Volvo S60 Drive-E T6 — Oh, what a feeling

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

To say we were blindsided by Volvo's S60 Drive-E T6 is an apt description of our positive feelings after the first few miles. To steal a long-ago slogan from another car company, "oh, what a feeling." And to think this initial perception was not based on a horsepower-infused V-8 or a twin-turbocharged V-6, but on new four-cylinder engine technology that is just short of astounding.

What we were driving was Volvo's top-line 2.0-liter engine that makes 302 horsepower rated at 25 mpg city, 35 mpg highway and 28 overall. With the T6 the answer to the question, why do I have to sacrifice gas mileage for outstanding performance is answered with an emphatic, you don’t.

Volvo's new engine technology has been tagged Drive-E and in T6 form the 2.0-liter engine, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, is both supercharged and turbocharged. The supercharger is designed to provide an instant boost off the line with none of the all-too-familiar turbo lag. Then when accelerating, the turbocharger takes over and the hand-off from supercharger to turbo is so seamless and quiet that you don’t really notice it. There’s no induction roar, exhaust bark, supercharger whine or any other indication that you've got your foot to the floor. The dominant sound is that of the wind rushing over the A-pillars and door mirrors. Volvo says the Drive-E T6 can accelerate from a dead stop to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, and we believe it.

On the road, the S60 is comfortable and controlled with very accurate speed-sensitive steering. It handled the twists and turns of our usual winding road "test tracks" with true sports sedan competence, perhaps due to the sport-tuned suspension in our test car. If wringing the most mpg out of your car is a priority, the T6 has an ECO+ feature with start/stop functionality. It's a fuel-saving technology designed to optimize shift points, engine control and throttle response. While stop/start is not unobtrusive it is better than most competing systems. Volvo says that when activated, ECO+ can improve fuel economy by five percent depending on driving style, temperature and climate.

The new engine technology can also be obtained with fewer horses and slightly better mileage. The T5 Drive-E 2.0-liter engine makes do with just a turbocharger creating 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Volvo says the T5 can complete a 0-to-60 run in 6 seconds. Mileage improves to 25/37/29.

A couple of things that made our test car such a delight were the Technology package that included an excellent adaptive cruise control system, collision warning, lane departure warning, and blind sport monitoring; and a 160-watt high performance audio system with eight speakers. There's even a better 650-watt, 12-speaker system available. The ergonomics are top notch with good sight lines and comfortable seats surrounded by a strong, safe structure. The interior materials are very good and everything works with a precision that is friendlier than that of comparable German luxury makes.

Volvo is known for safety, and standard safety is prevalent in addition to the aforementioned optional safety. It includes four-wheel antilock brakes, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, whiplash-reducing front head restraints and City Safety that helps the driver avoid rear-ending other vehicles or a stationary object at speeds up to 19 mph by automatically applying the brakes if the driver does not react in time.

But all is not roses with the S60. There are some thorns. Both editions can be outfitted with all-wheel drive but — and here's where confusion may set in — the T5 AWD comes with Volvo's 2.5-liter turbocharged 5-cylinder and the T6 AWD is powered by Volvo's 3.0-liter turbocharged V6, both carryovers mated to a six-speed automatic.

We also discovered a couple of other shortcomings that have been associated with the S60 over the last decade and that have not been fully addressed with the latest iteration. Rear-seat space has been one of the tightest in the segment in the past, and we heard the usual S60 complaints of limited legroom from our rear-seat guests. And the sedan's parking lot maneuverability — although improved from the previous generation — is still large – SUV like – with a turning circle of 39 feet.

However, if this first use of the Drive-E technology with its lusty performance, its on-road capability and its appealing cabin is any indication, we think Volvo has a very bright future. The T5 Drive-E powering the S60 starts at $34,225.  The S60 T6 Drive-E starts at $39,075 including destination charge. Our test car with several options carried a bottom line of $47,925.

Base price: $39,075; as driven, $47,925
Engine: 2.0-liter supercharged, turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 302 @ 5,700 rpm
Torque: 295 foot-pounds @ 2,100 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 109.3 inches
Length: 182.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,472 pounds
Turning circle: 39 feet
Luggage capacity: 12 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 17.8 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 35 highway, 24 city
0-60: 5.6 seconds (manufacturer)
Also consider: BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class, Cadillac ATS

The Good
• Outstanding performance
• Exceptional gas mileage
• Loaded with Volvo safety
• Attractive cabin

The Bad
• Large turning circle

The Ugly
• Tight rear seating