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New models - Volvo - S60 - sedan

Volvo S60: middleweight slugger

Swinging sixties: The S60 is a strikingly handsome sedan and the most stylish offering from Volvo since the P1800 Coupe of the 1960s.

Volvo has BMW and Mercedes-Benz in its sights with its suave newcomer

24 Jan 2001

VOLVO has taken a leaf out of Alfa Romeo's textbook with its new S60 sedan - which it refers to as a "four-door coupe".

Alfa Romeo was the first manufacturer to use the "four-door coupe" label on its 156 sedan, which features cleverly concealed rear door handles - thus creating the illusion it is a coupe.

Volvo's effort is somewhat less convincing as - no matter which angle you view it from - the S60 appears nothing other than a sedan.

But the good news is the S60 is a strikingly handsome sedan and undoubtedly the most stylish offering from the Swedish car-maker since the P1800 Coupe of the 1960s.

Pricing starts at $54,950 for the entry level 2.4 20V SE manual, rising to $82,950 for the range-topping T5 auto, which puts the new line-up almost squarely against the segment-leading Mercedes-Benz C-class and BMW 3 Series.

Volvo aims to sell 1000 examples of the S60 this year and says it had already secured 200 paid orders for the car.

Volvo Car Australia managing director Richard Snijders suggests most S60 buyers will be those moving up from premium Japanese brands, rather than conquest sales from Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

The newcomer is based on the same platform as the existing S80 and V70, which adds to the economies of scale, according to Volvo's director of design, Geza Loczi, who is based at the company's Monitoring and Concept Centre in California.

"Why did we design S60? Volvo wanted volume," Mr Loczi said.

He said the S60 was twice as stiff as the defunct S70 as it "gains the strength of the large-car platform".

Confusingly, though, Volvo says the S60 does not replace the S70.

"We already have a good sedan in the S80, this (the S60) is a four-door coupe," Mr Loczi said.

Given the S60's sporting aspirations, Mr Loczi said the car's design criteria included a "square footprint, wide stance and long wheelbase".

Although shorter and narrower than the S80, the S60 shares the same track thanks to its muscular pumped guards.

Its overall lines are very similar to its big brother, featuring the same "waterfall" flanks and protruding grille - but its short front and rear overhangs endow it with a more sporting visual presence.

Like the V70 line-up, all three variants of the S60 are powered by five-cylinder engines.

The base model 20V SE uses a normally-aspirated 2.4-litre unit that generates 125kW at 5900rpm and 230Nm at 4500rpm - more or less on par with the Mercedes-Benz C240 and 320i.

Volvo is at pains to point out that both these rivals are significantly more expensive.

The 2.4T uses a low-pressure turbo engine that cranks out 147kW at 6000rpm and 285Nm from 1800rpm to 5000rpm.

These outputs slightly exceed those of the BMW 325i.

The range-topping T5 uses a high-pressure turbo engine that generates a hefty 184kW at 5200rpm and 330Nm from 2400rpm to 5200rpm.

All models are available with a five-speed manual or optional five-speed auto.

In the turbo models, the auto comes with Geartronic sequential shift capability - in other words you can shift up or down manually simply by nudging the lever forward or backward. The auto adds $2000 to the price.

A funky-looking "Spaceball" shifter can be specified as a $490 option on manual models (standard in T5). The Spaceball works like a conventional manual but lends a distinctly sporting theme to the interior.

Like its S80 and V70 siblings, the S60 uses multi-link rear suspension and MacPherson struts with coils springs at the front. All in all, it's a fairly conventional set-up.

Enthusiastic drivers can opt for a sports suspension package comprising stiffer springs and dampers. This package is offered as a no-cost option.

In true Volvo fashion, the S60 comes loaded with safety features, including WHIPS (whiplash protection system), SIPS (side impact protection system) and IC (inflatable curtain airbags).

Volvo also points to the impressive rigidity of the S80 as a measure of its passive safety.

Anti-lock brakes and dynamic stability and traction control are standard across the range.

The generous standard equipment list includes remote central locking, power windows and mirrors, climate control air-conditioning, leather upholstery, cruise control, alloy wheels, eight-speaker sound system with four-disc CD player and leather steering wheel.

In addition, the T5 gains Volvo's Navigation System, electric sunroof, electrically adjustable seats, 17-inch wheels with low-profile tyres, an integrated telephone system and 13-speaker sound system, as well as a few other niceties.

Volvo is confident the S60's impressive on-paper specifications and comprehensive equipment list will enable it to achieve the sales target for 2001.

But let's not forget Volvo forecast 1000 annual sales for the S80, which managed only 233 sales last year and 364 in 1999.

Time will tell whether history will repeat itselfS60 pricing:2.4 20V SE $54,950 $56,950 (auto)2.4 T $62,950 $64,950 (auto)T5 $80,950 $82,950 (auto)Drive impressions:THERE is a lot to like about Volvo's new S60 sedan - sorry, "four-door coupe".

For starters, it looks better than any other offering the Swedish car-maker has churned out over the past 30 years.

Viewed from a distance, the S60 could be mistaken for its larger S80 sibling.

But move in closer and you will notice the short overhangs and taut proportions that stamp it as a separate entity.

Only T5 variants, which ride on chunky 17-inch alloy wheels, were available at the car's launch.

The range-topper is undeniably an attractive car, although it is debatable whether it has the car park "cred" of a BMW 3 Series or Mercedes-Benz C-class.

Be that as it may, it still looks upmarket.

So much for the looks, how does it go?The T5's impressive on-paper specifications (184kW and 0-100km/h in a claimed 6.8 seconds) suggest the range-topper should be a barnstormer.

But on the road the car's straight-line performance proved somewhat disappointing and even the manual version felt slower than the less powerful BMW 330i.

But while its off-the-mark acceleration was nothing to get excited about, the T5's mid-range punch was a revelation.

The 330Nm on tap between 2400rpm and 5200rpm makes its presence felt at highway speeds, making overtaking a relatively simple exercise.

The T5's front-wheel drive layout means there is torque-steer if you bury the throttle in the lower gears, but the standard traction control system ensures things never get totally out of hand.

Ride quality is compliant - slightly less so with the sports suspension - and the car feels stable over a variety of surfaces.

It handles with aplomb - better than any of its siblings - although it cannot match a BMW 3 Series for balance and overall sharpness.

Refinement levels are impressive with wind and mechanical noise well suppressed. A bit of tyre roar is noticeable over coarse surfaces, but not to intrusive levels.

Build quality is beyond reproach, both inside and out, but head and legroom are somewhat limited in the rear seat.

Overall, the S60 is an accomplished package that can hold its own against its German rivals.

It looks sharp and drives well, even though it lacks the cachet of a spinning propeller badge or three-pointed star on the bonnet.

GoAuto can help you buy a new S60

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