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We just celebrated the end of month number one with our Volvo S60, an event that coincided with the car’s odometer cruising past 2500 miles. The way this car soaks up the miles without the smallest complaint, we’d expect that pace to only increase as the year goes along. It’s also given us more than enough time to say this: the 2011 S60 is the best car Volvo has made in a very long time. From a company that’s been at the back of the pack for technology in recent years, the S60 is a leader. From a company that’s viewed by some as a builder of soft, dull cars, the S60 can run with the sportiest of the class, and the upcoming R-Design variant will only make that statement easier to defend.
Because we’re quite high on the car already, it seems appropriate that this one-month update should highlight some of our favorite aspects of the S60. Throughout the next month, we’ll take a more judgmental eye to things and report back with some negatives.
We get a lot of cars coming through the testing garage with adjustable suspensions and to be honest, we usually try each mode a little, try to get an idea of each system’s flexibility, and finally we settle in to a default mode. With the S60, we’ve been spending quality time with each of the three settings and have enjoyed actually finding purposes for each. But back to that “default mode” for a second — the S60 doesn’t have one. It doesn’t automatically revert to some sort of “normal” mode each time the car’s turned off, which we’ve always found annoying in other cars. If we turned the car off in sport mode, we want to turn it on in the same.
Volvo’s Four-C, which stands for Continuously Controlled Chassis concept, debuted in its earliest rendition with the arrival of the S60R and V70R just under a decade ago. Ever since, it has offered three modes: comfort, sport, and advanced (which puts the computers and sensors fully in control). It’s a $750 option on the S60 and includes Ã–hlins shocks and a central brain that makes five hundred decisions every second.
The new S60 is already Volvo’s self-proclaimed stiffest car ever, but Four-C adds both a sharper edge and more versatility. In sport mode, the car is a surprisingly flat handler, but it’s too jarring over sharp bumps. In comfort mode, our wives, mothers, and mothers-in-law have commented on how nice the car is; they wouldn’t be saying that in the other mode. Advanced mode is nice, but the car seems to be surprised by a smooth road suddenly going rough. Mostly, we’ve been cycling between the other two as needed.
We knew we wanted the S60’s $1500 premium package (xenon headlights, moonroof, and power passenger seat) because we’re a bit xenon-obsessed. You just can’t beat the power and clarity the gassy discharge headlights offer over halogen and filaments, especially when they’re also designed to turn with the road ahead, which the S60’s are. They’re also not only money well spent, they’re quite possibly the brightest headlights we’ve ever experienced. On a recent trip to Michigan’s rural pinky finger, a cloudy night’s darkness glowed white from our Volvo’s front bumper to the entry of the next turn, regardless of the distance between. The movement of the “active bending lights,” as Volvo calls them, is smooth and quick.
We weren’t sure about our $300 “Urbane” wood trim when the S60 first arrived, not because it isn’t beautiful, but because it’s just a bit too glossy. It’s growing on us more (because it is in fact beautiful) but we still wish it were less shiny, partly because it is starting to show small scratches from fingernails and the like. In its favor, we recently found this interesting tidbit in a press release: “The veneer is made from real wood that is sourced from responsibly managed forests and is certified by the Forest Steward Council. The wood is dyed and artfully layered together, creating a pattern inspired by the exotic grain of the African Zebrano, which is a threatened species.” That makes it seem like the price for the trim is a hot deal, but we have to imagine it’d be even more eco-friendly with a little less varnish.
Another decision we aren’t regretting is our Ember Black Metallic/Beechwood Brown leather combination. The paint has really come alive in the sunny summer months, while the interior color has garnered endless compliments and makes the cabin seem just a touch more exotic. It also finds a happy medium where it’s dark enough to not show stains but light enough that it doesn’t absorb sun and make getting in the car unbearable on 95-degree days. The paint gives the S60 a very upscale appearance as well, and we’ve especially fallen in love with the car’s profile view; the body line flows elegantly with perfect Coke bottle kick-ups at the front and rear.
Overall, we’ve been touching on a lot of high points here that have traditionally been Volvo shortcomings. This is not where we stray from that. The $550 Personal Car Communicator (PCC) gets the prize for money-best-spent. It brings Volvo into the world of completely keyless operation, meaning the push button start works without the key in the dash and the doors unlock and lock using sensors in the door handles. A button and set of lights on the key that indicates the car’s lock status from inside the house is a nice additional Volvo safety touch. We have to say, though, that if the premium sound system weren’t buried in a $2700 package, that might be the best bang-for-the-buck option.
Inside the cabin, we’ve found the controls for the rest of the technology features to be well laid out, and having a rollerball in the steering wheel that works as a secondary knob for scrolling through menus and iPod playlists is useful for keeping to two-hand driving. The cruise control buttons are perfect, and we appreciate the button-operated rain-sensing wipers with an indicator light.
The new navigation system is good overall as well, though for how high the resolution is, a surprisingly low number of street names show up and secondary roads disappear completely in the heart of the zoom levels. The voice controls work well though, now that we’ve learned the commands.
Yes, it’s been a positive first month overall with our 2011 S60. Troubles with it have been minimal, though we are due to head in for a recall to fix some glitchy engine management software. The only other thing we may have the dealer look at is a problem where our iPod will say it’s playing through the car, but no sound comes out. Disconnecting it and plugging it back in fixes the problem, but that’s inconvenient.
The miles will continue to roll on through the next month, with a trip coming soon to northern Michigan’s wine country. We are also working on a new set of custom wheels and those may be paired with a suspension drop. We’ll bring you more in about four weeks.