2004 Volvo S60 SE
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by Greg Wilson

The curvaceous mid-sized S60 sedan replaced the boxy S70 in 2001, almost mimicking the styling theme of the full-size S80 sedan introduced in 1999. Though it’s considered to be a mid-sized car in the same class as the BMW 5-Series and Audi A6, the base S60 is priced closer to compact European competitors like the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4 and Jaguar X-Type. I see the S60 as a kind of “in-betweener” luxury sedan – not quite as big or as expensive as its mid-size European rivals, but larger than its compact competitors.

While most mid-sized luxury cars are offered with V6, inline six, and V8 engines, the S60 is offered with a range of inline five cylinder engines, some normally-aspirated and some turbocharged, ranging in horsepower from 168 to 300.

The base S60 2.4 model ($36,495) has a 168 horsepower 2.4 litre five cylinder engine mounted sideways in the front driving the front wheels. The S60 2.5T has a 208 horsepower turbocharged 2.5 litre inline five cylinder engine, and it’s available with front-wheel-drive ($42,495) or all-wheel-drive ($43,995). The 247 horsepower S60 T5 AWD ($47,495) and the high performance S60R AWD ($59,995) have more potent turbocharged versions of the 2.5 litre engine.

This week’s test car is a base S60 2.4 model with a “Special Edition” package. This option package includes 17 inch “Tethys” alloy wheels and 235/45-17 inch Pirelli tires, front fog lights, a premium AudioMax stereo with 4 CD in-dash stereo and Dolby Prologic Surround Sound system, leather gear shift knob, and black mesh aluminum interior trim. The SE option package has a suggested retail price of $6,650, but until the end of July Volvo is offering this package for $3,500. My test car also had the optional 5-speed automatic transmission, sunroof, and metallic paint. With Freight and A/C tax, the as-tested price came to $45,190.

Interior – good quality but not roomy

2004 Volvo S60 SE

2004 Volvo S60 SE

2004 Volvo S60 SE
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The S60’s interior is not as roomy as some cars in its class, but it has an expensive, well-made appearance with that Swedish simplicity of design that characterizes all Volvos.

The familiar Volvo instrument panel features clearly-marked round gauges and an expansive centre control panel with large buttons and numerals for easy reach and visibility, including a pictograph for the climate control buttons. The dual-zone automatic climate control system has separate temperature adjustments for driver and passenger, but a single fan speed for both. An unusually narrow storage slot in the centre dash area is where the driver information centre goes on other Volvo models.

The front leather seats have a high quality look and generous side bolstering, plus power height and recline functions, and seat heaters. However, the manual rotary lumbar adjustment on the inside of the front seats is difficult to reach because of its proximity to the centre armrest (see photo).

The optional Audio Max stereo (part of the SE package) is superb, providing crystal clear, undistorted surround sound, solid bass and great treble. It features Dolby noise reduction and a 4 CD player. Additional radio (and cruise) controls can be found on the steering wheel. Complaints? At times I found too much glare on the radio display and I found the controls unusual: the volume adjustment and Scan functions use round dials, but the Seek and Tune are pushbuttons.

2004 Volvo S60 SE
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The driver has good visibility – there are three height adjustable rear head restraints, but to allow the driver to see through the rear window, the centre head restraint is specially-designed to sit lower when not in use. In addition, the outboard head restraints can be lowered from the driver’s seat with a pushbutton. However, I found the rear deck a bit high when backing up.

The rear seat has generous legroom and kneeroom – the back of the front seats is ‘carved’ out to increase knee-room, but rear headroom is adequate for adults up to about 5′ 10″ tall, and there’s really only enough cabin width for two adults. In addition, the centre position has an uncomfortable raised seat and seatback.

2004 Volvo S60 SE

2004 Volvo S60 SE

2004 Volvo S60 SE
Click image to enlarge

I liked the unique air vents in the side pillars that provide cooled or heated air to the rear passengers (see photo). A rear centre folding armrest includes a covered storage area and two pull-out cupholders, and there is a 12 volt powerpoint for rear passengers.

The S60’s trunk is wide and deep but has a rather narrow opening. I liked the two release levers for the 60/40 split folding seatbacks located on either side of the trunk near the opening (see photo). These make it easy to fold down the seats, but they must be raised manually. There’s also a pass-through opening behind the rear centre armrest. The battery is hidden under the floor on the left hand side.

Driving impressions

The first thing I noticed as I was driving out of Volvo’s parking lot is the S60’s wide turning circle (11.8 metres/39 feet). When parking in a typical indoor or outdoor parking lot, S60 drivers will find themselves backing and turning, turning and backing, to manoeuvre into a parking spot. Fortunately, the power steering assist makes this an easy task, and outward visibility is fairly good, although a high rear deck obscures vision somewhat.

The base 168 horsepower engine isn’t particularly powerful for a luxury car, but I found it nicely geared for a quick take-off, and it has an even torque curve for smooth acceleration. The five cylinder engine includes continuously variable valve timing which provides more torque at both low and high engine speeds for better performance. 0 to 100 km/h times are in the neighbourhood of 9.5 seconds.

But while I was satisfied with the performance, I didn’t enjoy the mechanical whine emitted by the five cylinder engine under hard acceleration. It just seems out of place in a luxury car. To be fair, this engine is quiet most of the time: cruising on the freeway in top gear, the engine does 2000 rpm at 100 km/h, and 2500 at 120 km/h. Fuel consumption is good for a luxury car: 10.7 l/100 km (26 mpg) in the city and 7.0 l/100 km (40 mpg) on the highway.

The optional five-speed automatic is very smooth, and for slippery conditions, “Stability Traction Control” is a standard feature on front-wheel-drive models.

2004 Volvo S60 SE
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The S60’s ride is comfortable but a bit firm – the suspension is independent at all four corners (front MacPherson struts/rear multi-link), and the brakes are four discs with standard ABS and electronic brake differential for improved control. The optional Pirelli P6 M+S 235/45R-17 inch radials on my test car provided terrific grip, and are worth the upgrade price from the standard 15 inch tires on the base S60.

In general, the S60 has a very solid feel about it. It looks solid – all the components have a durable, long-lasting appearance – and it drives with a solid feel that makes you feel that you would be safe in a collision. It’s a stylish, straightforward luxury car with a no-nonsense Swedish approach to performance, reliability and safety – but it lacks the refinement of a Lexus, the driving performance of a BMW, and the elegance of an Audi.

Safety and reliability stats

2004 Volvo S60 SE
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Independent crash tests and owner surveys have verified that the S60 is a safe, reliable car. The S60 was rated “Good” in 40 mph frontal offset crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and was given four stars in a 35 mph frontal crash test and five stars in a side impact test conducted by the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration. Front, side and curtain airbags and Volvo’s side impact protection system, are standard on the S60.

Consumer Reports owner surveys since 2001 have rated its reliability as average, when compared to all other cars in CR’s surveys, but Consumer Reports rates it as “Recommended”.


Mid-size competitors include the BMW 530i ($66,500), Mercedes-Benz E320 ($72,050), Audi A6 ($51,950), and Acura TL ($40,800). However, the S60 is closer in price to compact luxury sedans like the BMW 325i ($39,450) Mercedes-Benz C230 Sport Sedan ($42,490), Audi A4 FWD 1.8T ($34,435), and Acura TSX ($34,800).


A stylish luxury sedan with a strong emphasis on safety, the base Volvo S60 model is closer in price to compact import competitors than mid-size ones. A fairly tight back seat, narrow trunk opening, and a wide turning circle were my biggest complaints.

Technical Data: 2004 Volvo S60 2.4 Special Edition

Base price $36,495
Options $ 7,100 (5-speed automatic $1,500; SE Package includes sport leather seats, aluminum interior trim, leather shift knob, 8-way power driver’s seat with 3 position memory, Audio Max AM/FM stereo with 4-disc in-dash CD player, 235/45R-17 inch tires, Tethys alloy wheels, front fog lights, Dynamic Stability Control $3,500; sunroof $1,500, metallic paint $600)
Freight $1,495
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $45,190
Type 4-door, 5 passenger mid-size sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.4 litre inline five cylinder, DOHC, 20 valves, CVVT
Horsepower 168 @ 5900 rpm
Torque 170 @ 4500 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Tires 1440 kg (3175 lb)
Curb weight 1,500 kg (3307 lb.)
Wheelbase 2715 mm (106.9 in.)
Length 4576 mm (180.2 in.)
Width 1804 mm (71.0 in.)
Height 1428 mm (56.2 in.)
Cargo capacity 394 litres (13.9 cu. ft.) seats up
  1034 litres (36.5 cu. ft.) (seats down)
Fuel consumption City: 10.7 l/100 km (26 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.0 l/100 km (40 mpg)
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km

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