Benefitting from all the Volvos that have come before it.
Volvo has been working to perfect its lineup one model at a time, focusing particularly on design, performance, technology, and safety. Advancement in these areas first appeared on the current-generation XC90 SUV, and were then refined on the S90 luxury sedan. Next they were shrunk for the XC60 compact SUV, and then tweaked to fit the all-new XC40 subcompact SUV. This vehicle, though, was saved for last: the 2019 Volvo S60.
In a way, Volvo saved the best for last, but the new S60, especially in the brand’s R-Design configuration, is only this good because of the four vehicles that went through this transformative process before it. Only through them are the S60’s superlative qualities honed to near perfection.
With a starting price of only $35,800, the S60, a North American Car of the Year finalist, is a remarkably good deal. Only the Infiniti Q50 ($35,550) and the Acura TLX ($33,000) start lower, and they’re not in the same league as the S60 in terms of style and refinement. The S60’s true competitors – the German trio comprised of the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class – are all the more expensive.
That doesn’t mean the S60 can’t get pricey. This tester is the T6 AWD R-Design model, which starts at $46,400 and features the S60’s second-most powerful engine – a trick 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that’s both turbocharged and supercharged to produce 316 horsepower. A less expensive T5 R-Design model starting at $41,900 comes with only front-wheel drive and the same engine sans supercharger making 250 hp, while a more expensive $54,400 T8 AWD R-Design version earns the highest price tag on account of its 400-hp plug-in hybrid powertrain.
This S60 T6 AWD R-Design also comes with the Advanced package that costs $2,500 and includes features like a head-up display, Volvo’s Pilot Assist semi-autonomous drive system, adaptive cruise control, a 360-degree-view monitor, and full LED headlights. A few other items like heated rear seats and steering wheel ($750), an upgraded Bowers and Wilkins sound system ($3,200), and special 19-inch R-Design wheels ($800) take this testers price up to $55,490. Expensive? Yes, but each of those aforementioned German sedans can eclipse that mark quicker when you’re optioning them up.
The compact luxury sedan segment is chock full of attractive four-doors, and the S60, in my eyes, is most attractive among them. It’s classically handsome on the outside with just the right amount of minimalist Scandinavian influence, while at the same time exuding a pinch of sex appeal from some well-placed curves. A shrunken S90 comes to mind when looking at it, and the miniaturization of the full-size sedan’s elongated profile helps bring the S60 visual weight into perfect proportion with itself.
Being an R-Design model, this S60 test car also features a number of sporty exterior enhancements. The R-Design front grille is a high-gloss piano black mesh that matches the window trim and mirror caps. The lower rear bumper design is also specific to the R-Design and houses dual integrated tailpipes. Best of all is the optional set of 19-inch R-Design wheels that sets the perfect tone for this car’s mission.
The S60’s interior design is equally excellent. While not as flashy as the S90’s insides, the S60’s cabin features high-quality materials like burled metal on the gear and drive mode selectors, more metal on the cup holders’ sliding cover, and even more metal on the trim that outlines the dash. The leather is also top notch, and the very few places that plastic is used, it’s the high-quality, soft, low-gloss stuff.
The S60’s interior also benefits from Volvo’s extensive application of screens. Behind the steering wheel is a 12.3-inch driver’s display featuring all-digital gauges and extensive functionality from the car’s infotainment system. In the center, though, is an even more impressive vertical 9-inch touchscreen running the brand’s Sensus infotainment system. From a design standpoint, these screens integrate perfectly, avoiding the tacked-on look of some competitors.
This being the sportier-looking-than-normal R-Design trim, both the seats and ride of this S60 are more aggressive than the standard version’s, but not so much so that they’re uncomfortable. Remember, R-Design models are more show than go, so even though it looks like it might ride as stiffly as a sports car, this S60 is more relaxed than that.
In regards to space, the S60 fits both its driver and passengers like a tailored shirt. Sure, it’s a compact sedan, so there’s not a lot of extra room for heads, elbows, and knees, but what’s there is just right for normal-sized adults to travel in comfort. Rear seat passengers, especially, should be grateful, as compact luxury sedans are notorious for sacrificing rear seat head- and legroom on the altar of form over function – the S60 doesn’t.
We’re used to Volvos earning near perfect scores in this category because we like the brand’s Sensus infotainment system so much. The vertical central screen is huge with crisp graphics and a powerful-enough processor to keep pace with inputs, while the flat menu structure of three screens that you swipe left or right to access is ingenious. Impressively, this screen and the Sensus infotainment with navigation is standard on all S60s. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard on every S60 as well, as does a hands-free trunk, keyless entry, a parking assist system for both parallel and perpendicular spots, and an air filtration system. As mentioned, the even larger 12.3-inch driver’s display that houses the digital gauges and gives redundant access to main parts of the Sensus infotainment system is equally impressive, though it’s not available on the base T5 FWD Inscription model.
This T6 AWD R-Design test car also comes with a bevy of optional upgrades including a 360-degree-view monitor, a Bowers and Wilkins premium sound system, head-up display, and power cushion extensions for the 10-way power front seats and 4-way passenger seats.
The S60 T6 AWD R-Design offers a killer combination of everyday drivability and fun-to-drive character (even if it isn't as hot as the S60 can get). The car features multiple drive modes that top out in aggressiveness with Dynamic mode, but even the default Comfort mode is sharper and more engaging to drive than your standard compact luxury sedan.
There’s a lot of technology happening to make this little 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine produce 316 hp and 296 pound-feet of torque, not the least of which is both a turbocharger and supercharger operating simultaneously. The supercharger does its work at lower RPMs, while the turbocharger takes over at speed to boost power higher in the rev range. They combine beautifully to create a linear power curve that belies the complexities involved to make it all happen.
In regards to handling, the S60 T6 AWD R-Design feels both light on its feet and glued to the ground thanks to its larger wheel-and-tire setup and all-wheel-drive system. The steering, as well, is accurate and weighty.
Yet, with this S60 tuned to be sportier than average, it still feels like a proper luxury car in that noises from the outside, the tires, and the engine are still well muted and bumpy roads don’t get far past the suspension to your bum. If you’re seeking a proper sports sedan, then perhaps these measures are unwanted, but for those wanting an even balance, the S60 T6 AWD R-Design teeters perfectly between these two poles.
As you might expect on account of it being a Volvo, the S60 is about as safe a car to drive as they come. Standard equipment on all S60s includes blind-spot monitoring and a cross-traffic-alert system, low-speed automotive emergency braking, rear collision mitigation support, lane-keeping assist, and road-sign-reading functionality. Those items alone can cost thousands of dollars extra on competitors’ cars and are sometimes restricted only to the most expensive trim levels.
This S60 T6 AWD R-Design test car also comes with a couple optional upgrades to further improve safety, starting with full LED headlights that actively bend around corners and feature automatic high beams. Next up is Volvo’s advanced Pilot Assist semi-autonomous drive system that lets you follow-the-leader on the highway without driver input.
Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has crash tested the new S60 yet, but being a Volvo, it’s a safe bet this sedan will pass with flying colors.
This T6 model’s engine impressively produces over 300 horsepower while at the same time achieving over 30 miles per gallon on the highway. The Environmental Protection Agency officially rates the S60 T6 AWD R-Design at 21 mpg in the city, 32 on the highway, and 25 combined, and my week spent driving it in all manner of ways supports those numbers. Unfortunately, the T6 engine does require premium fuel.
If being green is really your thing, though, the S60’s third powertrain option is pairing its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a plug-in hybrid powertrain. It magically produces even more power, 400 hp to be exact, but can achieve 31 mpg combined when the gas engine is running and travel 22 miles on electricity alone.