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2011 Volvo S60: A driver's car that makes better drivers

Posted by Bill Griffith  November 26, 2010 07:28 PM

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(All photos: Bill Griffith for The Boston Globe)

I can hear the words coming over the Public Address system now: This is NOT a test. This is a REAL emergency.

Unfortunately for me — or actually fortunately — the emergency alarm was sounding inside today's test car, a 2011 Volvo S60. There was no time to do anything but react by slamming on the brakes.

I'd glanced away from the road for a second, not texting or making a call but rather to make sure I had a transponder with me so I could use the Fast Lane over the Tobin Bridge.

Then, in one of those split-second happenings that seem endemic in Greater Boston driving, the two cars in front of me stopped abruptly on Rte. 1 in Revere. Why? I'll never know.

But I do know there was a strong chance I'd have rear-ended the Cadillac in front of me if the S60 hadn't been equipped with Volvo's advanced array of safety technologies, including:
  • Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake
  • Adaptive Cruise Control that now operates at all speeds
  • Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake
  • Distance Alert
  • Driver Alert Control
  • Lane Departure Warning

It was No. 3 on that list, the collision warning system, which saved me from what could have been an airbag-deploying and embarrassing automotive encounter of the worst kind.

The alarm sounded as I glanced up to see the Caddy's looming tail lights. As I stabbed at the brake pedal, the Volvo beat me to that, too, locking the brakes in a tire-screaming panic stop.

The S60 slowed to an almost stop about eight feet short of an accident, just as the cars in front began to accelerate again. Would I have been able to do the same on my own? Maybe, but I doubt it.

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I'd grown to truly appreciate the S60's safety systems in a week of test driving, including a couple of rush-hour treks from the North Shore through downtown to St. Elizabeth's Hospital where Mrs. G was undergoing long days of treatments. Those trips, I think, helped me become a better driver, through the following systems:

  • The Lane Departure Warning system. You want to be notified if you wander out of your lane, but it makes you more alert to not only stay in your lane but also to stay in the middle of the lane. You take the warning as a reprimand and try to avoid it. The only times it happened to me was when I took my attention off the road to fiddle with the audio controls. The alarms sounded like the William Tell Overture, a reminder you'll also get if you change lanes without signaling.
  • Adaptive Cruise Control and Distant Alert made the week's long drives down Rte. 95 a breeze.
  • I figured the Driver Alert system would come into play on the drive home to Newburyport after attending a BU-UNH hockey game, an annual get-together with a group of high school classmates. It didn't because I didn't want to hear any more vehicle-initiated alerts.

Safety isn't particularly sexy nor does it sell a majority of vehicles, but this Volvo has it in abundance.

However, there's much more to this S60. Besides the safety systems, this Volvo has the cache of being termed both "The sportiest Volvo ever" or the "Volvo with an attitude."

It's earned both of them.

The 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engine delivers 300 horsepower and 325 lb.-feet of torque, moving the S60 effortlessly. The power is delivered through a six-speed automatic transmission and electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system. It also achieved 23.7 miles per gallon despite several hours in creeping traffic.

While not truly a "sport sedan" the S60's optional Four-C chassis allows a wide range of ride settings, including comfort, sport or advanced.

Seats are extremely comfortable and the interior materials are nice quality. The styling is contemporary with wonderful use of LED lighting, especially in the front marker lights and tail lights.

Our test S60 had an MSRP (including destination) of $38,550. The technology package extolled above is a well-worth-it $2,100. A $1,500 premium package added moonroof, power passenger seat, and terrific active bending headlamps. Metallic paint added $550 and the Four-C chassis package was $750 for a bottom line of $43,450.

We'd have gladly forked over another $800 for the climate package, which includes heated seats, washer nozzles, rain-sensing wipers and headlight washers.

2011-Volvo-S60-front-interior.jpg

In a year when I've test-driven nearly 50 vehicles so far, the S60 ranks No. 1 on my report card. The fact that it saved my bacon counts heavily, but so does the overall driving experience including performance, handling, styling, comfort and interior treatment.

While I do have a vote for Baseball's Hall of Fame, a carryover honor from 40 years in the Sports department, I don't have one for the North American Car and Truck of the Year.

If I did, the S60 would be my choice even though this seems to be the year of the emergence of electric vehicles such as the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf.


2011 Volvo S60 T6

THE BASICS
Price, base/as tested (with destination): $38,450/$43,450 .
Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 18 city / 26 highway.
Fuel economy, Globe observed: 23.7
Drivetrain: 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder, six-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive.
Body: 4-door, 5-passenger sedan.

THE SPECIFICS
Horsepower: 300.
Torque: 325 lb.-ft.
Overall length: 182.2 in.
Wheelbase: 109.3 in.
Height: 58.4 in.
Width: 73.4 in.
Curb weight: 3,812 lbs.

THE GOOD: The best a Volvo can get (to date) with advanced safety systems to go with terrific styling, comfort, and performance.

THE BAD: A snug rear seat, no engine temperature gauge.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Volvo may have been sold to Chinese automaker Geely, but the company put its soul into the S60.

ALSO CONSIDER: Acura TL, Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, Cadillac CTS, Chrysler 300, Hyundai Genesis, Infiniti G37, Lexus ES350, Lincoln MSK, Mercedes-Benz C-class, Saab 9-5, Toyota Avalon.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
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Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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