxury cars
2011 Volvo S60. Click image to enlarge

That said, like most of Volvo’s products, it’s very pleasant, but the execs at BMW and Audi aren’t losing any sleep. For all the S60’s aspirations for naughtiness, the driver feels somewhat disconnected when compared to true sports sedans from German rivals, or even a domestic contender such as the Cadillac CTS. Although the handling and steering feedback are considerably more direct than most other Volvo models, it’s lacking that more visceral – perhaps more naughty? – touch.

Appearance-wise, the S60’s a stunner, with its forward-thrusting nose, LED-bedecked rear end, and the popular “four-door coupe” styling that sacrifices some rear headroom that you gladly give up for how good it looks. The interior is just as gorgeous, especially with my tester’s two-tone leather seats, which sported a particularly elegant and vintage-looking large-grain pattern on the chairs and door trim panels. For some reason, it wasn’t carried over to the steering wheel, which used cream-coloured leather instead of the bronze shade on the seats, and which would have looked spectacular had it matched. Even so, it’s extremely handsome, and it all feels as good as it looks: the seats proved comfortable and supportive even on a long drive. The rear seats are a little firmer, and legroom is best if the front-row passengers haven’t moved their chairs all the way to the back of their travel.