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First Oz drive: AWD adds to Volvo S60's appeal

Sports story: Volvo wants you to like driving the S60, as well as needing to drive it.

The S60 AWD is a gripping tale for Volvo

17 Jun 2002

A COMPACT sedan with a turbo engine and four-wheel drive? Sounds like a recipe familiar to thousands of Subaru Impreza WRX owners doesn't it.

But this is a sports sedan cooked up very differently - by Volvo in fact, which is adding the all-paw version of its S60 prestige car to its Australian range.

On sale from June 24, it will be priced at $68,950 in manual or automatic forms, making it the second most expensive model in the range below the $84,950 S60 T5, but also just $2000 more than its closest relation in the range, the S60 2.4T.

The AWD is also the second S60 model addition recently, following on from the $49,950 2.4. Volvo Car Australia sees the AWD as a direct competitor for the likes of BMW's 325i, Mercedes-Benz's C200K and the four-wheel drive Jaguar X-Type.

And it obviously expects it to make some headway because it is forecasting the AWD will account for about 15 per cent of total S60 sales of around 900 cars in 2002, down slightly from last year's 1047.

While much of the S60 AWD is familiar - the sleek coupe-like four-door body, the low pressure turbo 2.4-litre engine already sold in the 2.4T and the ergonomically efficient interior - there are some mechanical and specification changes.

The vital added ingredient is the electronically controlled all-wheel drive system, which is a different and newer design than the one under the V70XC Cross Country and will eventually become the sole Volvo AWD system.

Developed in collaboration with Swedish drive-system specialist Haldex, the system utilises a wet multi-plate clutch, an hydraulic circuit and computer control to vary the drive front to rear.

Under normal driving conditions the vehicle is predominantly front-wheel driven, but the system is infinitely variable, meaning it can go from 100 per cent front-wheel drive to 100 per cent rear-wheel drive and anything in between.

The AWD control system is, however, intelligent enough to determine when AWD engagement is unwarranted such as low-speed manoeuvres like parking and braking, where it reverts to front-wheel drive.

The rest we pretty much know about. Motive power comes from Volvo's inline, five-cylinder, 2.4- litre, turbocharged and intercooled engine, which produces 147kW at 6000rpm and 285Nm between 1500rpm and 5000rpm.

The engine's unusual number of cylinders is backed up by an impressive technical spec - all-alloy construction, double overhead camshafts, 20 valves, variable exhaust valve timing and a twin scroll turbo.

Volvo claims a 0-100km/h dash time for the AWD of 8.1 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 210km/h. Official fuel consumption is put at 6.99L/100km on the highway cycle and 10.91L/100km on the city cycle in either manual or auto.

Volvo says the AWD is 38kg heavier than other S60 2.4T, but official figures say it is only 0.5 seconds slower to 100km/h and records equal fuel consumption.

The engine is mated as standard to a five-speed electronically adaptive automatic transmission with the Geartronic clutchless manual shifting mode, while a five-speed manual is also available with the sexy Spaceball selector.

The chassis remains the MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear combination set-up in the same sporty fashion as the top-spec T5, although Volvo says the AWD has better weight distribution than its front-wheel drive brethren.

The braking package comprising 305mm ventilated front discs and 288mm solid rear discs with the assistance of ABS and electronic brake distribution is as per the rest of the S60 range, bar the top-spec T5 which replaces EBD with the more sophisticated emergency brake assistance (EBA).

In terms of features, the AWD broadly reflects the 2.4T, although outside there's unique 17-inch Amalthea alloy wheels on 224/45 tyres and S60 AWD badging. Inside there is brushed aluminium highlights on the doors and glovebox and leather/textile interior trim. Heated sports front seats are also seen in the T5 and, funnily enough, the base model 2.4, although that car makes do with vinyl trim.

The feature list includes cruise control, electronic climate control, trip computer, powered driver's seat with memory, remote central locking, front and rear foglamps and an audio system with an in-dash CD player all standard.

Being a Volvo, passive safety equipment is high on the list. There's front, side and window airbags, the WHIPS anti-whiplash front seat design, head restraints and lap-sash airbags all round.

PRICING

Volvo S60 2.4 $49,950
Volvo S60 2.4 auto $52,450
Volvo S60 2.4 SE $56,950
Volvo S60 2.4 SE auto $58,950
Volvo S60 2.4T manual and auto $66,950
Volvo S60 AWD manual and auto $68,950
Volvo S60 T5 manual and auto $84,950

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

THERE are many things we admire about the Volvo S60, like the quality of its build, the excellent ergonomics and interior capacity, and that lovely shape. But chassis balance and performance have never been at the forefront of our thoughts.

However, with AWD it seems the local distributor senses the chance to put that right. Why else conduct a launch drive program with plenty of challenging gravel roads and even a few laps of the tight and twisty Wakefield Park racing circuit.

The message? This is a Volvo you'll want to drive as well as need to drive.

And it seems Volvo has gone a fair way toward getting that right. The jittery ride we are familiar with from the front-wheel drive S60s we have sampled has been quelled significantly, and the loose, slack steering tightened up as well.

Perhaps the additional weight of the AWD system helps settle the car down, or maybe owner Ford's renowned suspension and steering tune expertise has been quietly brought to bear.

Okay, it is still no WRX, but then it does not need to be, instead it's a nice compromise between performance and plushness.

The AWD system proved itself to be capable enough in the varied conditions, although like all "real-time" systems it can be caught out, our car pitching into a slide on a ball bearing gravel crest as we turned right at no more than a reasonable pace. The AWD system kicked in and straightened things out, but not until after the heart beat went up a couple of notches.

But for the most part the car felt solid, stable and predictable - pretty much, it must be said, as a front-wheel drive S60 would behave in the same conditions.

Back on tar, be it the open road, freeway or city streets, the AWD also behaved with great similarity to its siblings, proving itself quiet, comfortable and, thanks to the torquey engine and smooth gearbox, pretty easy to live with.

It may not be hard-core sports or even as focussed as Volvo would like us to suggest, but the AWD does seem to be the most well-rounded and enjoyable S60 to date and definitely worth the $2000 premium over the 2.4T.

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