Review: Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E – Swedish Strong

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Review: Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E – Swedish Strong

The Volvo S60 has been in our market for many years. The T6 Drive-E powertrain isn’t a new addition either, making its way into the new XC60 that was launched over a year ago. And yet when you combine the two, the result is something fresh- and perhaps a little terrifying as well. With the replacement for the S60 still a number of years away, this S60 T6 Drive-E represents the latest and greatest from Volvo - except for the dated infotainment system.

In simple terms, the new range of more powerful Drive-E engines are built off of the same 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder engine - the difference is in the various bits of hardware that push power and torque outputs up to each specific performance level.  In the case of the T6 Drive-E engine, it is force fed air by both a supercharger and a turbocharger for a total output of 306 bhp and 400 Nm of torque between 2,100 rpm and 4,800 rpm.

For reference, this is similar to the performance that was dealt out by the BMW 335i - an astonishingly quick car that is sadly no longer available in our market. The older 6-speed Geartronic transmission has been dropped in favour of an 8-speed automatic, which also puts it on par with the now-defunct 335i in terms of ratios. But of course a sports sedan is more than just a powerful powertrain in a luxury body and the S60 T6 Drive-E has plenty of factors working against it - which makes it all the more interesting.

Specifications:

  • Price: RM 238,888
  • Engine: 2.0-litre, inline-4 transverse, supercharged, turbocharged, direct injection
  • Power: 300 bhp
  • Torque: 400 Nm @ 2,100 rpm – 4,800 rpm
  • Transmission: Torque converter automatic, 8 speed, front-wheel drive
  • Claimed fuel consumption: 6.7-litre per 100 km
  • Tested fuel consumption: 13.0 litres per 100 km (fast paced, spirited driving)
  • Safety: ABS, EBD, Stability Control, Blind Spot Information System, Autonomous Braking, Lane keeping Aid, six airbags

Overview:

The Volvo S60 is one of the models developed during the transition period from Volvo’s previous generation models (pre-V40) to their current generation models (post-V40). It helped to shed the image of sombre, safety focused cars - while still clinging on to the high-class appeal that they had developed. While not quite as radical of a step as the V40, the S60 proved that Volvo still had life in them yet. With the exception of the previous, non-Drive-E powered S60 T6 (a 3.0-litre 6-cylinder AWD beast of a car), all S60s came in front-wheel drive flavour, with either a dual clutch gearbox or a conventional automatic.

The S60 T6 Drive-E is largely similar to the S60 models that we have known to grow and love. It sits one step above the T5, although the price discrepancy is so small that the T6 is clearly the better buy, and Volvo Car Malaysia has since discontinued the S60 T4 and T5. The new T6 now comes with the digital cluster display popularized by the V40 and XC60. Other safety systems were also updated with this facelift, such as the Active High Beam Control, Cross Traffic Alert, and Road Sign Information.

The only difficult part about the S60 is that it was neither really true sports sedan, nor was it true luxury sedan in its previous forms. It was left-field, it was unconventional, and perhaps a little strange for the times. But the good thing about times is that they change, and with the introduction of the V40 and the latest XC90, Volvo has managed to regain some of the appeal they were ripe with back in the mid-90s.


Exterior Design:

For a car that came out nearly half a decade ago, the S60 has gone from being radically different in design, to neatly contemporary. The sweeping coupe-like roofline was once thought to be impractical and unusable, and yet quite nearly every luxury manufacturer has adopted this for their models in some way, shape, or form. The harder lines are rooted well in Volvo’s past, while the flowing curves are indicative of a more modern look.

As mentioned before, the S60 wasn’t as large of a step forward as the V40 was- it was still relatively reserved for the Swedish company, and yet the liberties they took seem to have paid off. Their next generation of concept cars are quite radically different from the current S60, making its design language very brief in the evolution of Volvo styling. As the new XC90, S90, and V90 dominate the public eye, Volvo is quickly adopting their retro-modern styling cues for their future small models.


Interior Design:

On the inside, however, is where this Volvo shows its age. Unfortunately the architecture and design of the S60’s interior meant that it could not adopt Volvo’s sleek new touch-screen system, meaning that it is stuck with the same LCD display and Volvo’s (once pretty cool) waterfall-type centre console. It’s entirely functional, but not even close to the level of the systems adopted by the Germans with their various takes on the iDrive (or even Mazda’s MZD Connect for that matter).

Rear legroom isn’t the best in class either, but it is adequate for four full sized adults for the lunch run, or perhaps even for the odd weekend roadtrip with the family.  Interior tones are sober and dark and modern and not at all out of place in a luxury fleet. Wide window sills remind you of the amount of protection that it’s packing in the event of a hard side impact. It feels slightly more old-Volvo than new-Volvo, but it is by no means an unpleasant place to be.


How Efficient Is It?

The tested figure of 13.0 litres per 100 kilometres isn’t exactly the best representation of what the S60 T6 Drive-E is capable of, because most of those kilometres were hard driving. In more realistic cruising conditions, the figure drops to an acceptable 11 litres per 100 kilometres- which isn’t exactly fuel sipping by modern measure, but doesn’t break the bank in everyday commuting either. The fact that it was so difficult to keep fuel consumption down is only a testament to how entertaining this car is, which brings us to…


How Does It Drive?

It’s a muscle car. This is the simplest way to describe this S60, because it is embodies the concept of packing pure performance into a seemingly innocuous package - but the analogy also extends to its handling ability and dynamics. While the S60 is an excellent car, it doesn’t quite possess the dynamics of the V40 or the sure-footedness of the V60. Volvo gets around this with their 18-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sports, but it is ultimately a band aid for a problem that cannot really be dialled out of the chassis.

To compound things, the T6 motor is known for developing an enormous amount of torque steer, regardless of application. When driven near its limits, the XC60 T6 suffers from the same issue, and the only way the engineers have managed to circumvent this is to add a lot of torque steer compensation to the steering. Found in most high powered front wheel drive cars, the compensation effectively neuters any feedback from the wheels to prevent the steering from pirouetting violently whenever you squeeze the throttle. When applied to such a high level, it results in virtually zero steering feel when you are accelerating hard. Dive into a corner under brakes and you get great feedback, but the moment you start squeezing the throttle the steering goes completely dead (and leaves you hoping you haven’t reached terminal understeer).

But that’s not to say that you can’t enjoy it. Limit your bursts of speed to highways and the occasional pull at the traffic light and you’ll be more than satisfied. The twin-charged engine is fantastic in its operation, with near instantaneous throttle response reminiscent of high-capacity naturally aspirated motors. Perhaps the only caveat to this is that the gearbox is nowhere near as responsive as the ZF 8-speed that has become the industry standard. Ratios are plentiful but not as well spaced as to optimize performance- although it’s merely a matter of driving around these minor issues.


How Comfortable Is It?

Naturally ride comfort is compromised by its larger wheels, but the S60 manages to perform adequately even through undulations and potholes in the heart of the city. As Volvo presented it years ago, the S60 has remained somewhere in the middle between sporty and luxurious- neither responsive enough to be sporty, but not quite plush enough to be luxurious. The compromised rear legroom is also a check against the S60, but it is by no means horrible or harsh.


Conclusion

The Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E is a car that has one foot in the future, but the other rooted firmly in the past. It is an exciting product for the powertrain it comes with, but it still represents a lot of Volvo’s prior design and development processes. It was created in a time when Volvo was struggling to stay relevant, and if anything it is a farewell to an era past. The model that replaces it will be next-gen-tech and will likely allow Volvo to match their contemporary rivals, and the S60 T6 Drive-E offers you a taste of what that might be like.

It’s a brutal car, but it’s also the kind of car that makes you wonder what goes on in that frosty Scandinavian nation-state up north. Perhaps there is the face that Volvo presents on the surface - one of safety and security- but there may be something more exciting that isn’t overtly displayed, something hidden deep. It’s this that makes Volvo a very exciting company, and potentially far more successful if their latest models are anything to go by. 

Gallery: Review: Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E Swedish Strong



Aswan

Aswan

Places more value in how fun a car is to drive than outright performance or luxury. He laments the direction that automotive development is headed in, but grudgingly accepts the logic behind it. Can be commonly found trying to fix yet another problem on his rusty project car.

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