We took delivery of our Ember Black S60 in late May and reported last time around that we’d passed 2500 miles just before our first monthly update. Well, we must be running it at a steady pace because as of this writing, the car is sitting just a lunchtime drive past 5000. We still aren’t ready to slow down after another busy month, and the car doesn’t seem tired, either. Other than a quick stop at the dealer for a software update recall, it has been trouble-free and sipping a 17.8-gallon tank of fuel down every 400 or so miles. Assuming there’s a gallon or so left at fill-ups, that puts it a few miles-per-gallon north of the EPA’s rating of 21 combined.
Last month we provided a rundown of our favorite aspects of the S60 so far with the promise that this month, we’d try to find some negatives. Below are the things that have started grinding our gears.
Sorry to use that clichÃ© above, but the thing grinding our gears the most is actually what’s responsible for shifting them. With an added “sport” mode and a few tweaks, Volvo’s six-speed Geartronic transmission is performing at its best yet in the S60, but that’s not saying a lot. It’s fine and smooth in most driving, but can be clunky in low-speed traffic crawls and a bit less than telepathic during spirited runs over winding roads. We’re not insisting Volvo follows the new trend of sporty dual-clutch automatics, but even most traditional automatic competitors now offer some sort of rev-matching technology for downshifts to demonstrate a sense of increased athleticism. The S60’s transmission is good, but it isn’t great.
This is especially frustrating simply because Volvo doesn’t offer a manual option. If there’s just going to be one choice, we’d prefer the company invest in a transmission that’ll make both normal drivers and enthusiasts happy. But if the automatic is going to be slow and clumsy, give the very vocal minority a three-pedaled way out. This is, after all, the “naughty” Volvo. Isn’t it?
Last month we credited the navigation system for being an improvement over its predecessor, but noted that “a surprisingly low number of street names show up and secondary roads disappear completely in the heart of the zoom levels.” That’s continuing to get on our nerves; on long highway trips, we like to zoom out, but in the S60, it results in the map not showing much beyond the highway, a few lakes, and the borders of state and national parks. How about some city names and secondary roads?
Beyond that, the system is slow to move between different menus if you want to, say, leave the navigation map to change the satellite radio station, then return to the map. Even if you’re already on the radio screen, a new display has to pop up before the channel can be switched. Luckily, a roller ball on the steering wheel can control most functions, so the waiting can be done with two hands on the wheel.
Push-button releases for fuel doors were once very popular, but nearly every premium brand has abandoned them in favor of spring-loaded caps that can be pushed to have them pop open. Except for Volvo. We’ve been trying not to count the number of times we’ve already walked around the car only to remember we hadn’t pushed the release back inside the cabin, because it has been too many. And what’s the point? So crooks don’t steal the fuel? Push-release versions these days generally have locks that click shut when the doors are locked.
We aren’t just complaining because we’re dumb, either. We’re already thinking about when winter rolls around, some moisture might get in the fuel door and freeze, and we can’t get the door open. Pulling on the door and pushing the release button at the same time is a two-person affair.
Other than a few minor flaws, the S60 has been great. A few weeks ago we ran a story about our car serving as a test vehicle for an upcoming dealer-installed software reflash good for an extra 25 horsepower and 29 lb-ft of torque. We’re happy to report that our fuel economy seems unchanged, but we have been paying the extra few bucks at every fill-up to use premium fuel for peak performance. The S60’s US product manager recently stated in a Twitter chat that even with the extra power, the engine can still run reliably on regular fuel, it’ll just cut performance a bit. But why ask for 325 hp only to give a few of them away?
Beyond the fuel economy consistency, the new software has been simply awesome to use. Your butt dynamometer might not feel much difference from a standing start, but there’s no denying the added vigor with which we’ve tackled freeway on-ramps and passing situations.
By next month, we hope we’ll be able to talk about our new set of wheels from Rotiform, a custom wheel company popular with the Volkswagen crowd who has drilled us a custom set of its 19-inch “Nue” style wheel. We ordered a set of Goodyears to go with them, but they’re on backorder until October, so we’re considering other options and hope to have all the new metal and rubber on in a few weeks. Either way, we’ll be back with a few thousand more miles and some more options next month.