By Derek Price
When you build a mid-sized, mid-priced car, there are two ways to go about it.
One is stretching and adding content to your cheaper models. The other is shrinking and taking content away from your more expensive cars.
Volvo took the second route when completely redesigning the S60 for 2019, although it broke from automotive tradition by keeping its content almost identical to the large and luxurious S90.
The new S60 actually shares its underpinnings with Volvo’s 90-series sedan, wagon and SUV cousins. It’s built on the brand’s Scalable Product Architecture that’s been the magic behind some of the most forward-thinking cars I’ve driven in the past three years.
If you need an odd fact to see just how forward-thinking it is, consider this: the new S60 is the first Volvo car to be sold without a diesel engine. That might not mean much here in America, where diesel sedans are as common as pink geckos, but it’s a big deal globally.
Volvo thinks the future involves a shift toward electrification and away from internal combustion, and this car is the proof. It offers not one but two different plug-in hybrid powertrains, letting you choose between 340- and 400-horsepower versions depending on how fast you want to go while feeling like you’re saving the planet.
My tester, the sleek R-Design trim with the more conventional T6 engine, didn’t have any electric power but did have the panache of a bigger, pricier car. With a sticker price over $55,000, it’s not cheap, but it also looks and drives like something that would cost even more than that if it were sitting on a German or Japanese luxury dealer’s lot.
I’m a huge fan of the styling, which is sleek and modern but not as off-putting as Lexus’ contemporary gaping grilles can be. It pulls from the best of Volvo’s history — a bizarre mix of heritage ranging from unadorned boxes to sublime sports coupes — to create something that’s not quite like anything else on the road, past or present.
The S60 shares its gigantic, iPad-like Sensus digital interface with the S90, which is a great thing. If you want a better one, the only cars that come close are in Tesla showrooms. Volvo’s system is far enough ahead of the competition that even several years after its introduction on the XC90, it remains the best in the industry.
Inside, it mashes together a potential train wreck of a horizontal dash, vertical air vents and that massive touchscreen in a way that miraculously comes across as serene, peaceful and almost minimalistic. Material choices are likewise spectacular — leaning toward earthy colors and natural textures — but it’s the visual design and sculptural quality to the switches and touchpoints that impress the most.
Driving the new S60 isn’t as serene as sitting in it. The T6 powertrain delivers prodigious power, although this car’s overall feel splits the difference between a sports sedan and a soft-riding luxury cruiser. I prefer cars that pick a direction and go all-in, but this one seems lukewarm — neither supple enough for Grandma’s squishy ride nor hard-edged enough to be taken seriously at a track day.
If you do have track-day aspirations, Volvo will be selling the performance flavor of this car soon, called the T8 Polestar Engineered.
Pricing for the base Momentum trim starts at $35,800. The sport-leaning R-Design starts at $41,900, while the luxury-oriented Inscription is priced from $42,900.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2019 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design ($47,045). Options: Advanced package ($2,500), heated rear seats and heated steering wheel ($750), metallic paint ($645), Bowers & Wilkins premium audio ($3,200), Park Assist Pilot ($200), 18-inch R-Design alloy wheels ($800). Price as tested (including $695 destination charge): $55,490
Wheelbase: 113 in.
Length: 187.4 in.
Width: 80.3 in.
Height: 56.3 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder (316 hp, 295 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 21 city, 32 highway
Why buy it?
It delivers a full-luxury experience for a mid-luxury price, starting under $36,000. An all-new design with sleek looks, powerful engines and a peaceful, amenity-filled cabin makes it stand out.