Volvo. The word conjures up images of boxy cars and the term “safety.” Volvo has been successful in getting rid of the square-edged look to its cars that many people remember from the '80s and '90s. It also has succeeded in creating a safer vehicle — so much so that this self-admitted automotive enthusiast was extremely impressed with the designs and features of the S60 All-Wheel Drive.
For my test drive, Bob Penkhus Volvo-Mazda, 1101 Motor City Drive, provided an S60 All-Wheel Drive in a brilliant metallic blue that was surprisingly attractive. The body lines were sweeping and curving, almost graceful. The look was muscular, slightly aggressive and a huge departure from the Volvos of the last few decades.
When the S60 was introduced in 2001 it received awards for its design, and it is easy to see why. That Volvo can create an attractive wrapper for all its safety innovations is a real feat.
The importance Volvo places in occupant safety was related quite well to me by Bob Holmes, sales consultant at Penkhus. Almost every single aspect of the car’s design seems to have a safety purpose and be well thought out. Things as simple as oversized exterior door handles that can be opened quickly by emergency workers with gloved hands and special sheet-metal mounting that makes the front fenders move away from the doors on impact so the doors can open and allow occupants to exit are but a few important — but almost unnoticeable — design considerations.
In Europe, Volvo goes so far as to send a team of engineers and doctors to any Volvo crash where an occupant was killed for investigative research to determine how and why it happened and if there is a way to make the cars safer.
“Building a car to pass a given crash test is relatively easy,” Holmes says. “Volvo builds a car to be safe and passes the test standards as a byproduct of building a very safe car.”
The high-strength steelforced safety cage is extremely rigid in construction, and it was noticeable that the doors and
sills were deeper than usual — a testament to the strength of the structure around the passenger compartment. The airbag system adapts to different conditions and includes side and curtain units.
The cabin is a refreshing design of tan leather, wood accents and black trim. Comfortable leather seats (designed by a chiropractor) are designed with a whiplash protection system that is unique in the industry and reinforces the importance Volvo places on the safety of people inside the car.
The Volvo may have fewer bells and whistles than some high-end automobiles, but no creature comforts were missed on my test drive. The “Swedish Simplicity” is a refreshing take on luxury, and that theme carries over to the radio and climate controls. They’re instantly easy to understand and use, as is the small information screen in the dash that displays gas mileage, miles to an empty tank and average speed. Innovative features continue, with a button to lower the rear headrests for better rearward visability (if there are no rear passengers).
To facilitate any driver body type, the steering wheel telescopes in and out and tilts up and down; the power seats move easily and tilt for many different positions, and include adjustable lumbar support. The rear seats are quite comfortable for full-sized adults, though three abreast may be snug for long trips.
Additional options, including satellite radio and a navigation system, are available.
The 2.5-liter, five-cylinder turbocharged engine is eager and willing to travel up mountain passes or drive through thick city traffic. Response from the accelerator pedal is quick. With 208 horsepower on tap and 236 foot-pounds of torque from as low as 1,500 rpm, the engine acts like a much larger one while still providing excellent mileage and maintaining very low emissions. The five-speed automatic transmission works seamlessly and has a manual shift option.
The all-wheel-drive system employed by Volvo transmits 95 percent of the drive through the front wheels, with normal driving on straight, dry roads. Depending on the situation and traction available, up to 50 percent of the power can instantly be converted to the rear wheels. When cornering, the system can even select individual wheels to receive more or less power, to provide precise turning and maintain stability.
On a few low traction areas this was tested and, try as I might, I couldn’t get the car to spin the tires or act uncivilized, which I found very reassuring. There also is a “winter” mode for low-traction situations; with that button depressed the system tip-toes a bit more for better control on snow and ice, or even slippery mud or dirt.
The Volvo has a very solid feel while driving, with excellent cornering ability and control. The suspension is taught and firm, but not harsh over potholes or speed bumps — confidence inspiring and enjoyable on the abundant curvy mountain roads in Colorado.
Coming down those mountain passes requires a strong brake system, and the S60 does not disappoint. The brakes have a feel nearly second to none. They actually feel intuitive, as if they can tell the braking requirements in each situation.
Holmes says the Emergency Brake Assist feature boosts braking power when you move your foot from the gas pedal to the brake faster than normal. This feature and the ABS work invisibly to slow the car in the shortest possible distance.
The Volvo has often been seen as an introductory luxury brand, but that seems like an outdated perspective after having spent time in the driver’s seat. These are extremely welldesigned and well-built cars, with innovative designs and features based on occupant safety.
Volvo is ecologically responsible, as well, with 85 percent of the car being recyclable. In addition, a coating on the radiator converts up to 75 percent of the ozone passing through it into pure oxygen.
I was very impressed with the amount of safety and innovation Volvo has wrapped into a stylish, enjoyable and fundrive car. Those looking to upgrade from a plain-jane sedan into something with such qualities will be impressed by the Volvo S60.