Driving a different kind of car: 2015.5 Volvo S60 offers more power, plus fuel economy

Economic Indicators Associated Press

With new, more powerful turbo engines, the 2015.5 Volvo S60 is a distinctive, European premium sedan that's nimble, quick and has a surprisingly comfortable driver seat for 6-footers.

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The new S60 with base turbo four cylinder also ranks among the top 10 non-hybrid, non-electric, gasoline-powered, compact and mid-size sedans in fuel economy this year. The federal government estimates fuel mileage at 25 miles per gallon in city driving and 37 mpg on the highway for a front-wheel drive S60 with base engine.

All 2015.5 front-wheel drive S60s come standard with energy-conserving brakes and an automatic start/stop mechanism that turns off the engine when the vehicle is stopped, say, at a stoplight, to save fuel. The engine automatically turns back on when the driver lets up on the brake pedal to get ready to go.

Best of all, the S60 earned top, five out of five stars in government crash testing for the third year in a row.

The S60 is Volvo's entry-level model, with the lowest starting retail price of any Volvo. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $34,890 for a base, 2015 front-wheel drive S60 T5 model with 240-horsepower, turbocharged four cylinder and eight-speed automatic transmission.

The lowest starting retail price for a 2015 S60 with all-wheel drive is $36,390. The lowest starting retail price for a 2015 S60 with uplevel, 302-horsepower, turbocharged and supercharged four cylinder is $40,190. This is a front-wheel drive model with eight-speed automatic.

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Competitors include other premium sedans such as the rear-wheel drive, 2015 BMW 320i, which has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $33,900 with 180-horsepower, turbo four cylinder and eight-speed automatic. But a 2015 BMW 328i with a turbo four cylinder that has the same 240 horses as the base Volvo S60 is much more — $39,000.

The 2015 Mercedes-Benz C300 sedan with 241-horsepower, turbocharged four cylinder and seven-speed automatic transmission has a starting retail price of $39,325.

The S60 also undercuts any Lexus sedan, including the entry-priced 2015 Lexus IS 250, which has a starting retail price of $37,475 for a rear-wheel drive model with 204-horsepower V-6. Note, however, that the base IS comes standard with more features, including a power moonroof.

The S60 was the only Volvo car or sport utility to record a sales increase for calendar 2014 in the . S60 sales totaled 25,447, up nearly 10 percent from a year earlier.

It's easy to see why.

At 15.2 feet from bumper to bumper, the S60 is the same length as a BMW 3-Series, so it's compactly sized.

But the S60 is a couple inches taller, which results in a surprising amount of headroom — 39.3 inches when there is no sunroof installed.

Front-seat legroom in the S60 is 41.9 inches, and long seat track and seat height ranges as well as eminently accommodating, standard telescoping steering wheel mean many sizes of driver can find comfortable seating.

The front seats also have substantial support in the seat cushion, back and, of course, in those generously sized and close-to-the-head Volvo head restraints. As a result, driving the test S60 was fatigue-free.

The two new powertrains for the mid-2015 model year — hence, the 2015.5 label — are big news.

Both are 2-liter, turbocharged and direct injected four cylinders. But the power generated is impressive and similar to what a six cylinder might produce. The base 2-liter's 240 horsepower, for example, compares with the 204 generated by the V-6 in the base, 2015 Lexus IS 250.

This engine also develops peak torque of 258 foot-pounds starting at a low 1,600 rpm. Indeed, Volvo reports a 0-to-60-miles-an-hour time of just 6 seconds for the S60 with this base engine.

Note the 2-liter, turbo four cylinder that's in the base, 2015 C300 produces peak torque of 273 foot-pounds at 1,300 rpm.

Volvo's uplevel engine — a 2-liter, turbocharged four cylinder that's supercharged, too — is even more powerful with 302 horses and 295 foot-pounds of torque at 2,100 rpm. Volvo puts the 0-to-60-mph time for this one at 5.6 seconds.

With this engine, the test car would, after just a bit of turbo lag, zoom strongly forward as the turbo power kicked in. In fact, the car regularly got up to 50 mph without the driver noticing.

Maybe it was the aggressive driving or the majority of city travel, but the test S60 only averaged 21 mpg, rather than the 28-mpg average that the federal government computed from its tests.

Volvo's press materials state both S60 turbos use regular unleaded gas, but the test car's fuel cap specified premium.

With today's lower fuel prices, this translated into a nearly 375-mile travel range on a single tank of premium costing less than $44.

The back seat of the S60 feels smaller than that in many other family sedans. Legroom back there is measured at just 33.5 inches, which is about what's in the back seat of a Toyota Yaris hatchback.

Trunk space in the S60 totals 12 cubic feet, but nearly all the space is under the rear window shelf and the trunk opening is small. Even in the test car that had a $46,000-plus price tag, there was not a power trunk lid.

The S60 exterior is not visually distinctive; some passersby thought it was a Ford Fusion.

The tester, with sport chassis, had a busy, quite firm ride, and wind noise from the side windows arose at 65 mph.

With Volvo's history as a safety leader, it was disappointing to see that a rearview camera is not standard equipment.