Review: 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD

With the departure of Volvo’s C30 hatchback and the related S40 sedan, the S60 has to fill the marque’s role as the entry-level Volvo. Sized to compete with the likes of BMW 3-series, Audi A4, and Mercedes C-class, the S60 has a lot of ground to cover. Starting at $31,900, the entry-level model is the S60 T5.

The S60 T5 AWD is the third variant of S60 sedan I’ve reviewed since the “Naughty Volvo” launched in 2011. Both previously-tested models had turbocharged versions of Volvo’s inline-six cylinder engine- the 2011 S60 T6 AWD was the powertrain available at launch with 300 HP, and the 2012 S60 T6 AWD R-Design featured enhanced styling to complement the increased 325 HP output. Given my mild obsession with high-performance Volvos, I spent way too much time comparing those cars to the hallowed R cars of 2004-2007 when testing those six-cylinder S60 models.

Unsurprisingly, the numeral “5” in the T5’s name identify the vehicle as equipped with a five-cylinder engine. Having driven two versions of the six-cylinder S60, I didn’t have high expectations for the T5- I  figured that less power in the S60 would equate to less fun.  To that end, I came away surprised.

While a mid-cycle exterior facelift is coming for 2014 S60 models, the 2013 featured in this review has shapely exterior styling essentially unchanged from the S60’s launch. The car looks modern and has the unmistakable look of a modern Volvo, though fog lights wouldn’t look out of place in those big black openings up front.

Climbing inside, the driver’s environment in the S60 is a stylish and functional one, with Volvo’s comfortable seat, which in my test car was heated and upholstered in buttery brown leather. Analog speedometer and tachometer have monochromatic displays in their centers which show fuel level, time, gear selection, and other vehicle information. Harmonious shapes and nice materials on the center stack highlight the straightforward infotainment and HVAC controls.

Aside from a fancy-looking new-for-2013 shifter on the console and some trim bits, the interior of the S60 is essentially unchanged from the previous two versions I have tested- and that is just fine. Having recently had seat time in a BMW 3-series sedan, the Scandinavian design employed in the Volvo’s interior feels like a welcome upgrade, with nice materials and flowing shapes. I especially appreciated the smooth metal bezels on the center stack and central vents, and the solid-looking single-piece interior door handle trim. The Sensus system for controlling entertainment and vehicle settings is straightforward to use, with a clear, high-resolution color screen even on vehicle without navigation, like the one I reviewed.

While forward visibility from the driver’s seat is good (including usefully-large rear view mirrors), rearward visibility isn’t great for reversing in tight spaces, due to thick C-pillars, a rising beltline, and a tall trunk. To that end, I found maneuvering in tight driveways and garages a worrying chore. If I was buying an S60, I would spring for the parking sensor package.

As noted in earlier reviews of the S60, rear seat legroom is adequate for adults as long as those up front are willing to compromise their legroom just a little. Sculpted seatbacks provide decent knee room, and rear headroom is adequate. The rear seats are nicely shaped and even have some bolstering in the outboard positions.

As mentioned above, the entry-level S60 in North America employs a five-cylinder engine, driving the front wheels. Volvo has been building turbocharged 2.5 liter, 5-cylinder engines for ages now (since the mid-1990s era 850 series at least). In this iteration, the S60’s output is specified at 250 HP. The curb weight of the T5 is reduced by a couple hundred pounds compared to the six-cylinder versions, and it was noticeable in that the T5 felt lighter on its feet than I remembered either of the six-cylinder S60s feeling. The 250 HP output is higher than the base engines available in the Audi A4 (211 HP), BMW 328i (240 HP), and Mercedes C250 (201 HP), with a lower base price than any of those competitors.

Although the transmission is the same mechanical unit as in previous S60 models I have tested, the shifts felt somewhat quicker than I remember, especially when the shifts are manually commanded. That said, with the standard six-speed automatic transmission in Drive, throttle response was a bit more subdued than expected, though that is likely intentional both for improving fuel economy and for ensuring smooth acceleration from a stop.

Moving the shift actuator into the S position increases throttle response to the point of it becoming fairly touchy at low speeds—for comfort’s sake I moved it back into Drive when I hit stop-and-go traffic. Also, the shifting algorithm for downshifts in Sport mode is better than expected – the transmission downshifts smoothly when braking sharply – and usually held the lower gear for more power out of the corner I had slowed for… though that didn’t happen 100% of the time (perhaps because I was braking “too early”). While the transmission behavior isn’t intuitive all the time, it was definitely better than I had expected.

When underway, the accelerator pedal has an artificial ‘stop point” at about ¾ of the way depressed, almost as if to prevent the driver from “flooring” the accelerator. Once I became accustomed to intentionally pushing past that spot of higher resistance, I liked driving the T5 even better.

In combination with the lower curb weight of the T5, the improved shifts from the transmission helped the car feel more nimble than the six-cylinder S60s I have tested. During an aggressive drive on my favorite backroads which were soaked with rain from spring showers, the S60 T5 AWD was just as chuckable as the six-cylinder models, pulling confidently out of wet and off-camber corners and setting off from rest, even on an incline.   Impressively, all four tires propel the car forward, without momentary spinning of the front tires that can occur with some FWD-based AWD systems. Brakes held up through my corner carving with no noticeable fade, though mine was more of an aggressive Sunday drive than an actual performance drive. The S60 T5 AWD’s predictable handling and capable AWD system on those wet roads was confidence-inspiring.

Where the T5 falls flat in comparison to the T6 models is acceleration is acceleration when already at highway speed. While I don’ t have any instrumented numbers, the extra 50 and 75 HP, in the T6 and R-design respectively, accelerate the S60 six-cylinder models in a way the T5 can’t match. In daily driveability, though, power from the T5 is more than adequate.

The S60’s EPA fuel economy rating for the S60 T5 AWD is 20/29/23 (city/hwy/combined). Over a week and 313 miles of use (mostly around town), I had average fuel consumption of 20.7 mpg, according to the Volvo’s trip computer, with an average speed of 28 mph and an admittedly heavy right foot. The fuel economy and horsepower ratings are based on use of regular unleaded gasoline, unlike competing German sedans.

Pricing for the 2013 Volvo S60 T5 sedan starts at $31,750. To that sum, the S60 tested adds $2200 for the Premier Package (power glass moonroof, leather seating surfaces, auto dimming rearview mirror, accessory prep cable, power passenger seat, keyless drive with Personal Car Communicator); $700 for the Climate Package (heated front seats, interior air quality system, heated windshield washer nozzles); $2000 for All-Wheel Drive; $375 for a trunk spoiler; $250 for upgraded 17” alloy wheels; and $895 destination fee, for a total of $38,170. Included in that price is schedule maintenance at 10k, 20k, and 30k miles. With both the base and the as-tested prices, the stylish, comfortable, and fun-to-drive Volvo S60 T5 is a good value in the entry-level sport/luxury sedan segment.

Author: Kevin Miller

As Autosavant’s resident Swedophile, Kevin has an acute affinity for Saabs, with a mild case of Volvo-itis as well. Aside from covering most Saab-related news for Autosavant, Kevin also reviews cars and covers industry news. His “Great Drive” series, with maps and directions included, is a reader favorite.

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