Cars

2019 S60 Marks Watershed Moment for Volvo

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — One of the first things a Volvo executive told us was that this is a “huge moment for us.” He was talking about the 2019 Volvo S60 luxury sports sedan. I could not agree more.

Yes the car is important, particular in a market that is dominated by utility vehicles; an automaker must still have viable sedans for the buyers who go against the grain. The 2019 S60 updates Volvo’s offering in the luxury midsize sport sedan market.

But there is more to the hugeness of the moment than the car. All Volvos are powered by flexible four cylinder engines and they sit on a scalable platform. The same platform and the same base engine should reduce production costs immensely and improve quality because of the redundancy in the build process.

So in theory, the Charleston, S.C., assembly plant where the S60 is being built can construct any Volvo. Evidence of that is production of the XC90, Volvo’s full size crossover, will be moved to this plant which is Volvo’s first in the U.S.

What’s more, I think one of the reasons that Volvo chose Charleston (the plant is in nearby Ridgeville) is the port. This plant will be the sole source of S60 and V60 production. In other words, some of its 150,000 vehicle capacity will be exported and it adds to Volvo’s global manufacturing footprint. The S60 goes on sale at the end of the year and the V60 goes on sale in the first quarter of next year.

I had to leave to attend another program, so I didn’t get a chance to test drive the V60, the station wagon, thus, I’ll have to wait for that experience. Still, the S60 luxury sports sedan was a lot of car that came with a healthy amount of variety.

This is the third-generation S60. It is longer and lower than the model it will replace. What’s more, the wheelbase is almost four-inches longer and the car is slightly narrower by 0.7 of an inch but we didn’t feel cramped. So different is the styling that other than the grille from the old S60 it would be difficult to tell that it is the same model car. In other words, it is not an evolutionary design. And because of the longer wheelbase, the ride on the new S60 was smooth and quiet, even on rough pavement. It had the same silhouette as the flagship S90.

I always suspected that there was more fluidity to Volvo’s new powertrain philosophy; four engines are available on the 2019 Volvo S60. The T5 is front-wheel-drive and powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The T6 is all-wheel-drive and has both supercharger and turbocharger. It makes 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.

Both T8 models are plug-in hybrids. The T8 Twin Engine AWD drive has the four-cylinder engine and two blowers and an electric motor and makes a total of 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque. And the T8 Polestar Engineered makes a total of 415 horsepower and 495 pound-feet of torque.

All the transmissions are eight speed automatics and both plug-in powertrains have lithium-ion batteries. I hadn’t noticed before, but Volvo listed zero to 60 mph times with these engines as well as their EPA ratings:

For the T5 it was 6.3 seconds from a standstill to 60 mph and 24 mpg in the city, 36 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg combined. The T6 can get to 60 mph from a standstill in 5.3 seconds and gets 21 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg combined. The T8 Twin Engine can do zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and gets 27 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway, 30 mpg combined and it has a 72 MPGe rating. The Polestar Engineered has the same mileage rating as the Twin Engine trim but it can do zero to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds.

We drove the Volvo S60 Polestar Engineered first. This car was comfortably powerful. It didn’t have the brutish characteristics of a car that had 400+ horsepower. It was refined, sophisticated and smooth. But put pressure on the accelerator and the car literally zoomed down the road.

We put it in B drive mode as we headed north on Pacific Coast Highway. It held gears a really long time. That B stands for battery and it means the regenerative brakes are activated when the accelerator pedal is released. In other words, you don’t need to brake to store power in the lithium-ion battery.

But it felt like the S60 was in sport mode because it held gears so long. And we weren’t the only ones to quibble about how aggressive the brakes were. The Polestar Engineered as well as the T8 Twin Engine had regenerative Brembo brakes all round; they were part of the regenerative braking system and stopped the car with authority.

We complained about how quickly and aggressively the brakes stopped the S60 at low speeds but I think the complaints would be minimal, if any, at bringing the car to a halt from a high speed. Besides, brake-feel as well as accelerator-feel drivers will adjust to as they become familiar with both.

Anyway, sight lines were great because the hood had been lowered by roughly four-inches; that is a lot. This trim line had contoured seats, gold brake calipers as well as matching gold seatbelt straps. It had black chrome tailpipes, Polestar badging fore and aft and it had 19-inch alloy wheels.

We had the top of the line audio system, 1,100 watts and 15 speakers. But there are two others: one has 600 watts and a basic system has 300 watts. The processor on Volvo’s Sensus Connect Touchscreen was upgraded. They said it made changing applications quicker and it did seem faster to me. They also said voice controls were improved but we didn’t try that out.

Sensus Connect is distinguished by its 9” touchscreen that works via infrared technology, which means it works when you wear gloves. We didn’t try that but the patent four-tile homepage keeps navigation, phone, media and applications accessible at all times. And it can be swiped left or right just like an iPad.

Volvo is branding its safety system as City Safety. It features collision warning with full automatic braking, pedestrian warning, cyclist warning and large animal detection. Our T8 had all these functions.

Our test car was also equipped with Pilot Assist II. It is a driver’s aid that assists with steering, acceleration and braking. It featured a hands-on-the-wheel semi-autonomous driving system where the driver is responsible for monitoring the road conditions and reacting if necessary. It works on highways and at speeds up to 80 MPH, no longer requiring a car in front of it to follow. The system is best used to reduce the stress drivers often report in stop-and-go commuter traffic. My driving partner couldn’t get it to work and I didn’t try.

And that was just some of the alerts. There was cross traffic alert, blind spot alert, adaptive cruise control, LED headlights, as well as Thor Hammer DRLs and LED taillights and it had run off the road mitigation.

The S60 is a driver’s car. There were four drive modes and the B mode makes five for the T8s. The T5 and T6 have comfort, dynamic eco and individual. The driver can also select from three levels of overall power assistance for steering. The power steering is still progressive, but depending on the setting, the assistance is stronger or weaker right through the entire speed range.

I thought it interesting that stop and go could be shut off and would stay off even when the car was turned off and then restated. We didn’t test it but that’s what they said.

We went into Malibu Canyon Road that obviously runs through Malibu Canyon. If you’ve never been there it is a winding ascending two-lane highway where the top speed never tops 50 mph. That’s because it is rift with sharp turns, switchbacks, and short straightaways with little room for passing. I’ve been on these canyon roads here innumerable times but I’d hate to be on one at night; no street lights.

We went through here aggressively. The brakes slowed the S60 smartly, steering was precise and the suspension was spot on. There were no deeps or yaws; the suspension kept the car level and there were no squealing tires.

The new Volvo S60 can be ordered with the Four-C electronically controlled damping system that replaces the traditional dampers/shock absorbers. The electronic control adjusts the damping characteristics continuously and instantaneously. We had it.

The normal suspension was a double wishbone in the front with coil springs, hydraulic shock absorbers and stabilizer bar. The rear has an integral axle with transverse composite leaf spring, hydraulic shock absorbers, stabilizer bar or optional active shock absorbers.

The all-wheel-drive system was a compact and lightweight coupling that distributed the engine’s power between the front and rear wheels. Under normal, dry conditions, which we had here, practically all of the power was distributed to the front wheels. The system constantly calculated the need for torque and could instantly redistribute up to 50 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels. When at a standstill, full all-wheel drive is always engaged to prepare for maximum traction during acceleration.

I climbed into the back seat and found plenty of head room in the rear and lots of hip room for two people. A third person would find it difficult to straddle the hump, at least in the AWD T8s.

The S60 is a lot of car. Heck, it will even tow up to 2,000 lbs. And as the old saying goes, Volvo seems to have a 2019 S60 for just about every midsize luxury car buying pocket book. The S60 T5 starts at $35,800, the S60 T6 AWD starts at $40,300 and the S60 T8 Twin Engine Plug-In Hybrid starts at $54,400. There is a $995 freight charge. No price was listed for the T8 Polestar Engineered; it can only be acquired through the subscription program.

The 2019 S60 falls under the aegis of Care by Volvo which is a subscription. For a flat fee of $1,100 per month you can drive an S60 T8 Polestar Engineered for two years and change to another trim line in 12 months. That monthly fee covers everything including insurance, maintenance and excess wear. In a way, the only additional cost is for gasoline which you’ve got to supply yourself. There is a 15,000 mile allowance per year and you can subscribe online, or via an app using your smartphone. Acquiring a new car doesn’t get much easier. And Care by Volvo starts at $775

Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.

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