REVIEW: Inconspicuous consumption and the 2015 Volvo S60


AURORA | Excuse me while I eschew excess for a moment. Is it entirely necessary to have a TV remote we can talk to? Was anyone really expecting CD-quality audio from AM radio? Does your dishwasher really need Internet access?

I find myself pondering these deep and pertinent questions behind the wheel of a 2015 Volvo S60, the only modern car in recent memory to have both turbocharging and supercharging in the same engine. The automotive equivalent of simultaneously rubbing your belly and patting your head, “twincharging” is a feat of engineering madness and possibly Scandinavian excess — wait, that last one feels like an oxymoron.

The 2015 Volvo S60 is shown in this undated courtesy photo.
The 2015 Volvo S60 is shown in this undated courtesy photo.

Let’s examine. First, after being sold by Ford five years ago and being purchased by Chinese automaker Geely, Volvo has done a little soul searching. Not content with being synonymous with indestructible station wagons anymore, the Swedish car company added a fleet of sedans and SUVs that have a habit of being very pretty, but also very pricey. For example, the S60 starts at over $33,000 and our test car, an S60 T6 Drive-E topped out at $47,575. Building one more than $50,000 isn’t out of the question.

This time last year, North American CEO Tony Nicolosi lamented that sales in the U.S. weren’t brisk enough and Volvo started the second half of 2014 with an onside kick — selling cars with more technology as a 2015.5 model year. The gamble didn’t really work; sales in 2014 fell by nearly 8 percent from the prior year.

To be fair, the effort was born under a bad sign anyway. Most of Volvo’s current cars are aging quickly, apparent by the “new lottery winner” sheen of pretty screens, dials and stereos in cars that weren’t designed to handle them. Cool, gee-whiz stuff only goes so far. Have I ever shown you my custom-built shark tank in my one-bedroom apartment?

Which brings us to the 2015.5 Volvo S60. Volvo’s new formula for success in the states hinges on a two-front war for attention. First, the entire range will be completely redone. The newest Volvo today, the big XC90 that hasn’t even gone on sale yet, will be the oldest car Volvo makes in only two years according to Nicolosi.

Second, the engine in this S60, a turbocharged, supercharged 2.0-liter four, will eventually replace every engine Volvo makes. According to the automaker, the mill will be stuffed in everything from the compact sedan S60 to the seven-seater SUV XC90. Heart surgeons operate with less pressure than these engines.

The particulars matter. With 306 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque, the busy little engine has plenty of spin to make the S60 go from 0-60 mph in 5.4 seconds. The most immediate benefit of having a small displacement with two types of forced induction is its power. Simply turbocharging an engine produces lots of power higher in the RPM range, whereas simply supercharging an engine produces more linear power — but saps the engine in wasteful parasitic horsepower losses. On paper, twincharging should remedy both shortfalls by operating within its own individual RPM sweet spot.

Did I lose you yet? I’ll do my best to simplify in the only way I know how: McDonald’s. In the 1980s, they sold the Arch Deluxe, a hamburger that came with the meat and bun on one side of the Styrofoam tray and veggies on the other side to “keep the hot stuff hot and the cool stuff cool” and relied on customers to assemble their own sorry sandwiches. Twincharging is kind of like that. Kind of.

In reality, the engine works much better than the Arch Deluxe. The S60 has power everywhere in the band and its torque is immediate. It’s not exactly quiet — there’s a disconcerting whine, gargle and rumble coming from the force-fed four that’s not entirely confident — but Volvo’s interior does its best to quiet the outside chatter.

The secondary benefit of having a forced induction four-cylinder engine is increased fuel economy, provided you’re not constantly running on its boost. In the city, the EPA says the S60 can manage only 24 mpg, but that figure increases dramatically on the highway up to 35 mpg. The S60’s eight-speed automatic doesn’t get in the way, and with available steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters can actually be fun.

Does it sound like there’s a “but” coming? Because there is.

The driving experience of the S60 is typically Volvo — almost all of the time. The S60’s optional sport seats are firm and confident, and the automaker’s penchant for making minimal interiors functional and pretty is on full display. An available suite of massively protective features like frontal collision alert, blind spot monitoring and lane departure warnings keep true to the brand’s ethos that you could practically run it off a cliff and survive. And for the most part, Volvos were too slow and predictable to run off a cliff anyway.

So, um, there’s no comfortable way to put this: here’s the part where I tell you about the S60’s front-end lift. Stuffing 306 horsepower in a compact car with an unprepared chassis isn’t the best idea Volvo has ever had. Stamp the throttle on the S60 and the steering wheel goes alarmingly light. Thankfully, Volvo tamed any massive amounts of torque steer from the wheels; the car stays in a true straight line so you don’t have to crank the fairly vague steering wheel. But pressing the twincharger into duty makes for a slightly harrowing drive.

It’s not completely futile. Volvo still sells two other versions of the S60 — one with a turbo four and another with a turbo five cylinder — that sport more-refined mills at the moment. And the S60’s interior is still on par with much bigger guys like BMW and Mercedes who outsell Volvo 10-to-1 in the U.S.

It’s just having a turbocharged, supercharged engine in the S60’s chassis right now feels a little, you know, bacon-wrapped pepperoni pizza-ish.

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6 years ago

I thought it was the McDLT?

Good review, by the way…

Steve Smith
Steve Smith
6 years ago

I own this car and this review is fair as far as it goes, but misses something very important. The S60 T6 Drive E is faster, safer, cheaper and more fuel-efficient than its closest counterparts from Mercedes, Audi and BMW. And it beats Cadillac, Lexus, Infiniti and Acura in nearly all those categories as well.