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2019 Volvo S60 First Drive

2019 Volvo S60 First Drive

For decades, the sporty luxury sedan class has been dominated by the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4. Since 2001, Volvo has been attempting to break up this German triumvirate with its S60. It's been a likable car; we evaluated a 2012 S60 and a 2015 S60 in yearlong tests and came away with favorable impressions. But there's usually been one thing or another that's held the S60 back from true greatness. That finally changes with the redesigned 2019 Volvo S60.

This new S60 is the latest model in the Volvo lineup to get a full redesign. It caps off the brand's renaissance that started with the XC90 four years ago. Like every other current Volvo, the S60 gets a styling treatment that combines simplicity and elegance. Not surprisingly, it looks like a smaller version of the stylish S90 sedan, and that's a very good thing.

Compared to the previous S60, this third-generation model is almost 5 inches longer and 2 inches shorter, but narrower by 0.7 inch. There is also more power, more available features and a plug-in hybrid powertrain. Just as significant as what's new is where the 2019 Volvo S60 is built: It's the first model from the Swedish manufacturer to be built in its new Charleston, South Carolina, factory.

2019 Volvo S60 First Drive

The Price of Power and Equipment
You have three engine choices with the 2019 Volvo S60. The base T5 is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 250 horsepower. An eight-speed automatic transmission sends power to the front wheels. The T6 is both turbocharged and supercharged with an output of 316 hp that is sent to all four wheels. The T8 builds upon the T6's powertrain with a plug-in hybrid electric system for a combined output of 400 hp. The electric-only driving range is estimated at 21 miles.

The T5 can be had in three trim levels: Momentum, R-Design and Inscription. For $36,795 (including destination), the Momentum's highlights include a panoramic sunroof, a digital instrument panel, faux leather upholstery, power-folding rear headrests and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. Advanced safety features include On Call telematics and remote control, a frontal and intersection collision mitigation system (with pedestrian, cyclist and large-animal detection), run-off road protection, lane keeping assist, a road sign reader, oncoming lane collision mitigation, a drowsy driver monitor and post-collision braking.

Moving up to the R-Design and Inscription trim levels and/or picking some option packages adds more features, of course. These include a blind-spot monitor with cross-traffic alert and automatic braking, a navigation system, premium audio, leather upholstery, four-zone climate control, a head-up display, Volvo's Pilot Assist automated driving system, adaptive cruise control, an adaptive suspension, and massaging and ventilated front seats.

Upgrading from the T5 to the T6 will cost $4,500. The T8 will set you back $12,500 over the T5. Graduating from the Momentum trim to the R-Design costs $6,100, while the jump to the Inscription costs $7,100. That means a T8 Inscription rings in at $56,395. In general, this pricing is a bit less than what you'd have to pay for the Germans. There's also a higher T8 Polestar Engineered version that ups power to 415 hp and 494 lb-ft and comes with an adjustable upgraded suspension, Brembo brakes and other flourishes. That model is only offered as part of the Care by Volvo subscription program and was limited to only 20 examples that have already been spoken for. It will likely have broader availability going forward, though.

2019 Volvo S60 First Drive

Surprisingly Fun
We've spent most of our time so far with a T6 R-Design. Acceleration is quick and effortless. The four-cylinder engine never feels as though it is being overtasked, and it emits a respectably inspiring exhaust note. We are also pleasantly surprised by how well the S60 takes to the curves. Steering effort is on the light side and, as is the case with almost all new cars, feedback is lacking. But the steering wheel itself is smaller than average, which contributes to a sportier impression, and the car responds precisely to your inputs. The S60 is also stable around turns, and the traction from the all-wheel-drive system further instills confidence. It's fun to drive, and not just for a Volvo.

Complementing the impressive handling characteristics is a smooth and composed ride. The S60 easily absorbs bumps in the road and doesn't get out of sorts even while cornering. Driven more conservatively, the S60 is very well mannered and easy to drive. Comfort is further bolstered by a quiet cabin that keeps wind and road noise to a minimum at highway speeds.

We also had a fair amount of drive time in the top-of-the-line T8 Polestar Engineered model but were left somewhat unimpressed. Its acceleration isn't profoundly different than the T6's or as strong as the spec sheet suggests. Another downside is the T8's non-linear brake feel. It reminds us of the brakes in first-generation hybrids from the last decade. Initial pedal effort is mushy, presumably as deceleration is being handled by regenerative braking. It's then followed by a firmer pedal feel as the friction brake pads engage. The goofy progression makes it hard to modulate the brakes or come to a complete stop smoothly.

2019 Volvo S60 First Drive

Delightfully Volvo
We have no complaints about the 2019 S60's interior. It's as tastefully designed as the exterior and follows the current look and feel of the rest of the Volvo lineup. The horizontal dash is accentuated by a large, vertically oriented touchscreen, and there's a noticeable absence of physical buttons or knobs. The use of fine materials adds to the overall impression of refinement, exceeding expectations for the price and class.

The R-Design's sport seats offer as much comfort as any of the orthopedist-designed seats in other Volvo vehicles. The cushioning is thin, but the well-shaped contours provide excellent support for hours at a time. The side bolsters are appropriately aggressive to keep you firmly planted while bounding between curves. The headrests may be canted a bit too far forward for some people's tastes, but they're designed that way to reduce injuries resulting from rear-end collisions. The rear seat cushions are shorter and lower than the average-size adult might prefer, but rear passenger comfort is still very good. Extra side bolstering also helps here.

Outward visibility is excellent, leaving little guesswork for the driver. As an added bonus, the rear headrests can be folded at the touch of an onscreen button, giving you an obstruction-free rear view. More points are awarded for the head-up display and digital instrument panel that give you all pertinent information at a quick glance.

Tech Shortcomings
Volvo's Sensus infotainment system receives an update with this new S60. It's a visually appealing touchscreen interface, but it isn't as initially intuitive as some competing systems. You'll need some time to get used to "the swipe right for options" and "swipe left for driver assistance control" interface. The response to user inputs is quicker than in previous Sensus systems, but you'll have to be more deliberate and forceful than you would with rival touchscreens.

Volvo bills its Pilot Assist system as a low-level automated driving system, but the system isn't much more than the typical adaptive cruise control paired with a lane-keeping assist system. The lane-keeping system struggles to keep the vehicle centered in its lane. It's better in bumper-to-bumper traffic than on the open highway.

In keeping with Volvo's reputation, there are a lot of advanced safety features at your disposal. Unfortunately, we experienced a few false alarms with the forward collision warning system that unexpectedly engaged the emergency braking. In free-flowing traffic, this can be alarming and a cause for concern if a car is following too closely behind you. We'll know more about whether these were isolated incidents once we get an S60 for a full evaluation.

2019 Volvo S60 First Drive

So, we have a few technology quibbles, but overall the 2019 Volvo S60 is a worthy challenger against the A4, the 3 Series and the C-Class. Its elegant styling whispers rather than shouts, yet its impressive performance is certainly deserving of some bravado. This S60 overflows with quiet confidence by artfully blending comfort, safety and technology at a price that makes it slightly more accessible than its German rivals. Even with the knowledge that a redesigned BMW 3 Series is just over the horizon, we're confident the Volvo S60 will remain a top choice for quite some time.