For The Associated Press
(AP) – Start yawning. Another Volvo, the 2012 S60 sedan, earned top safety ratings in U.S. government crash testing.
It’s no surprise. With its well-known reputation for automotive safety, Volvo has had cars on government safety lists for years. But the big surprise is the newest, high-performance version of Volvo’s S60 has an exhilarating ride. There’s no yawning going on inside this car.
The turbocharged, six-cylinder, 2012 S60 R-Design is the sportiest S60 and delivers the powerful thrust of 354 foot-pounds of torque and 325 horsepower.
In fact, the S60 R-Design is in BMW performance territory. The 2012 BMW 535i sedan with twin-turbocharged six-cylinder generates 300 foot-pounds of torque and 300 horsepower, in comparison.
Unlike the BMW 5-Series, though, the Volvo S60 is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports, which reports the S60 reliability as better than average. Even better, starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the new S60 R-Design is $43,825.
This is some $10,000 less than the starting retail price of $53,945 for a 2012 BMW 535i.
Note the S60 R-Design comes standard with six-speed Geartronic automatic transmission with sport mode, all-wheel drive and Volvo’s City Safety system, a world-first pedestrian detection system with full auto brake. It can sense when a pedestrian comes in front of the car and, if the driver does not react, can apply the brakes fully to stop the car.
BMW buyers must move up to a 2012 535i xDrive sedan, starting at $56,245, to get all-wheel drive. The base xDrive 5-Series sedan includes an eight-speed automatic but not Volvo’s City Safety.
The S60 R-Design is the most expensive of the three 2012 S60 sedans, with a retail price that’s $11,650 more than a base 2012 S60 T5 sedan with 250-horsepower, turbocharged five cylinder.
And the mid-model S60, the T6, starts at $39,325. It has a turbo six cylinder generating 300 horses but only 325 foot-pounds of torque.
The R-Design’s 3-liter, double overhead cam, turbocharged and intercooled, inline six cylinder generates more torque through advanced spark timing and turbo boost of 14.5 psi vs. 13.1 in the T6. This meant the test R-Design four door could launch away from stoplights, and, with scant turbo lag, it raced forward to merge into traffic.
Peak torque comes at 3,000 rpm to 3,600 rpm, so it was easy to tap this thrust during city driving.
With the all-wheel drive, there was no disconcerting torque steer, where the car’s steering wheel would tug one way or another as power is put down to the pavement. Instead, the S60 tester moved forward smoothly from the get-go.
I just wished the engine sounds were sportier in the test car. As it was, they sometimes reminded me of a vacuum cleaner.
And fuel economy was not impressive. The test car, with a government rating of 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway, averaged just 19 mpg in travel that was 70 percent in the city.
Premium is the recommended fuel for the R-Design, so filling the 17.8-gallon tank can cost $80 at today’s prices.
All S60s feel agile on the road. The S60 R-Design rides with more stiffness than the others. Bushings and springs are stiffer, and the test car’s interior was often filled with road noise from the 18-inch tires.
Passengers felt every manhole cover and most road imperfections. There was no doubt the test S60 R-Design was well-connected to the road, even when it traveled on a straightaway.
The real delight, though came when the car was on twisty mountain roads. It stuck like glue to the pavement and held its line with composure. There was no sensation of body roll, and steering was quick and responsive.
The ride height in the S60 R-Design is 0.6 inch less than in other S60s, but passengers don’t feel as if they’re sitting low to the pavement.
Driver and front passenger in the test car were able to looks through the windows of other like-size cars to see what was ahead on the roads. But there was no way to see over or around tall vehicles, like sport utilities.
The rear-view camera included in the pricey, $2,700, optional multimedia package was a welcome aid when backing up.
The S60 interior is, like that of many Volvos, a bit quirky. It looks simply laid-out, but the radio commands could use some streamlining.
Front, leather-trimmed seats in the R-Design are new, with bolsters that are more prominent and seat cushions providing new padding. It’s all meant to keep driver and passenger in place during spirited driving. It also can mean a bit of a struggle for some, less-athletic drivers and passengers to get out of these seats.
With 12 cubic feet of trunk room, the S60 has one of the smallest trunks in the mid-size sedan segment. By comparison, the 5-Series has a 14-cubic-foot trunk.
The S60 back seat can feel confining, too, with just 33.4 inches of legroom compared with 36.1 inches in the 5-Series sedan.
Note that the S60 is nearly a foot shorter than the 5-Series in overall length.
The federal government reports four safety recalls of the 2012 S60. One involved the electrical wiring harness under the front seats that might disconnect, thereby jeopardizing the deployment of frontal and side air bags in a crash. Two safety recalls involved potential faulty fuel delivery that could cause the cars to stall in traffic. A fourth recall involved improper labels with tire inflation information for accessory spare tires. As a result, owners might put the wrong air pressure into these tires, which increases the risk of tire failure.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)