Most people would answer "safety" if the Volvo brand name was presented to them in a word association test. No wonder; the Swedish carmaker has spent decades honing a well-deserved reputation for building safe cars.
But, at least in the past, some shoppers who rejected Volvos might also have answered "stodgy" "boxy" or "boring." The new for 2011 S60 is yet another attempt by Volvo to change that gray image while enhancing the carmaker's safety reputation.
The styling is soft and rounded. The standard suspension has been firmed. The handling, though heavy, is capable, with quicker steering, whose effort can be adjusted. Drivers who want sportier handling and a better ride can opt for a suspension that electronically adjusts itself for driving conditions and also can be manually set by the driver. It costs $750.
The S60's list of standard and available safety features goes on and on and on but does not include thorax-protecting side air bags for rear seaters. One of the newest features, an optional collision warning system, is prone to false alarms, in the form of a startlingly loud beep and flashing red lights across the windshield. It's like driving with a nervous passenger.
The tester's beechwood brown interior was beautifully trimmed, with thickly side-bolstered front bucket seats. I was surprised, though, at the lack of a keyless entry/engine start system for this price, but it's available. Not available, however, are gauges for coolant temperature, voltage and engine oil pressure; there are only warning lights.
The first 2011 S60 variant was the one I sampled, the T6, an all-wheel driver with a turbocharged 300-hp. in-line six- cylinder engine and a base price of $38,575 with freight. It went on sale in September and it continues unchanged as a 2012 model, joined in January by the T5 with a 250-hp. five- cylinder, turbocharged engine, front-wheel drive and a $31,850 base price.
The new S60 has two more inches of rear legroom, though it's still an inch short of the 3-Series sedan. Standard is City Safety, which brakes the car at low speeds before it runs into the back of another one.
The federal government hasn't yet published a rating for the new S60, nor has the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. A cautionary note for prospective buyers: J.D. Power and Associates says Volvos are below average in dependability over three years.
Volvo's U.S. sales have fallen 61 percent from 139,000 in 2004 to fewer than 54,000 last year, and its car producing unit was sold last year by Ford Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group.
2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD
Engine:3.0-liter, turbocharged in-line six-cylinder, 300 hp.
Place of assembly:Ghent, Belgium
Trunk:12 cubic feet
EPA fuel economy estimates:18 mpg city, 26 mpg highway
Price as driven:$46,200 with freight
Bottom Line:Fun to drive but with a safety feature prone to false alarms.