Driving | Peter Bleakney | 10/18/2018
SANTA MONICA, Calif. — The 2019 Volvo S60 sedan marks a big beginning and a notable end for the Swedish automaker. It’s the first Volvo to be built in the United States — at a new plant in South Carolina — and its arrival signals the end of the old Ford-derived platform, with its transverse five or six-cylinder engines. Now aligned with the rest of the vehicles in Volvo’s stable, this third-generation S60 sits on the company’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) and runs with forced-induction 2.0-litre four-cylinder Drive-E engines.
And don’t despair, all you Volvo wagon devotees. Along side the 2019 S60 sedan comes an all-new V60 wagon, although this hauler will be built in Sweden and Belgium.
The 2019 S60 and V60 are lower, longer and marginally narrower than their predecessors. And considerably prettier, not that the outgoing models were hard to look at. A 96-millimetre wheelbase stretch benefits rear seat legroom, which is now class competitive. Headroom improves, too.
Arriving in dealers January 2019, the S60 starts at $42,400 for the base Momentum T5 with a turbocharged version of the 2.0-litre engine, producing 250 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque and driving the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. It gets 17-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, a 120-volt outlet, LED headlights, a nine-inch touchscreen with Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a premium audio system, cruise control, lane-keeping and rear park assist, and Volvo’s City Safety front collision mitigation.
The $3,400 Momentum Plus package adds four-zone climate control, fog lamps, a 12.3-inch driver’s display, a headlight cleaning system, GPS navigation with road sign detection, keyless entry, selectable drive modes, upgraded LED lighting and posh interior illumination. If you want blind-spot detection, it comes with the $1,800 Vision Package that also bestows a 360-degree camera, retractable rear-view mirrors, auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, cross-traffic alert, Park Assist Pilot, and front and rear park assist. Want a heated steering wheel? That requires the $1,250 Climate Package.
Move up to the T6 AWD models and output jumps to 316 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque, as the 2.0-litre engine gains a supercharger to go along with its turbocharger. The T6 AWD starts at $47,400 for the Momentum, followed by the sportier R-Design at $52,400, and $53,900 for the ritzy Inscription. Add $1,500 to any of these trims for the V60.
Coming early summer of 2019 will be a S60 T8 plug-in hybrid with 35 kilometres of range in electric-only mode, and a Polestar Engineered version of the T8 bragging 19-inch alloy wheels, Brembo front brakes, a front strut bar, adjustable Ohlins dampers, yellow seatbelts to match the brake calipers, and a combined 415 horsepower and 494 lb.-ft. of torque from the twin-charged four-cylinder engine and rear-mounted electric motors driving the back wheels. No pricing on the T8s yet, and don’t hold out much hope of getting a Polestar Engineered version — only 10 are coming to Canada for 2019.
At this event we sampled the S60 T6 R-Design, the unicorn-like T8 Polestar Engineered and the V60 T6 Momentum. Might as well get the obvious right out of the way — these cars are gorgeous to behold, from both outside and in. The sensuous, sculpted bodies wrap an interior high on Swedish minimalism, rife with beautifully organic materials and executed with loving precision. Superlative front seat comfort is another hallmark of Volvo, and these cars carry on the tradition.
Out on the winding mountainous roads inland from the coast, the red S60 R-Design made for a pretty convincing sports sedan. When selecting Dynamic Mode, the exhaust flaps open, the steering firms up, and the eight-speed automatic finds more aggressive shift points. The R-Design gets a lowered, non-adaptive sports suspension along with 18-inch wheels, specific body styling, well-bolstered R-Design seats and paddle-shifters.
These pre-production testers were loaded to the nines with 19-inch wheels, Nappa leather, a Bowers and Wilkins audio system, all the safety tech and Volvo’s semi-autonomous Pilot Assist that is designed mainly to ease the pain of stop-and-go commuting.
The R-Design has quick, direct steering, fine body control and remarkably flat cornering. Plenty of urge from the twin-charged four-cylinder, too, although power delivery is not as linear as we might hope and the transmission’s response to paddle-shifter input does not match the gold-standard ZF eight-speed that’s found in cars from Audi, BMW, and Jaguar.
Still, it was a lot of fun flinging this highly sophisticated Sweden down canyon roads. I’ve been critical of Volvo’s flinty ride quality on this new SPA platform, and while the roads here in California were mostly smooth, I did get the sense this fresh S60 showed a new layer of compliance and refinement. Not just wishful thinking on my part, as the S60’s suspension engineer confessed his team is continually working on that aspect of their vehicles. The true test will be getting one on the ravaged streets of Toronto.
The Polestar is a different animal, although not in the way you might imagine. With a linear torque tide of 494 lb.-ft., it surely is quick, but the extra weight of its 10 kWh battery and electric motor gubbins give the Polestar a roly-poly. hefty disposition that leans more to a premium grand touring experience. It’s not as agile as the R-Design, feeling more like the serene Autobahn-crusher of the family.
And to the wagon. Well, Volvo may have outdone itself here in the aesthetics department. The 2019 V60 looks dead sexy from any angle. Yes, I did say dead sexy wagon, and finished in Light Birch paint with the optional fabric City Weave upholstery treatment, the V60 Momentum rises to a level of functional high art. While the outgoing V60 had severely compromised cargo space, the 2019 benefits from a more upright rear hatch. Cargo space behind the rear seats measures 821 litres — not that far behind big-brother V90, with its 962 litres.
The new Volvo S60 and V60 step up to the plate as legitimate contenders to the established German marques. They’re safe, rich in tech, beautifully constructed, comfortable, and offer a wide bandwidth of abilities. Decent value too. Yes, there are a few quirks and true sport sedan fans will likely look elsewhere, but this reborn pair charmingly sidestep the mainstream with their unique powertrains and Nordic design flair. And what would a Volvo be without that?