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Volvo S60 breaks from manufacturer's sedate image

The Volvo S60 is the kind of car

The Volvo S60 is the kind of car that keeps the other European models looking for ways to improve. Credit: Scripps Howard News Service/Volvo

Volvo is not above using its Scandinavian wiles to get your attention.

Just when you think you have the brand pigeon-holed as "safe and subdued," it shows up on your doorstep in a baby-blue sedan that drives like a sports car. We're talking about the S60 here, one of the most enthusiastic mid-size models in the market.

With turbocharged power and all-wheel-drive as an option, the S60 is the kind of car that keeps the other European models looking for ways to improve.

Introduced in 2000, the second-generation S60 began production in Ghent, Belgium, in 2010, arriving as a 2011 model in North America.

During the first decade of S60's evolution, Volvo was fighting for its survival along with a lot of other makers. Ford Motor Co. decided to unload the Swedes along with its other premium European brands in 2008. While Volvo was sold to Zhejian Geely Holding Group of China, fellow Swedish carmaker Saab began a slow fadeout.

With a broader base than Saab and more memorable marketing, Volvo defended its right to exist with sedans, wagons and crossover utility vehicles that were as functional and identifiable as Ikea dorm furniture.

Safety was not forsaken along the way. For 2013, Volvo breaks new ground with the Pedestrian Detection system with full auto brake that can detect pedestrians who walk into the road in front of the car. The system warns the driver and automatically applies full braking power if the driver does not respond in time.

In an emergency situation, the driver first receives an audible warning combined with a flashing light in the windshield's head-up display. At the same time, the car's brakes are pre-charged. If the driver does not react to the warning and an accident is imminent, full braking power is automatically applied.

Another safety system called Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake warns the driver and pre-charges the brakes. The brakes are automatically activated if the driver doesn't act when a rear-end collision with a moving or stationary vehicle is about to happen. Another feature is called City Safety, which automatically brakes if the driver fails to react in time when the vehicle in front slows, stops -- or if he or she is driving too fast toward a stationary object.

Road Sign Information, also available on the S60, supports the driver by displaying road signs in the instrument cluster.

The new Active High Beam technology offers automatic switching between high and low beam at the right moment, while Tunnel Detection automatically turns on the headlight when the car enters a tunnel.

Systems that Volvo matches on competing models include the Blind Spot Information System that helps detect vehicles in the offset rear blind spot on both sides of the car. Lane Departure Warning alerts the driver if the car runs across the lane markers without the turn indicator being used.

Another safety enhancement adds parking sensors front and rear with a parking assist camera at the rear. A camera in the front grille with a 180 field of vision is available as an option. The camera, which helps the driver negotiate blind exits, can be especially useful when pulling out of a parking spot hemmed in by larger vehicles.

The S60 offers 5-cylinder or 6-cylinder engines. The top dog is the turbocharged 3-liter T6 that cranks 304 horsepower through Volvo's second-generation six-speed automatic Geartronic transmission.

If you love brisk acceleration and the feeling that your jet engine has an afterburner, the S60 should do the trick for you. Of course, the S60 is not exactly a cheap set of wheels. The review car carried a base price of $43,900, and that rose to $48,195 with options.

With all-wheel-drive, you also pay a penalty at the pump. The S60 with all-wheel-drive and the T6 engine covers 18 city and 25 highway miles per gallon for a 21 mpg average. Over a year, you can expect to pay $2,550 for refills or about $1,100 more over five years than you would in comparison to the average new vehicle.

While there's much to praise about the S60's interior, one must not forget to mention the awesome sound system. There are a lot of great ones in the market these days, but the premium system offered in the S60 is a wonder to behold. Equipped with a class-D digital 5x130W amplifier with circuits from Sweden's Anaview, the system features Dolby Pro Logic II Surround, MultEQ from Audyssey Laboratories and 12 loudspeakers. Regardless of your taste in music, this system will blow you away.

2013 VOLVO S60 T6 AWD

TYPE: All-wheel-drive, five-passenger, mid-size sedan.

PRICE: $43,900 base, $48,195 as tested.

WHERE BUILT: Ghent, Belgium.

KEY RIVALS: BMW 5-Series, Mercedes Benz E-Class, Audi A6.

POWER: 3-liter, 304-horsepower, turbocharged 6-cylinder engine; six-speed auto transmission.

FUEL ECONOMY: 18 city, 25 highway, 21 combined mpg; estimated annual fuel cost $2,550.

LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT: 182.2 x 73.4 x 58.4 inches.

STANDARD: Power windows/locks/mirrors; independent suspension; traction control; speed-sensitive steering; power disc brakes with ABS; 18-inch alloy wheels; rear spoiler; leather upholstery; City Safety; front/side/head-curtain airbags; whiplash protection; tilt-telescoping steering; Bluetooth; heated mirrors; remote keyless entry.

Email Richard Williamson at motorfriend(at) 

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