The crash test dummy finds safety in Volvo’s new S60
summit daily auto writer
If you’re going to be involved in your first major accident in more than a decade, why not do it in what’s generally known as the safest car brand in the world?
This was not my original intention during a recent test period with the all-new 2011 Volvo S60, the sporty, sleek, high-power beauty you’ve seen advertised this winter for its “naughtiness.”
But after a week that included a very comfortable and safe trip all the way to Vegas and back, as the old story goes, I of course got nailed a block from my office.
And while the new S60 has continued to evolve the Swedish manufacturer’s remarkable series of safety and even crash-avoidance technologies, when you’re cut off by a driver at an intersection, no force field or giant inflatable bubble suddenly deploys to protect the vehicle (though this would be a great idea, especially for the Smart Car or the new Fiat 500).
Rather, I got my first career deployment of side curtain airbags and, thanks to the rigid frame, walked away totally unscathed, a little shaken. Metal still crunches on metal.
Had the incident been in a slower-speed setting, Volvo’s forward-focused, radar-activated pedestrian detection/collision warning/adaptive cruise control system would have dumped the brakes for me (had I not done so myself), but the full-stop system only works up to about 20 mph.
Let me then go back a bit and talk about the experience before that could-have-been-worse incident, and say that the new S60 is indeed a revolutionary product for Volvo.
The previous S60, as you may remember, was a little lost in the mix. The smaller S40 and C30 two-door hatch had the sporty angle covered and the larger but totally dowdy S80 offered bland sophistication; the mid-sized S60 was kind of indistinct, with the exception of the short-lived, high-powered R model.
The new S60 plunks a feisty 300-horsepower turbocharged six-cylinder up front and builds up the sport driving experience but lavishes the machine with luxurious sophistication and comfort. It’s not huge, mind you – I personally wouldn’t have wanted to be in that slightly crowded back seat all the way to Vegas and back, but it’ll do for shorter jaunts.
That quick-to-spool-up engine delivers impressive jolt but was totally smooth and worth its stated 26 highway mpg. Active stability control and all-wheel drive serve to allow both the bordering-on-aggressive response you’ve seen in the ads, while still offering comfortable, day-to-day poise. The six-speed automatic can be manually speed-shifted via the large central column, though the adaptive shift logic will quickly adapt to your driving style and do much of that for you.
The S60’s looks help to completely redefine the machine, with an elegant, sweeping, tapered feel. Over the last few years the Europeans, who must all be much shorter and not so worried about banging their heads on doorframes, have tried to make “four-door coupes,” and the new S60 is a good example, though you still have deceptively ample headroom inside, both as a first- and second-row passenger.
Inside, the sporty-but-sophisticated motif is really in effect, with a new and impressively redesigned navigation and entertainment system and a cabin layout (including an intricate, multi-contoured dash and center stack) that’s more like high-end, imported furniture than a rolling box with wheels and an engine.
The seating alone is superb, with stitched upholstery, huge side bolsters and, if you desire, that Beechwood Brown leather that feels like you’re swimming in melted chocolate. Polished aluminum or hardwood inlays are also available to trick things out.
The A/C controls feature that silvery human figure for air zone distribution, plus four large knobs on a flying wedge.
The new “infotainment” system takes S60 into nearly Audi/BMW levels of electronic gizmo-ism but it’s pretty easy to use once you get the hang of it (though input is all by keypad, not touchscreen), with beautifully rendered maps and graphics. And the optional 650-watt, 12-speaker stereo system is fantastic.
Wheel-mounted controls also aid keeping your eyes on the road, as this is apparently still quite important, what with other people deciding to merge into you and whatnot. Should that badness occur, it’s a pretty good place to be to endure the worst.
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