Review: 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD

I would forgive you in an instant if you hadn’t noticed the changes happening at the entry-level side of Volvo’s offerings in North America. The compact S40/V50 sedan and wagon quietly departed here two years ago, replaced with the sublime V40, which is not available here. Now comes news the two door hatch C30, which had hoped to steal sales away from the MINI Cooper but barely made a ripple here will also be exiting the stage. So, what then is the entry-level Volvo?

Well, that leaves the S60, which for many years was comfortably positioned as Volvo’s mid-level, bread and butter sedan, positioned above the smaller S40 and luxurious S80. The Garage reviewed a 2011 Volvo S60 T6, and we came away impressed. That was the sole S60 for 2011, but in 2012, Volvo added the S60 T5. A less powerful S60 that would ultimately wear the dubious crown of being the ‘starter’ Volvo. Was any luster lost? Read on…

I’ve been staring at my pics of the T5 and T6, and I cannot tell any difference between the two. Apart from the T5 badge on the rear, no one will know you went with the base model. Two years on, the S60 still looks fantastic. Volvo still marches to the beat of their own drum while other competitors relentlessly chase the German marques. In place of our T6’s eye searing copper paint, our T5 was finished in a soothing Ice White. All S60’s come standard with 17″ alloys, but our test car was equipped with an alternative, optional Kjord Design, which look far better than the stock wheels for only a little extra money. Style-wise, this is one sophisticated looking car, handsome, contemporary, and in a class of its own.

I confess, on my first encounter with the S60 the Beechwood leather seating surfaces left me cold. Second time around, I was warming up to them. Yes, it is a bold color, but without the copper exterior, it was much easier to swallow. After a 500 mile round trip from Connecticut to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I actually started to like it. The seats offer comfort that are best in class. Controls are easy to use, gauges simple and elegant to look at. I relished attention to details, such as an illuminated shift knob showing your gear. Offered a choice between an S60 or BMW 3-series for a long distance tourer, I would pick the Volvo in a heartbeat. The only downside was a smallish trunk. We’re a family of three, so we could fit items in the back seat, but a larger family would find the S60 a challenge for long trips.

For the gearheads, the real question is what is the trade-off by going with the base engine? The T5 is powered by a 2.5L inline-five cylinder rated at 250hp, paired to a six-speed automatic. That’s down 50hp from the T6 we last reviewed. The T5 is offered in front or all-wheel drive. Our car was all-wheel drive, and Volvo claims a 0-60mph time of 6.6 seconds. That’s about a half second slower than the T6, while delivering 20/29 MPG city/highway mileage. Bombing down the interstate at 80mpg the S60 T5 was showing 27MPG on the trip computer.  It’s no scorcher, but the power is always there when you need it, and passing is done with ease. The T5 is the smoothest five cylinder car I have driven to date.

The ride quality is exceptionally comfortable. Steering is direct, with just enough feel to keep me happy. I found the handling to be confidence inspiring. It’s these Connecticut-Pennsylvania trips that really tell me the story of a car, especially when my son and wife doze away, it is just the car, the road and me where I truly get a feel of the car, and in this case, the S60 was positively one of the most stand-out cars of the year. That I can point the S60 at rapid pace without disturbing my passengers as they nap is the mark of an excellent automobile.

The Volvo S60 T5 starts at $31,900USD. Our test car added all-wheel drive, the Premier Package (power moonroof, leather seating, auto dimming rearview mirror, power passenger seat, keyless entry), Climate Package (heated front seats, air quality system, heated windshield washer nozzles), rear spoiler and upgraded wheels, with an as delivered charge of $38, 178. Yes, I scoffed at the price of the car with the absence of of GPS navigation (which is available), but reminded myself the four banger BMW we reviewed cost over $50,000 which offered only a few extra bells and whistles. In that light, the Volvo is a virtual bargain.

In the world of cars, entry-level and base model often provoke fears of decontented, weakly powered cars, but with the Volvo S60 T5, that is hardly the case. Odds are, if you are a potential buyer, you have a phone with GPS. If you demand a stick shift and slightly sharper handling, the BMW is your car. But again, if long distance touring is your thing, and you prize a roomier interior and a calmer demeanor with a distinct Swedish flair without giving up anything in speed and handling composure, a look at the Volvo S60 T5 is worth a look, and will never leave you with the impression of driving a base model.

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