The sticker price of $1.8 billion might seem a little steep, but it’s likely a bargain for a certain automaker with Swedish roots.
The recent sale of Volvo by parent company Ford to Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. of China is less than one third of what Ford paid for the brand back in 1999. Times change and Ford has been busy shedding Mazda, Aston Martin and Jaguar, too, to raise capital to develop its core brands and prevent the borrowing of dreaded federal bailout money. Volvo is the last to go.
Along with all that priceless Volvo safety technology that will help the Zhejiang Geely establish an instant foothold in North American — as well as instant credibility as an automaker —the all-new S60 is along for the corporate ride.
It has been a long time coming. The outgoing model was originally conceived for the 2001 model year, which is an eternity in the auto world. In fact, there was no 2010 model: the last S60 was labeled a 2009 model.
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Arriving later this year, the clean-sheet 2011 design displays a well-rounded nose that looks somewhat akin to that of the Volvo’s C30 hatchback coupe or the XC60 wagon ute. The side view tries to suggest that the car is really a coupe in sedan clothing. In back, arguably the S60’s most stirring view, the sweep of the rear window gracefully blends with an abbreviated trunk lid. The S60 exudes a sense of youthful elegance like no other Volvo has done before . . . ever.
The S60’s tasteful (and tasty) interior is equally sharp, with all of the key controls angled toward the driver for quick and easy access. The orthopedically designed seats — always a Volvo strong suit — are both functional and artful, thanks to the thin and wispy headrests that also provide whiplash protection.
Beneath the star-quality sheetmetal, the S60 is supported by a stiff new platform that increases the distance between the front and rear wheels by 2.3 inches (more room for rear passengers). From that point, the struts, springs and steering column have been considerably stiffened and a faster steering gear has been installed, all in an effort to create a greater sports-car-like driving experience without actually cramping your style with a sports car.
All North American S60s will have, at least initially, a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that makes 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel-drive are standard. It’s anticipated that a front-wheel-drive model with a tamer powerplant will follow.
The S60 can be ordered with one of three distinct chassis setups. The “Touring” has been tuned for maximum ride comfort, especially on rough roads, while the focus of the firmer “Dynamic” suspension is to quickly respond to a more aggressive driving style. The “Four-C” active chassis option continuously monitors road conditions and adjusts the suspension according to a trio of driver-selectable settings.
Stability control, which prevents a skid or spin, and traction control are standard, but there’s nothing “standard” about either system. The former includes a roll-angle sensor that reacts more quickly than conventional programs. Quicker reaction means it’s easier to pull the car back from the brink of disaster since it’s not yet on the brink.
Corner Traction Control applies light braking to the inside driven wheels in a turn, while at the same time sending more power to the outer wheels. The car more easily follows the arc of a turn and therefore gives the driver more control, especially when the road is slippery.
The S60 will be available with the kind of electronic-collision warning and prevention devices that are featured on other premium automobiles (active cruise control, blind-spot and drowsy-driver alerts), as well as the first-ever use of pedestrian detection. The system includes a high-resolution camera that combines with a radar unit to detect people in front of the car. The S60 can actually avoid contact at speeds up to 22 mph by applying the brakes (or at least lessen the impact over that limit).
According to Volvo, 26 percent of all road accidents in China involve pedestrians while the figures for North America are around 11 percent. That fact alone should be enough to convince Volvo’s new masters that the S60 should prove particularly beneficial in their home country as well as throughout the rest of the world.