LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
—Volvo’s newest entrants are the third-generation S60 and V60 mid-size sedan and wagon. Starting at $42,400 and $43,900 respectively, they begin to hit showrooms later this year.
Like everything Volvo sells here except the compact XC40
, they are based on the company’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA ).
SPA is sort of an automotive Lego set. The distance from the front axle to the firewall is fixed; other dimensions — wheelbase, width, height, front and rear overhangs — can be adjusted to give designers more freedom to create vehicles in a wide range of sizes, yet with simplified manufacturing and lower cost.
Volvo obviously isn’t alone in using this approach, as most car companies do something similar.
The new S/V60 are a bit longer overall and in wheelbase for more interior room, and considerably sleeker in appearance. They’re downright gorgeous compared to their rather dowdy predecessors.
The S60 will be the first car to be produced at Volvo’s third North American plant, this one in Ridgeville South Carolina near Charleston. (The first two of course were in Nova Scotia, initially in Dartmouth in 1964, then Bayer’s Lake in 1967, which closed in 1998.)
The V60 wagon and the higher-performance R-Design models will come from Sweden and/or Belgium.
Both models are offered with front-wheel drive, in which case they are badged T5, or with automatic-on-demand four-wheel drive, in which case they become T6.
Completing the engine lineup is a hybrid version called T8.
But whether it’s a T5, T6 or T8, it’s still a 4 — the only engine configuration Volvo now offers here is an all-aluminum 2.0 litre twin-cam four cylinder.
In T5 models, it is turbocharged (250 horsepower; 258 lb.-ft. of torque), and drives the front wheels.
In T6 models, it is both supercharged for better low-speed urge and turbocharged to boost mid-range giddy up (313 horsepower; 295 lb.-ft.) and drives all four wheels.
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The 2019 Volvo V60 comes with a full set of safety features.[/caption]
In the T8 you get Volvo’s Twin Engine concept — the gasoline engine, tweaked to generate 313 horses, drives the front wheels, while an electric motor spins the rears, providing combined output in the 400-horse range.
In the “Polestar Engineered’’ version, (a) you get even more power, some 415 combined gasoline- and electric-powered horses, and (b) you are already too late because only 10 of these are coming to Canada for 2019 and apparently all have been spoken for already.
Volvo is proud of the fact that these power numbers compare well to Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, Infiniti Q50, Lexus IS and Mercedes-Benz C Class.
All engine variants work through an Aisin eight-speed automatic transmission.
As with all new Volvos, there will be a steeper-than-usual learning curve to figure out how to operate them.
To start with, there’s, um, the starter, which is a knob on the centre console behind the shift lever that you twist to fire the car up.
Fortunately, Volvo has not followed either their own XC40 SUV or some of the competition down the dangerous road of redesigning the shift quadrant. Full-forward is Park, back one notch for Reverse, back again for Neutral and back once more for Drive, the way it’s been for most of the past half-century.
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Note to other carmakers (and the chief engineer of the XC40) — there is no need whatsoever to reinvent this particular wheel.
From Drive you can slide the lever to the left to get to the manual override option. Sadly, here Volvo gets it wrong by having you shove the lever forward to upshift, and back to downshift.
Sorry folks, this is not a matter of personal preference; this is simply wrong, and here’s why:
Presumably when you are swapping cogs yourself you are in a hurry. Think about how your body weight is being shifted as you do so.
When accelerating, hence upshifting, your weight is being shoved rearward; why would you shove the lever forward, the opposite way, to grab the next gear?
When decelerating, the converse is equally true.
Why do so many carmakers make this fundamental error? You’d think a logic-based company like Volvo would figure it out. Apparently not.
The seats in traditional Volvo fashion are outstanding, firm but not overly so, and extremely comfortable. Move up the price list and you get additional adjustment possibilities.
The rear seat has decent accommodation for three. But in the hybrid models, the battery for the electric rear-drive system means a huge hump in the floor, meaning leg and foot room are seriously compromised for the middle rider. True, there isn’t often anyone sitting there, but it’s a pretty big sacrifice for a mere 35 km of battery operation.
Base models get “leatherette” upholstery. You downgrade to leather (colder in winter, hotter in summer, more slippery all the time) as you move up the model chart.
But Volvo has another option. “City Weave’’ cloth upholstery looks and feels terrific, eliminates all the flaws of cow skin, and is more environmentally friendly too. Not sure what is so “city’’ about it...
All S/V60s come with a 9 inch Sensus Connect touchscreen in the centre console which looks very much like that in the pricier S/V90. You swipe left or right to get whichever of the four main screens you want, then touch whatever function you are looking for.
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Regular readers will know what’s coming next — you simply have to take your eyes off the road to figure this out, and that’s never a good thing. Presumably with practice this will get better, although more practice also means more fingerprints...
This was about the fourth or fifth Volvo I’ve driven with it, and every time there’s a new learning curve. As yet there has been no standardization as to how various touch screens work, and I pity anybody who has more than one car from more than one carmaker.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and if you are used to either of these that should help. Either can be operated in the fourth Sensus tile, which leaves the other three tiles for Volvo-specific functions.
But some simple functions like changing air temperature may require two or three touches to operate. Bring back knobs! I should hashtag that — #BBK.
To its credit, Sensus now responds some 50 per cent quicker than before, although some functions are still a bit doggy.
Over time, this technology can be updated without hardware changes. E.g., large animal detection, which is included in the new S/V60, can be added to some existing models with just a software flash.
As you would expect from Volvo, a full set of safety features in either standard or available, including forward collision warning with automatic braking if no driver action is taken, and cross traffic alert again with auto-brake. Still no help with good-natured traffic...
The City Safety nanny system keeps an eye out for cyclists, pedestrians, or those large animals. Fluffy and Rover, you’re on your own.
The Pilot Assist function isn’t quite fully automated driving which I detest, but of course I had to evaluate it for you, Dear Reader.
Like most of its ilk, it could detect most lane markings and steer the car away from most possible dangers. The key word here is “most’’. If you can’t trust it, then why would you? I shut it off immediately.
S/V60 also get Volvo’s off-road collision mitigation system whereby elements within the seat structure collapse in a progressive way to reduce loads on the spines of the front seat occupants. Another example of Volvo answering safety questions nobody else even asks.
BLIS, Volvo’s term for its blind spot warning system, is very popular with customers, which is a sad commentary on the state of driver training on this continent because of course there is no such thing as a blind spot if you adjust the side-view mirrors correctly.
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At least with Volvos you can still crank them far enough out — in some cars, you can’t.
One small flaw in the interior design — the “on/off’’’ button for the radio on right steering wheel stalk is WAY too handy. Every time I made a quick turn my hand would brush against it and switch the radio “off/on’’.
A panoramic sunroof, traditionally the most-ordered but least-used option, is standard. The downside here is that instead of an opaque cover, there’s a translucent sunshade which does not block extraneous light entirely. My first stop on the way home from the dealership would be an upholstery shop to have a proper cover made.
To keep everyone as comfy as possible, four-zone air conditioning is standard.
The double wishbone front suspension and transverse leaf-sprung multi-link setup at the rear provide confident driving dynamics in all models.
We tested three variants in the Malibu hills: a brilliant red S60 T6 R-Design, a dark grey S60 Polestar, then a lovely white V60 T6 Momentum.
Our first mount took a few minutes to warm up; until then, the engine suffered from some hesitation. Once up to temperature, it was better.
There’s a bit of roughness as revs rise, but in normal highway driving, it was commendably quiet.
The R-Design suspension firms things up a little but the slight sacrifice in ride quality was more than compensated for by excellent handling. The winter-ravaged roads back home might change my mind.
We traditionally haven’t thought of Volvos as sports sedans; the backwards manual shift “illogic’’ aside, this one earns the moniker.
It may not be as pin-sharp as an Alfa Romeo Giulia, but it’s a step in the right direction.
The Polestar hybrid edition is quicker by the numbers (by about a second in the 0 — 100 km/h sprint) but didn’t feel that much quicker, probably because of the extra weight of the electric gubbins, and the vagaries of the hybrid powertrain. It’s a tricky business making these two power sources act as one. Given our mounts were pre-production prototypes, some fine-tuning may already be underway.
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When fully charged, the battery will only give you about 35 km of pure electric drive (the exact numbers have not been published); the rest of the time if there’s enough battery left it will give you some added boost for acceleration.
Given that the hybrids will cost somewhere around ten grand more than comparable non-hybrid models, it’s the old story — if you want your fuel economy, you’ll just have to pay for it.
On Day Two we drove the T6 wagon. Now you’re talking Volvo-ese...
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again — the station wagon is the most intelligent automotive configuration yet invented. You are occupying the footprint; you might as well occupy the air rights.
Yet there is no reason to make the vehicle taller (hence less stable) and heavier (hence less fuel-efficient) than necessary, so SUVs make no sense.
Volvo was once known as the Wagonmaster. While it too has fallen into the larger, heavier, less fuel-efficient and less-safe SUV trap, they continue to offer wagons to that sliver of the market smart enough to get it.
Again, the V60 wagon is beautiful by any standard. Our Momentum four-wheel drive edition in white with the City Weave upholstery is pretty much how I’d spec the car.
Among other things, you often see Volvo wagons with Thule roof carriers. Try loading one of those when it’s perched up on an SUV.
Volvo has had a very good year, with sales up some 40 per cent from last year. Admittedly, that’s from a pretty small base, but at least things are heading in the right direction.
All their new models are significant upgrades over those they replace, and the S/V60 are perfect examples.
They have wandered down the garden path with this electrification nonsense, but they’re smart enough to figure it out eventually. Always glad to help.
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The new V60 are a bit longer overall and in wheelbase for more interior room, and considerably sleeker in appearance.[/caption]