2001 Volvo S60

2001 Volvo S60

The perfect blend of style, safety and performance
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What if you could blend Jaguar's svelte styling, Mercedes-Benz-grade safety, BMW road prowess, and VW practicality and efficiency in one reasonably affordable automobile? Volvo engineers and planners must have had something like that in mind when they joined forces to create the new S60 compact sedan because that's precisely how it turned out.

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Geza Loczi, design director at Volvo's Camarillo, California concept center, sculpted a skin that flows sensuously over the passenger compartment and into deeply notched taillamps reminiscent of the flagship S80's rear-corner illumination. Chassis hardware is also borrowed from the S80, so the combination of wide wheel tracks, relatively long (106.9-inch) wheelbase and compact coachwork gives the S60 the most aggressive stance of any Volvo in history. The rakish roofline is suggestive of a sexy coupe, as Volvo is quick to point out, yet this mid-range model provides the practicality of four doors and a rear seat roomy enough for two adults and a compliant child. Some neck scrunching and ankle twisting is necessary during entry, but once you've folded your way past the slightly restrictive entry portal, the back seat is an entirely pleasant place for trips of any length.

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No less than three engines are on tap for motivation. All share the basic Porsche-engineered, transverse-mounted, four-valves-per-cylinder, inline-five configuration that has defined the mainstream Volvo since this maker took the front-drive plunge seven years ago. The base powerplant cranks out 168 horsepower at 5,900 rpm from 2.4 liters. The addition of a "T" after the "2.4" decklid badge signals the middle child in the lineup, which boasts a low-pressure turbocharger, intercooler and 197 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. Contrary to the pattern that's emerging, the top model is called T5. The combination of significantly higher boost pressure, a wilder state of tune, and slightly less piston displacement (2.3 liters) yields 247 horsepower at 5,200 rpm, 43-percent more peak torque than the standard engine, and a very broad-shouldered torque curve.

Three transmissions are offered: 5-speed manual boxes for base and T5 editions, a 5-speed automatic for all three engines, and what Volvo calls Geartronic (code for shift-it-yourself automatic) in the top two models. Instead of poking the shift lever through a slot in the console, Volvo designers created a space-ball-style base plate that will surely impress friends and neighbors who cast an inquisitive eye toward the S60's interior.

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The idle tingle that once plagued Volvo's engine is nicely sedated in this new model thanks, in part, to a well-tuned engine-mounting system. The subframe that supports front-end hardware attaches to the body through four large rubber mounts. A similar arrangement is used to carry the multi-link independent suspension at the rear. A second evil trait that's satisfyingly subdued is torque steer. Unless you nail the gas pedal to the floor in first gear with the steering cranked hard over, there's virtually no argumentative cross-talk between propulsion and guidance systems.

The Volvo S60's suspension calibrations feel like BMW engineers had a hand in the tuning because of the net lack of impact harshness combined with firm but fluid control of body motions over road heaves and through high-speed sweeping bends. The steering is quick and communicative. The only down side is an annoyingly large turn circle, the inevitable result of a long wheelbase and five cylinders sitting the long way between wide front tires.

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After delivering positive visual impressions and an entertaining drive, the Volvo S60 finishes the let's-make-friends process with outstanding comfort and convenience features. Front bucket seats are luxuriously supportive with especially deep under-thigh support and a wealth of adjustments. The back seat splits, folds, and provides a trap-door opening for accommodating all the booty that must be carted home from the hardware store or trinket shop. The extra-short decklid pivots far forward on its hinges for ready access to a voluminous trunk. And built into the cargo-compartment floor is a hinged panel that can be erected to keep grocery bags in place with the aid of a couple of elastic cords. Why didn't I think of that?

The clincher is a reasonable price structure. Starting at just over $27,000, most base models will go out the door for less than $30,000 with leather upholstery and an automatic transmission. The 2.4T picks up the baton at $30,000 and rises to $37,000 with all the goodies, though Volvo expects most customers to stop about half-way along that climb. (Figures quoted here are pre-haggling.) The truly power-hungry who need a T5 to feed their habit will spend $32,375 for a base model and as much as $44,000 if they go for broke with 17-inch wheels and tires and Volvo's nifty navigation system.

Whether or not you've made your mind up about which wheels should propel your sport sedan, the new Volvo S60 deserves a serious look. Consider this a BMW that isn't fearful of winter or, if you'd prefer, a Mercedes-Benz that won't send you directly to the poor house.

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