Slipping into the front seat of the new Volvo S60 — with its ultra-slim center console, all-black interior with Volvo's "Shimmer Graphite" metal accents — I was struck by its understated elegance.
An all-black interior is difficult to pull off. It can be depressing, or, as in this case, can convey the refinement of Audrey Hepburn in the opening of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" in that iconic Givenchy black gown.
The rest of this sports sedan doesn't disappoint either.
It is not often that I have this much fun behind the wheel. OK, it doesn't have the sporty feel of its rear-wheel-drive competitors; so at times it felt a bit nose-heavy going through turns.
But press hard on the accelerator and the S60 really takes off with 300 horsepower and 325 foot-pounds of torque starting at a low 2,100 rpm. This 3-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engine is the most powerful six-cylinder that Volvo offers.
A six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shifting option is standard. Put it into Sport mode and the downshifts seem to come far more quickly, making the S60 even more responsive. This transmission replaces a five-speed automatic.
The great power is matched by great steering, which is nicely weighted whether trundling around town or on the highway. The body feels strong and rigid; unfortunately, a noticeable amount of road noise intrudes.
I do have to compliment the Haldex all-wheel-drive system. The S60 was mistakenly delivered with summer high-performance tires. Despite such a severe handicap, it was able to progress up our snow-covered, steep New Hampshire driveway. It wasn't easy, but it made it.
This is only the second generation of the S60, which was first introduced as a 2001 model. The new model's wheelbase is 2.3 inches longer. It is an inch longer overall and 2.4 inches wider. Along the way, however, it lost almost 2 cu.ft. in trunk space.
The T6 starts at $37,700 for a very nicely equipped car, which includes all-wheel drive, 18-inch wheels, power driver's seat, power folding rear head restraints, leather sport 3-spoke steering wheel, dual zone climate control, sound system with USB inputs and MP3 capability, Bluetooth interface, leather seats, satellite radio and a seeming redundancy of stability and traction control features.
Safety features include side curtain airbags, side airbags and whiplash protection front seats. But Volvo is now moving aggressively into the area of "active" safety to prevent crashes with a goal of having no deaths or serious injuries in a Volvo by 2020.
Volvo says that City Safety, which is standard, can lessen or avoid low-speed rear-end impacts at up to 19 mph by automatically stopping the S60 if a car in front stops unexpectedly.
With a couple of packages and stand-alone options, the price of the vehicle I drove ran up to $42,600.
The $1,500 premium package has power sunroof, power passenger seat, and dual xenon gas discharge headlights that turn as the steering wheel turns to better see around curves.
The $2,100 technology package adds adaptive cruise control; lane departure warning; distance alert and driver alert control. Two other features, collision warning and pedestrian detection can apply full automatic braking to avoid collisions with a pedestrian at up to 22 mph or with another vehicle if the speed difference between the two is up to 22 mph.
With this Technology Package, the S60 has to be one of the most considerate cars on the planet, concerned with keeping everyone safe under any circumstances and at any speed.
Mine also had metallic paint ($550) and a FOUR-C Chassis ($750), which lets the driver choose from three driving modes (Comfort, Sport or Advanced). The Comfort mode seemed to do a good job of muting big tar strips without marring the handling.
Volvo expects a popularly equipped model with the Premium Package and a couple of other stand-alone options to run $41,400.
All in all, it is an impressive blend of luxury, safety and performance at a price that is not out of line in its segment.