When Volvo introduced the S60 in 2011, the Swedes advertised their mid-sized sedan as the naughtiest Volvo ever thanks to a 300HP turbocharged engine. While I’m sure former “R owners” would disagree, the S60 has met with sales success with over 18,000 units sold so far this year, a 14% increase over last year. In 2012 Volvo added a less powerful FWD model to the mix to cut the price of entry. For 2013 Volvo has further expanded the S60 line by adding a torque vectoring AWD system to the lightest S60. Volvo also tells us they have completely refreshed their T5 engine for 2013 and tweaked the transmission for the naughty Volvo’s first retouch ahead of the rumored 2014 refresh. Huh? Yep, Volvo’s gettin’ down with the yearly refresh. Does that make the T5 AWD the naughtiest Volvo ever?
We should get one thing straight right up front: no matter how many wheels get the power, little is going to make up for having 3/5ths of your weight on the front axle. While many reviews complain about the fact that the Audi A4′s engine is completely in-front of the front axle, it still has a better (54/46) weight balance than the S60 with the engine completely above the front axle. That being said, the S60′s chassis is well composed on all road surfaces and is perhaps one of the best FWD platforms currently on offer in America. Checking that AWD option box however turns the S60 into a different animal on the road delivering [literally] 96% of the performance of the S60 T6 for $6,700 less. In addition, putting the S60 on an engine diet means the T5 AWD weighs 200lbs less than the T6 AWD.
When the road bends, the S60 T5 surprises with more handling prowess than its front heavy numbers would indicate. The primary reasons are the 235-width tires and Volvo’s ABS system based torque vectoring software. Rather than using a limited slip differential, the Volvo system uses the ABS system to brake the inside wheels in corners to send power to the outside wheel. While the system is not as effective as the more expensive mechanical active diffs, it allows more rear end rotation than you would expect. The result is a car with extremely confident road manners in all driving situations. While the A4 can be more fun as it has a RWD bias, the A4 was less predictable and less composed on the back-country roads I frequent.
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With a starting price of $33,750, the S60 T5 AWD is the bargain choice in this segment undercutting the A4 Quattro by $850 and the 328xi by $4,750. Adjusting for feature content, the S60 comes out further ahead at around $1,300 less than the Audi and between $4,200 and $5,800 less than the BMW (depending on content). Despite being the segment’s value choice, I’d call the S60 T5 AWD my second choice in this segment behind the 328i and ahead of the A4 Quattro. The BMW’s larger dimensions, sportier aspirations and impressive list of “techogadgetry” justify the 14% price jump in my mind. Audi’s rough and underpowered engine combined with their complicated MMI infotainment system help push the king of AWD one notch down below the confidant smooth S60. If value factors into your decision-making, then the S60 is about two paddle shifters and a 5% better weight balance away from perfection. Until then the 328i reins supreme in this segment, but the T5 AWD is an excellent option if you’re cheap like me.
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