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Volvo S60 AWD: Beauty More Than Skin Deep
By: Michael Cooney

"Wow! That's a Volvo?" After hearing several comments like that, I realized the new Volvos must be something of a shock for some. Volvos of recent years have undergone (thankfully) a major styling transformation that has brought to our shores some genuinely attractive automobiles. The latest example is the S60, a mid-size front-wheel drive 4-door sedan. The S60 debuted last year as a 2001 model, and 2002 brings an All Wheel Drive (AWD) version, the subject of this review.

Trim Levels and Engine Options
Three power levels are available in the S60: a 2.4-liter in-line five-cylinder with either 168 horsepower, or 197 horsepower in turbocharged form; and a 2.3-liter turbo in-line five with 247 horsepower. The AWD version tested here is available only with the 197 hp intercooled turbo engine and 5-speed Geartronic automatic. A 5-speed manual is standard on the 168 and 247 horsepower versions.

The level of standard equipment varies with each engine option. Primary visual differences would come from ordering the optional 17-inch wheel/tire combination, and choosing between standard fabric upholstery and optional leather. This unit had standard 205/55HR16 all season Michelins on 16x6.5 inch 7-spoke wheels, and leather. Base prices for S60s range from $27,125 to $34,025 depending on engine choice.

Exterior View
S60 styling, particularly around the tail lamps and rear quarter panel, is distinctive in a visually pleasing way. Several friends commented on how the rear view looked 'different, but really nice.' Its sleek roofline further adds to a graceful appearance. The S60 is a stylish Scandinavian alternative in the near-luxury class. As with a number of European manufacturers, Volvo charges extra (in this case, $400) for metallic paint.

Interior Features
The S60ís interior includes numerous well-conceived convenience items. Pockets on the front of the front seat cushions are one; a dash-mounted pushbutton to lower the rear headrests for better visibility is another. I especially liked the subdued, sophisticated flat-toned interior colors. The front buckets were firm but comfortable, offering good support. Rear seat legroom is adequate but not generous.

As you might expect from Volvo, front side-impact air bags and side Inflatable Curtain airbags for front and rear head protection are included in addition to the usual driver and front passenger airbag. The stereo included both cassette and single CD operation, with 4x25 watt amps and six speakers, and sounded fine.

Driving the S60
The S60's AWD system is part-time, meaning essentially that it operates as a front wheel drive car unless the front wheels lose traction. Then, slip sensors electronically cause the transfer of some power to the rear wheels (up to 50%) until traction is regained up front. Since this transfer begins almost instantly, it is seamless and transparent to the driver.
If you drive in the snow or on gravel roads, or just want additional insurance against loss of traction during inclement weather, you may find it worthwhile.

The S60 AWD's Geartronic 5-speed automatic adds to driving enjoyment, especially on winding mountain roads. When in ìDî you can then move the shift lever to a slot on the left, and then operate it more like a manual. Just tap the lever forward to upshift, or back to downshift.

Speaking of mountain roads, the S60 performed well in that more demanding environment. Being turbocharged, the engine suffers less of a power loss at higher altitudes than a normally aspirated engine, since it is being force-fed the fuel-air mixture at greater than atmospheric pressure. A willing motor, combined with the S60ís highly capable handling, adds up to solid sport sedan performance.

On the freeway, the ride was smooth and comfortable. The tach registered 2100 rpm at an indicated 60 mph. Its larger than class-average 21.1 gallon gas tank should give the S60 good range. Zero-to-sixty acceleration takes just 7.4 seconds (according to Motor Trend magazine).

Final Word
Besides Volvo loyalists, the company also expects to grab buyers who are shopping the Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, and Mercedes Benz C-Class. The S60 is a highly capable performer that is also comfortable and civilized. This AWD version is EPA rated at 19-city and 26-highway mpg. My combination of city, freeway and mountain driving returned 21.2 mpg. The price on this unit, including destination charges, totaled $35,825. With the S60ís combination of performance, handling, comfort and safety, it may indeed turn up on more shopping lists for those who would previously have considered only German makes.