2012 Volvo S60: A much-needed facelift

Published on June 7, 2011 in Test Drives by Denis Duquet

The S60 was the first to break Volvo’s "shoebox" mould. In producing a sedan shaped like a coupe, this Swedish automaker set out to revolutionize its brand. What seemed like a daring move has proven to be a wise decision, as the S60 was an instant hit and its popularity lasted for years.

The drawback of a more adventurous design, however, is that you have to update it more often. That’s something they didn’t bother doing with the S60, and over the years it started to look a little dated compared to the competition, which tended not only to be more modern, but also more fun to drive. As a result, the S60 fell to the wayside to the point that last year’s unveiling of a second generation wasn’t even a marketing decision; it was more like a desperate attempt to save the model. Fortunately, the long-overdue facelift was well worth the wait.

The interior is up to par

Volvo stylists did a great job keeping the signature silhouette of the previous version. Like all Volvos, the main centrepiece is the front grille with the diagonal bar featuring the company insignia. Large tail lights were also brought back on this model. They look like those on the XC70, except for the tip that flows into the edge of the trunk. In short, it’s an elegant car. Plus, the lower part of the rear bumper features a diffuser for a more muscle-bound appearance. Compared to before, the rear section is a lot more proportional to the front.

Once again, the dashboard steals the show with its sleek looks and user-friendliness. The two main gauges are easy to read while the LED screen (now integrated into the dash) is a good size and displays easy-to-understand graphics. As always, the vertical console houses the sound system and climate control pictogram. It’s surrounded by four buttons to regulate the temperature, the sound system and the heated seats. These four buttons take some getting used to, however, and could definitely be more intuitive.

Naturally, since this is a Volvo, both the front and back seats are superb in terms of comfort and lateral support. This automaker has always been known for its excellence in this regard, and the S60 lives up to the hype.

What’s more, the interior is quite spacious for a car in this category. Rear passengers will have to encourage front-seat occupants to cooperate if they want any legroom, though. Note that the back bench has been designed for two passengers and not three . And finally, the trunk is very spacious.

Two versions for 2012

When the 2011 model launched in summer 2010, only one version and one engine were available: the T6 powered by an inline-six paired with all-wheel drive, the only transmission offered. With 300 hp, it’s more than up to the job.

This year, a new 2012 model is available: the T5 featuring a 2.5-litre turbocharged inline five-cylinder engine with a six-speed automatic transmission.. This engine generates 50 hp less than the T6, and it’s only available with front-wheel drive. That said, its acceleration times are impressive as it comes within a second of matching the more powerful model in the 0-100 km/h sprint.

A solid car

Regardless of which engine you choose, this car offers outstanding road handling, a well-calibrated suspension and precise steering. The brakes are also powerful and resilient. You should also know that the quality of the assembly on this car is exemplary and really makes you feel like you’re in a solid vehicle.

The Volvo brand has always been associated with safety. Once the champion of this domain, Volvo now faces several competitors in the safety department. But the manufacturer hasn’t thrown in the towel yet and continues to develop its expertise in this field. Thus, you can equip your S60 with the City Safety system, which includes detection cameras and can bring the car to a halt if a pedestrian or other obstacle is detected (provided you’re driving under 32 km/h). That said, this system can be a little testy and complicated. We tried to put it to the test, but it didn’t seem to work. Of course, we didn’t push it too hard, as we didn’t want to damage the car or hurt anyone. We may very well have given up on the system too quickly.

Our test vehicle was equipped with two front cameras that remain functional up to 30 km/h. But since these cameras provide a side view, you can’t tell how far your bumper is from nudging something, like the concrete blocks they use as parking spot separators. But for the time being, similar systems offered by other companies are just as limited. Other security features on our test vehicle included adaptive cruise control as well as the blind spot information and lane departure systems. If you want to deactivate these systems, you can use the buttons at the bottom of the vertical console.

In sum, the facelift given to the S60 was much needed and well accomplished on both the T6 and T5. Now, all Volvo has to do is convince buyers, as this Swedish manufacturer’s sales figures are just starting to recover. Potential buyers have tended to be put off by poor customer service and erratic reliability. Otherwise, this sedan certainly warrants a closer look when you’re looking for a new car.

Test drive report
Test model 2012 Volvo S60
Trim level T5 FWD
Price range $38,950 – $45,995
Price as tested 43 995 $
Warranty (basic) 4 years/80,000 km
Warranty (powertrain) 4 years/60,000 km
Fuel economy (city/highway/observed) 11,7 / 7,8 / 11,9 L/100km
Options Driver Support Group
Competitive models Acura TL, Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Cadillac CTS, Infiniti G, Lexus IS, Mercedes-Benz C-Class
Strong points
  • Elegant lines
  • Carefully crafted
  • Good road handling
  • Excellent engine output
  • Safety
Weak points
  • Wide turning radius
  • Blow average rear visibility
  • Fuel economy
  • Expensive options
  • Average back seats
  • Some controls are complicated
Editor's rating
Fuel economy 3.5/5
Value 4.0/5
Styling 4.0/5
Comfort 4.5/5
Performance 4.0/5
Overall 4.5/5
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