You might write off the Volvo S60 as another cog in the subdued Swedish machine. Call it a carbon copy of the S90 with XC60 and XC90 powertrain options if you like, but in truth, it’s much more than that. The Volvo S60 is a complete package – it’s the culmination of Volvo’s best elements wrapped up neatly. Compared to the last generation S60, this one offers extra equipment, better tech, hugely improved styling, and even a performance option (not that the old S60 Polestar wasn’t endearing or anything).
Between the scenic views of the Santa Monica coast, where our drive started, and the sleek lines of the S60, there was no shortage of eye-candy on display. The S60 wears the Volvo design language exceptionally well. It's the best application of the family styling to date – more so than the S90, even – and puts the Swede single-handedly at the top of its class visually.
The Polestar Engineered model is the most stunning of the bunch. It turns the styling dial up a notch with black trim pieces on the grill instead of chrome, trim-exclusive 20-inch wheels, and fancy gold brakes. But the R-Design isn't far behind visually – it too loses a ton of chrome in place of black accents, and rides on unique 19-inch five-spoke wheels. Both of these models reek of performance on the surface.
The S60 R-Design wears its "sports sedan" ribbon loosely. It has no trouble on the tight turns of Los Padres National Forest, serendipitously gliding through corners rather than carving them, but feels more at home cruising the coast. The new double-wishbone axle up front and the integral link in the rear give it a firm but flexible ride, and the addition of all-wheel drive assures tons of grip, even when aggressively pushed.
Power from the turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder "T6" engine arrives fervently at 2,200 RPM. All 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque channel through a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic, which is seemingly always in the right gear at the right time. You can play with the paddle shifters, but the transmission is competent on its own.
Pop it into Dynamic mode and the S60 stiffens up. The steering gets some much-needed additional heft, the throttle is more responsive, and the gearbox shifts a smidgen quicker than in Standard mode. Even in its most agro setting, though, the S60 is still a tame sedan. That's where the Polestar Engineered model comes in.
Buyers in the market for an S60 with all the fixins can subscribe to owning the S60 Polestar Engineered (all 20 of the 2019 model-year Polestar Engineered cars are spoken for, though). It's the hottest S60 on offer and throws most of the sedan's Swedish sensibility out the window. It's like leaving the opera house to watch a Mission: Impossible movie; two entertaining cars, two very different applications.
It's the hottest S60 on offer and throws most of the sedan's Swedish sensibility out the window.
The Polestar Engineered model distinguishes itself mechanically with Volvo’s T8 plug-in hybrid powertrain. This combo belts out 416 hp and 494 lb-ft of torque. There's a noticeable difference in off-the-line speed over the R-Design model: torque from the electric motor kicks in almost instantaneously, but the 2.0-liter engine isn't far behind in its output. Power is channeled through the same eight-speed gearbox found on the R-Design model which, once again, proves to be a really competent offering.
Even though the Polestar model is punchier, it has its faults. Volvo didn’t provide an exact weight figure, but, at nearly 4,000 pounds, it's an absolute unit. The trim-exclusive Öhlins dampers do their best to tame the wafting body in tight corners, but it still rolls too aggressively. The R-Design is definitely the more nimble of the two.
And then there are the brakes; the massive gold Brembos and standard regenerative braking system are frustrating as hell. Foot off the gas, and the regenerative braking system kicks on immediately, but a degree of extra pressure on the brake pedal and the big Brembos jolt the car to a stop – even in normal traffic situations.
There is some reprieve, though. The S60 Polestar Engineered can drive up to 21 miles on battery power alone, which is extremely satisfying. And the transition between pure EV and gasoline-electric hybrid is seamless – often times I couldn't tell whether the engine was even on. With all its sporty implications, the S60 is still a very comfortable car.
The S60's cabin is a style guide in Swedish minimalism. You won't find more than 10 buttons anywhere. Almost everything is controlled through the standard, portrait-oriented nine-inch touchscreen, dubbed Sensus Connect by Volvo. A few extra buttons would do the S60 justice – do we really need to dig through multiple screens to adjust the fan speed?
The upgraded Sensus Connect is pretty simple to use otherwise, and offers a bunch of useful features. A clean, four-tile layout application pane greets you when you enter. All four of those tiles are configurable, by the way, with the ability to swap between navigation, phone, media, and a few third-party apps like Spotify, Pandora, Yelp and a few others. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi connectivity all come standard. Buyers in the mood for an upgraded aural experience can pay extra for either a Harmon Kardon audio system or the range-topping Bowers and Wilkens setup. ABBA sounds especially good on the latter.
Do we really need to dig through multiple screens to adjust the fan speed?
Volvo’s interior designers did an impressive job of keeping the minimalist theme consistent. The flat dash, covered in black leather and cream-colored accent stitching forms seamlessly into the central cluster. The only shiny pieces are the air-vent surrounds. Everything else is soft to the touch, and even the seats are fantastic. That’s right, the seats. They provided the perfect amount of bolstering and knee support for my lanky six-foot frame after a few hours on the road, even if they were a little firm for my tastes.
The Volvo S60 is now safer than ever. Automatic emergency braking, forward-collision warning, and cross traffic alert with automatic braking all come standard on the sedan for the first time. Oncoming traffic alert with brake assist is a brand new feature that applies extra braking if it senses oncoming oncoming traffic in your lane (thankfully, we didn’t have to use it). Blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning are also optional.
The gem here, though, is Pilot Assist. Volvo’s semi-autonomous driving software never faltered on the highway, with the radar cruise control proactively braking and adding power when necessary, and the lane-keeping system keeping the car perfectly centered at all times. In LA’s brutal stop-and-go traffic, Pilot Assist definitely alleviated some stress.
The S60 is the most complete Volvo product to date. It’s handsome, tech-focused, and drives exceptionally well – even if you ignore some of the obvious performance flaws of the Polestar Engineered model. The R-Design is the sweet spot, as it blends performance and comfort into a seamless package, without being too over the top in its styling. It’s also relatively affordable.
At $41,900, the S60 R-Design doesn’t command a huge premium over the $35,800 base model. If you want all-wheel-drive, it will set you back $4,500 and bring the total up to $46,400. The Polestar Engineered is a bit different, though. You can’t actually buy one of the 20 currently on offer, as Volvo offers it exclusively through their Care by Volvo subscription service at a cost of $1,100 per month.
Gallery: 2019 Volvo S60: First Drive
2019 Volvo S60 Polestar Engineered