Auto Profile: 2002 Volvo S60 2.4T
|Get the lowdown on Volvo's sporty new compact sedan|
Mar 17, 2005 19:41:50|
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Selecting an S60
When shopping for an S60, you'll notice that each of its three trim lines has a distinctive personality. The base S60 2.4M is the most straightforward; it starts off at $26,550 and produces 168 horsepower from its five-cylinder engine. The 2.4M's standard transmission is a five-speed manual, and a five-speed automatic is optional. These choices reflect the 2.4M's attempt to appeal to a wide variety of buyers.
Step up to the $29,850 2.4T, and you'll find a low-pressure turbo under the hood that kicks power output up to 197 horsepower. The standard shifter here is the five-speed auto that's optional in the 2.4M, and the 2.4T's optional "Geartronic" automatic lets the driver shift through the gears without a clutch. Since there's no conventional manual transmission available on the 2.4T, it ends up being the relaxed cruiser of the lineup.
The $31,850 T5, on the other hand, is the 247-horsepower fire-breather of the bunch. Its high-pressure turbo punches out 63 more horsepower than the BMW 325i - and it does so with one less cylinder. In keeping with its appeal to enthusiasts, the T5 comes standard with a five-speed manual, and the Geartronic selectable automatic is optional.
The S60's span of demographic targets pits it against a wide variety of competitors. The 2.4M's base price places it in well-equipped Camry or Accord territory. The 2.4T's lack of a clutch pedal pegs it squarely in the sights of the laid-back and luxurious Acura 3.2TL and Infiniti I30 - the "near-luxury" entries, as they're called.
And the T5? As we said, it's gunning for the 325i, as well as the snappy Lexus IS300 and the classy Mercedes-Benz C240. These sporty and sophisticated sedans pose a formidable threat, but the T5 comes to battle with plenty of ammunition.
Whichever S60 you select, you'll notice a few characteristics that are common to all three versions. Most obvious is the S60's bold styling, which cribs its carved flanks and broad-shouldered presence from Volvo's elegant S80 luxury car. Few sedans have a rear window that's as radically raked as the S60's is; if you were to see the car only in silhouette, it would seem more like a coupe than a four-door sedan. The lines are fluid and harmonious; the door handles, for example, are tucked into the curve that sweeps along the beltline. The effect is one of reaching up into the body to open the door.
Once inside, you'll settle into a typically supportive Volvo seat, with contours that slake the stress from the small of your back. Tall folks are usually hard-pressed to find headrests that are high enough, but the S60's rise almost to the roof. Power controls in the upper trims have memory settings, and the range of adjustments for both the front and the rear of the cushions seems almost limitless. Few vehicles - whatever their price - can match the long-trip comfort these seats provide.
Also remarkable is the S60's beefy construction. Volvo's long-standing emphasis on safety is clear here; it's easy to feel secure and protected just sitting behind the wheel. The S60 is significantly wider than the 325i and other sports sedan competitors; in fact, it's even wider than the Acura 3.2TL, which is more than 10 inches longer than the S60. So if it feels as if there's a lot of space and structure separating you from other vehicles, that's because there is.
Volvo also succeeds in making the S60's interior feel sporty. The contoured dashboard sits low above your knees, and the center console juts up to meet your elbow. It feels as if Volvo's designers carved out exactly the space you'd need, and then tightly framed it with padding and plastic. You feel simultaneously clamped-in and able to stretch out.
The base 2.4M's engine feels fairly sprightly at low speeds, even with the automatic. There's plenty of torque to snap you off the line, and a special "Winter" mode helps to resist wheelspin on slippery surfaces. On the highway, the 2.4M's engine settles into a muted hum, and it will happily rev up for passing. Keep in mind, though, that it doesn't take many options to send the 2.4M's price up over $30K. In that case, we'd recommend stepping up to the 2.4T, as the turbo-less five-cylinder can't compete with the Acura 3.2TL's silky V6.
If you're upgrading, though, you might as well strap on the T5. Specify the five-speed, and you'll find yourself giddy with delight as the car zings down the highway with bags of power to spare. The taut suspension is admirably disciplined, and the body remains buttoned-down even over sharp expansion joints.
In fact, the highway is where the S60 T5 is truly in its element. In tight corners, the body's width nibbles at the car's nimbleness, and the manual shifter - which at lower speeds must be engaged frequently to keep the turbo spinning - requires far more effort than either the light steering and somewhat touchy brakes do. But traction and stability controls work to keep the T5 planted to the road, regardless of conditions. And the brute force with which the T5 charges down the highway makes it feel enthusiastic and athletic.
The Ultimate Driving Machine?
BMW has long been revered for making cars that are more capable than they need to be, and that's where the S60 T5 most resembles its 325i target. It's bigger, more substantial, more comfortable and much faster than many of its competitors. And judging from the lingering looks from passersby, its styling is quite striking.
So does the S60 change Volvo's image? That's for you to decide. But if you're shopping for a sports sedan, check out the T5. And hang on.
- By Phil Ruth
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