Over the past few years I’ve been involved in a few Autos.ca comparison tests that featured Volvo’s S60. Each time the Volvo acquitted itself reasonably well in many key measures, impressing most of us especially with its lusty turbocharged inline-six cylinder engine.
For 2015, Volvo has yanked out the muscular heart of its sporty luxo-sedan and replaced it with a four cylinder.
As one would expect, the motivation for this move is the relentless quest for improved fuel efficiency and for the most part, the new setup delivers.
Our 2014 S60 T6 was rated at 13.2 L/100 km city and 9.5 L/100 km highway. This new 2015 model is rated at 10.1 city and 7.3 on the highway. Those figures represent significant improvements, however in fairness, last year’s model was a heavier, all-wheel-drive car – a configuration not offered yet for the new T6 Drive-E.
During a week of mixed highway and city driving (and nearly 900 km traveled), the Volvo delivered an overall average of 8.7 L/100 km, proof enough that the Drive-E technology does indeed work.
That spirited inline-six of last year’s car dispensed 300 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque and while the new 2.0L four-cylinder T6 is down 30 torques to 295, it still delivers 300 horsepower thanks to some revolutionary technology utilizing both a turbocharger and a supercharger.
This system marries the best of both technologies, enabling the low-end grunt of a belt-driven supercharger to help get things moving from rest, then lets the turbocharger take over once it winds itself up. No turbo lag and a nice broad wave of power. This was Volvo’s plan and it is the reality.
If there is a downside – and there always is one, isn’t there – it is that the new engine is not particularly pleasing to the ear. BMW manages an agreeably aggressive, yet high-tech soundtrack with its 2.0L turbo-four, but Volvo’s Drive-E engine sounds more coarse and industrial. The smooth harmonics of an inline-six are hard to match and some of the S60’s sporting character has been lost with this new engine. That’s the price of progress and saving the planet, I suppose.
Volvo claims this engine is future-proofed to enable easy incorporation of electrification for hybrid technology with the expectation of four-cylinder efficiency and V8 performance. Plus the technology can be incorporated with diesel power plants instead of the gasoline ones coming to North American dealerships.
Not only does the new engine use considerably less fuel, but it also emits fewer hydrocarbons too, making it a truly green endeavour by Volvo. An Eco+ setting adjusts the draw from the climate control system and will shift the car imperceptibly into neutral during deceleration to reduce load on the drivetrain.
2015 Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E, speedometer, tachometer, centre stack. Click image to enlarge
Also new this year and perhaps equally important as the transition to the fancy new four-banger is the replacement of the somewhat lazy-shifting six-speed automatic with a new eight-speed automatic. Now with paddle shifters offered up as standard fare, the new transmission not only helps improve efficiency, but by requiring the engine to turn at lower revs, it makes for a more calm and serene driving environment on the highway.
When S-mode is selected or the paddle shifters are called to action, the new gearbox swaps cogs with impressive expediency encouraging some spirited driver interaction where in the past, one might’ve preferred to leave the car in “D” and let it do its own thing.
The North American luxury car buying public has embraced the all-weather traction benefits of all-wheel drive with Volvo’s primary competitors all reporting the majority of their sales going to all-wheel-drive (AWD) variants and option packages. As a result, the removal of AWD from the top-trim T6 S60 is likely to cause some potential buyers to forgo the S60 this year.
Motoring enthusiasts are going to decry the lack of AWD as well since the same amount of power being directed to only the front wheels means the Volvo now actively tries to wrench the steering wheel out of the driver’s hands under hard acceleration. It’s been a while since I’ve felt torque steer this prominent, and even then, it was in much cheaper performance hatchbacks designed to be a bit rowdy.