The Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E proves an important point: You don’t need a huge engine to create a lot of power. In fact, the Swedish automaker is staking its entire future on that very idea.
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It’s phasing out the company’s long-running five- and six-cylinder engines in favor a new generation of four-cylinders, developed with an $11 billion investment from its owners Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, a Chinese Industrial group that bought Volvo from Ford in 2010. The new engine technology is called Drive-E.
The particular engine that is the focus of this review is the so-called “T6” four-cylinder. It’s special because it has a turbocharger and supercharger. But don’t confuse it with the lesser “T5” engine, which is only turbocharged and doesn’t have a supercharger.
But why use both a turbo and a supercharger when so many companies only use one or the other?
The answer is, unfortunately, a bit esoteric. You see, a turbocharger uses recirculated exhaust gases to boost power, and even though the technology has improved dramatically in recent years, it still creates a bit of a lag in power delivery as the turbocharger spools up.
That’s where the supercharger comes in. A supercharger does the same thing a turbocharger does, but in a different way. It forces more air into the engine to boost power, but it’s driven directly off the crankshaft of the engine, so it’s always running. Therefore, the supercharger provides power instantaneously, even at low speeds, where four-cylinder engines tend to feel their weakest. In other words, it sort of buys time for the turbocharger to spool up and start providing boost.
The end result of this so-called “twin-charger” setup in Volvo’s new T6 Drive-E engine is a four-cylinder engine that feels like a high-performance six-cylinder. It really works too, while providing 26 percent better fuel economy.
The Volvo S60 looks typically Scandinavian: spare and understated, yet sophisticated.
It is both familiar and new. The S60 is reminiscent of past Volvos in its overall form and certain details, such as the pronounced shoulder that runs along the car’s midsection. Yet the design is sleeker than the previous model’s, thanks to minor updates made for the 2014 model year that carry over to the 2015 version. A wider front grille and reshaped bumper, hood and fenders give the car a sportier stance.
Much like well-crafted Scandinavian furniture, the 2015 S60‘s design doesn’t call attention to itself. It is subdued and unobtrusive, yet pleasing to the eye.
Our test vehicle was painted silver but didn’t look bland as silver cars sometimes can. An optional R-Design package with larger wheels and styling tweaks helped in that regard.
Sitting inside the 2015 Volvo S60 is like visiting an old friend who just got a makeover. The seats, dashboard, instrument panel and center console are pleasingly familiar. Volvo, like Porsche, makes mostly incremental design changes from one vehicle generation to the next.
Pulling the door handle, flicking the turn signal, and rotating the volume knob impart a sense of quality and substance, as does the leather upholstery and well-finished plastic surfaces of varying textures.
While other automakers try to reinvent interior ergonomics—often making a mess of them—Volvo sticks with a proven formula that is both functional and attractive. Again, the Scandinavian furniture analogy comes to mind.
A so-called “floating” center console, first introduced on the S60 in 2010, has open storage space behind it. It pairs a clean, attractive design with intuitively arranged controls for the stereo and air conditioner. For 2015, Volvo added a new instrument cluster behind the steering wheel that lets drivers choose from several layouts.
The touchscreen that comes with the optional navigation system looks small compared to those of other premium cars. The menus are also not that intuitive. But on the whole, it worked as needed to keep us on the circuitous drive route through the Las Vegas desert that Volvo planned for us during the U.S. press launch of its new Drive-E engines.
The front seats are noteworthy for their comfort and support. While the back seat isn’t super spacious, there is just enough headroom and legroom for tall people to sit comfortably without being too cramped.
On the Road
The new T6 Drive-E engine does everything Volvo promises it should.
The supercharger provides lots of power at low speeds, right where four cylinders are typically weakest. It actually makes the engine feel bigger than it really is. Flooring the throttle from a standstill gives impressive acceleration—noticeably stronger than in the T5 engine, which doesn’t have the supercharger, yet is still respectably quick.
Once up to speed the turbocharger kicks in to keep the momentum going. As a result, passing cars on the highway is effortless. The surge in acceleration from mashing the throttle to the floor while cruising at 65 mph isn’t as impressive as doing so from a standstill, but it’s still downright quick.
An unintended consequence of so much power is that the steering wheel sometimes jerks slightly to one side under full throttle. This phenomenon, known as torque-steer, is common on high-powered cars with front-wheel drive, including previous Volvos. But it wasn’t pronounced enough to be disconcerting, as it can be on some cars, such as the Mazdaspeed 3.
Volvos aren’t known for being particularly sporty. While it won’t be dethroning the BMW 3 Series or Cadillac ATS from the pinnacle of the performance heap, the S60 is genuinely fun to drive.
The suspension is on the floaty side and the steering feels a bit disconnected, but neither is egregious enough to dampening driving enjoyment. The S60 does roll noticeable to the side when taking turns quickly, but the grip is good and it just hangs on. A so-called torque-vectoring system, which varies how much power goes to each front wheel independently of one another, helps overcome the S60’s front weight bias and better rotate the car into turns.
The electrically assisted steering system has three settings that vary the steering feel. The middle setting seems the best as the high setting is too light and the low setting feels artificially weighted.
The 2015 Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E is exceptionally comfortable on long drives, thanks to the comfortable seats, intuitive controls and quiet cabin. Nothing about the car grates on your nerves. You can step out of it after several hours in the saddle feeling relaxed.
The Environmental Protection Agency rates the Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E at 24 miles per gallon city, 35 miles per gallon highway and 28 miles per gallon combined. That’s pretty much what we got on our test drive.
A start/stop feature that shuts down the engine during temporary stops helps goose fuel economy in urban driving, while a coasting feature that disconnects the driveshaft from the engine during periods of steady cruising helps save fuel on the highway.
Is It Right For You?
The 2015 Volvo S60 starts at $33,300, but that’s for the base version that comes with the less powerful T5 Drive-E engine (which is still plenty powerful for most people). Stepping up to the more potent T6 engine will run $38,150, and that gets you a fully-loaded car with features like adaptive cruise control and a premium sound system, which are often costly options on European luxury brands, including the two biggies, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Volvo has long been a sort of value-oriented premium brand, much like Acura, and that still very much holds true today. Its cars aren’t cheap, but they do offer more for the money than most other luxury brands.
If you desire a higher level of design, amenities and luxury than the average car offers, but don’t want to look like a one-percenter, then the Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E is a happy middle ground. Volvo’s new suite of Drive-E technology also strikes a good balance, in its case between power and efficiency. And that means the Volvo S60 remains the consummate Scandinavian.