Virtuous Volvo shed its Nordic ice-tanker image several years ago, trading stolid for style with a fresh pack of sleek new SUVs and station wagons.
Not a single one of them looked as if they might be toting a cord or two of weathered wood in back or a well-leafed survivalist manual on the dash, but Volvo’s sturdy mid-sized sedans – once its rakmacka and bread – kind of got lost in the transformational truck shuffle.
Until now. Sedans may be slipping with consumers, but clearly not with the edgy designers of the 2019 Volvo S60 mid-size sedan.
They probably had BMW on the brain when they embarked on the total restyling of the S60, a four-door that now mostly qualifies as a true sport sedan.
Consider the brick-red S60 I had recently, a high-end T6 R-Design model that retained Volvo’s familiar blunt front and big blacked-out rectangular grille.
But now, wild “Thor’s Hammer” LED headlamps slide back into taut, mostly smooth sides and are capped by a long, graceful hood that whispers “power” with a chilly accent.
Meanwhile, a character line atop the rear fender formed a strong shoulder embellished by stylized U-shaped tail lamps just around the corner.
The clean, distinctive body and its short overhangs settled comfortably on 235/40 tires wrapped around 19-inch black-and-alloy spoked wheels.
As you would likely expect in a Volvo, the S60 clung to the pavement with sticky all-wheel-drive. What you might not anticipate is the salty 2-liter four-cylinder engine beneath the hood, a complex turbocharged and supercharged mill that generates a gutsy 318 horsepower.
Tied to a positive-shifting eight-speed automatic, the deep-breathing four-banger pushed the two-ton S60 around with torquey ease. (The engine, incidentally, avoids turbo-lag and low-end stumbles by using the supercharger to supplement the turbo.)
Acceleration from the nuclear engine was immediate and strong, pushing like a healthy V-6 as it growled to 60-mph in a swift 5.2 seconds, according to Car and Driver.
To be honest, though, I’m not sure what Volvo really gains from seriously souping up the dinky engine.
Its fuel economy is a very average 21 miles per gallon in town, one mpg less than the Audi A6 squeezes from its bigger, more powerful turbocharged V-6.
Still, the S60’s firm suspension and stiff platform – a shortened version of the architecture that underpins the striking XC90 SUV – kept the car nicely planted in curves and turns.
It dove pretty gracefully into corners without lean or drama, aided by the all-wheel drive.
However, the ride was quite firm in the sporty “dynamic” mode, so if you’re looking for a luxury cruiser, high-performance models of the S60 may be too aggressive.
That didn’t bother me much, my backside still wearing callouses from 30 years of street-fighter, bone-beater Mustangs.
I was a little disappointed, though, in the car’s steering, a critical part of any sports sedan.
While appropriately quick, it felt thick, unable to tell me much about what the front wheels were doing in hard corners.
That’s pretty common in modern cars of all kinds with their electric power-steering units, but I still find it mildly irritating – along with cellphones, computer dating and the IRS.
Likewise, I can’t tell you much about what my S60 cost because the service that delivers fleet cars for various automakers couldn’t provide a window-sticker.
According to the Inner Tube – er, Internet – the base price of my model of S60 is $47,395 and I would guess the car costs about $55,000 with options.
You won’t have any trouble believing it based on the spare – and tasteful – Swedish luxury that marked the black interior in my car.
A flat dashboard in slightly pliable black plastic, for example, featured a single line of white stitching on its edges.
The car’s flat, squared-off mid-dash was wrapped in the same rich plastic and dominated by the interior’s single most irritating component – an oversized 10-inch display screen.
Large and intrusive, the screen required the driver or passenger to go through it to tune the stereo, adjust the climate system or even turn on the heated seats.
I typically used the distracting device before I backed out of the driveway so I could keep my interactions with it to an absolute minimum.
On more pleasant fronts, stylized door panels offered squared-off tops and textured silver trim, while the soft black-leather seats provided supportive bolsters and sectioned centers.
Everything but the dopey display screen looked quietly upscale. In addition, the back seat had really good leg- and headroom.
As much as I miss basic old solid Volvo, builder of square cars and station wagons that could seemingly run under water, I’m impressed by the automaker’s new clothes, strut and attitude.
I just hope Volvo’s Chinese owners don’t push it too far from its stoic Swedish roots.
2019 Volvo S90 T6 R-Design
- What I liked most: The S60’s graceful mix of flair and subtlety, seasoned by a healthy dash of performance.
- What I would change: Ditch the giant, distracting display screen, Volvo, a real irony given your long-time focus on safety.
- MSRP: Base price, $47,395; as equipped, an estimated $55,000.
- Fuel economy: Rated at 21 miles per gallon in town, 32 on the highway and 26 mpg combined with filler on the right.
- Official color: Fusion Red Metallic.
- Odometer reading when tested: 4,743 miles.
- Weight: 3,984 pounds.
- Length-width-height: 187.4 inches long/72.8 inches wide/56.3 inches tall.
- Fuel-tank capacity: 15.9 gallons.
- Towing capacity: Estimated 2,000 pounds.
- Spare tire: Temporary compact.
- 2019 Volvo S60 in a few words: A stylish redesign and strong performance move the S60 even further from Volvo’s old square-and-safe image.
- Warranty: Four years, 50,000 miles
- Final assembly location: Ridgeville, S.C.
- Manufacturer’s website: www.volvocars.com
- E-mail me at email@example.com
- Up next: 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid