Volvo’s AWD Upgrade to S60 T5 Deserves a Medal
2013 Volvo S60 Review:
PARK CITY, Utah — It was a new-car introduction, but it was timed perfectly to coincide with the opening of the 2012 Summer Olympics. Volvo introduced the 2013 version of its Volvo S60 midsize sedan, reasserting its base turbocharged 5-cylinder model with an impressive all-wheel drive system during a three-day odyssey of extensive mountain driving and assorted Olympic connections.
Volvo brought out the latest model of the S60 two years ago, and has since offered two different versions. For 2013, the S60 has been modified again, with a turbocharged 5-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive — ideally suited to confront the mountain roads from just west of Salt Lake City on a loop that swung north into Wyoming and returned.
That “Midsommar Drive” was the work part of the introduction; the unique part was inviting a spouse or other guest along to the nation’s most popular ski resort region of Park City. We were housed at the exquisitely furnished Stein Eriksen Lodge, a fabulous facility named after former Olympic ski-racer Stein Erickson, who won the 1952 Gold Medal in his beloved homeland at the Oslo Winter Olympics, and later won multiple slalom World Championships. Living and skiing in the Deer Valley resort area, Eriksen thought it would be convenient if he could ski down from Bald Mountain and have a neat resort awaiting him at the bottom, so Stein Eriksen Lodge was built. Even at his advancing age, Eriksen continues to visit the place and sometimes might do a little downhill skiing.
We also visited nearby Utah Olympic Park, located between Park City and Interstate 80, where we were shown mountaintop locations for Nordic jumping, luge and bobsled events. Having worked for the Olympic Committee covering all the hockey events at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, I was aware many of the events were held at Park City, which has since become a popular training area, where ski jumpers and other skiing competitors can train on specially covered surfaces year-round.We watched a live performance of the Flying Ace All-Stars, a group of a dozen former, current and future freestyle jumpers who ski down a half-dozen ski jumps, fly off into space doing their double-twists and somersaults, before landing in a special water-filled pool.
Among the Olympic Park specialty features, we tried Xtreme Zipline, which entailed taking a chair lift to the top of the park, climbing into an individual chairlift-like seat, where we were buckled into a parachute-like harness, attached to an overhead steel cable. The 70-mph run about a thousand feet down to the bottom was swift, and had to be what parachuting is like, although I prefer the feeling of being in complete control — which is what we experienced inside the Volvo S60 T5 AWD.
Volvo is putting a lot of its manufacturing eggs into the S60 basket, with complete success, so far. The S60 came out in 2001 as a new and solidly impressive sedan. Its second generation was ready after the normal model run of five or six years, but Ford owned the Swedish manufacturer in those days, and with tightening economic times on the horizon, Ford held off introducing the new car.
Ford avoided bankrupcty proceedings by selling off Jaguar, Land Rover, and Volvo, and getting out of its arrangement with Mazda. Volvo was purchased by the Chinese Zhe-Zhiang holding company, which also owns Geely, a Chinese auto-maker. Volvo, which never compromised on making arguably the safest fleet of vehicles on the planet, moved onward and upward with the infusion of new money. Among the first orders of business was introducing the second generation S60, which hit the streets in 2010 as a stylish departure from the previous boxiness of Volvos.
Surprisingly, Volvo chose to introduce the new S60 as an all-wheel-drive Turbo 6-cylinder, with over 300 horsepower and torque figures. It wasn’t until six months later that Volvo followed with the high-volume, mainstream version of the car, with a 5-cylinder engine and only front-wheel-drive, with a lower price and better fuel economy. Earlier this year, Volvo expanded the input of its Polestar high-performance electronic tuning affiliate to create an even-more potent T6 (turbo 6) in the S60.
That still left room for one more model — the T5.The turbocharged 5 has 250 horsepower and 256 foot-pounds of torque, but the method to Volvo’s plan is to add all-wheel drive to the mainstream S60. All-wheel drive is popular in the heavy-snow regions of Minnesota, New England, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Nebraska, Colorado and Utah. The Audi A4 quattro, BMW 328iX, Mercedes C300 FourMatic, Infiniti G25X and Lexus IS-250 all offer all-wheel drive, so while Volvo also has a strong following in those northern areas, the S60 T5 was missing some baseline sales.
Since Volvo markets itself as a logical candidate for “premium intenders,” those sporty sedans are the pefect location for the new S60 T5 with its all-wheel drive — an impressive system, also used in the T6, and calibrated to improve cornering and handling as well as foul-weather performance. A new, smaller and lighter Haldex system has the ability to read and adjust torque to the front and rear axles in 100 milliseconds on a constantly variable system, that runs 95 percent of torque to the front axle when cruising normally at 60 mpg or more, for the sake of fuel efficiency.
Any tendency to slip immediately signals the adjustment to send a 50-50 split of torque front and rear. Also, torque is distributed equally to all four wheels during start-up, eliminating any issues with the normal weight shift front to rear during takeoff.
Whatever the numbers, with the smaller 5 doing the work, I anticipated a dropoff in performance from the turbo-6. I was wrong. The normal T5 FWD goes from 0-60 in a sporty 6.4 seconds, and the T5 AWD does it in 6.6 seconds. My wife, Joan, said she found herself driving faster than she thought a few times, and I couldn’t disagree. Once I pulled out to pass a slow-moving truck, and when I darted into the oncoming lane and hustled by, I noted the speedometer hit 100 mph.
The most impressive feature in the new S60 T5 AWD is Sport mode, engaged by clicking the shift lever to the left. Instantly, you get a computerized overboost function that changes the shifting and throttle algorithms. Upshifts are two-tenths of a second quicker, and extra turbo boost increases the torque from 256 to 295 foot-pounds during every upshift from second through sixth gears. That’s when you need extra power the most, and driving aggressively, it simply feels much more powerful than any 2.5-liter engine should feel.
Volvo also installs torque-vectoring on the S60 T5 AWD, which, in cornering maneuvers, gently applies brake force to the inside wheels which, in turn, increases torque being sent to the outside wheels. The result is quicker and more precise cornering. The torque boost occurs in Sport mode when you leave the transmission in Drive, but by switching to Sport mode, you can shift manually with the shift lever.To handle the extra power, Volvo’s engineers equipped the new 5 with a new crankshaft, pistons and piston rings, reducing internal friction and increasing the compression ratio. Still, the stronger-performing AWD version of the S60 T5 shows EPA-estimate 29 miles per gallon. We got about 24 mpg when I ran the car hard, manually selecting third or fourth gears, through the twistiest Utah mountain roads. No matter how hard you wanted to push it, the car cornered with smooth precision, and our first impression was how free of wind or tire noise the car is.
The S60 T5 has a base price of $32,550, increasing to $34,550 with all-wheel drive. While dealing from the well-equipped base car, you can move upward rapidly by choosing such features as the Premier trim level, which adds leather seats, a sunroof and climate control, and will fetch a sticker of over $38,000.
Those prices also fit in near or under the target AWD cars Volvo is aiming at. Volvo says it is right between the premium segment and the mainstream segment, gaining 20 percent of customers for the car from the premium side, and 80 percent of its conquests from those moving up from mainstream toward premium vehicles.
Back at the Stein Eriksen Lodge, we took the chairlift up to the top of Bald Mountain, then hiked down on a circuitous 4-mile trail that brought us down from 9,400 to 8,100 feet. It occurred to me that from all the good-natured heckling that goes on between the Swedes and Norwegians, they actually can get along quite well. The Norwegians keep producing world-class skiers and have resorts named after them, and the Swedes keep on making impressive motor cars that can transport anyone to those mountain resorts in style.