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Motoring: Vroom, vrooming in some Volvos

Credit: Nauman Farooq

The Volvo S60 is a car that should be on your shopping list.

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | January 28th, 2013

It's that time of year again; the time when auto journalists and car enthusiasts flock to the mostly rundown city of Detroit, Michigan to attend the North American International Auto Show.

I have been making this trek every year since 1998, and while the show has been through some ups and downs, it still manages to convince car companies to use this show to launch their new models.

You can read all about the latest unveilings from this show elsewhere; I want to talk to you about the car that got me there: the Volvo S60 T5 AWD.

The current S60 has been around for a few years already, but it is hardly a common sight. Problem is, many people don't automatically think of Volvo when they are shopping for a new car. Drivers who like cars or have owned a Volvo in the past gravitate towards their newer models, but that's not a large group.

To attract more buyers, for 2013, Volvo has launched a new allwheel drive (AWD) version of the S60 sedan. While the AWD system was previously only available on the S60 with the turbo-charged sixcylinder motor called the T6, now you can also have the AWD traction with the smaller motor. Under the hood of my press car was a 2.5- litre, five-cylinder turbo-charged motor (T5), which develops 250 hp and 266 lb/ft of torque.

That power is sent to the wheels via a six-speed automatic gearbox that features a manual override feature. The latest version of the Haldex AWD system sends power to the wheel that can make best use of it. Trust me, this car won't get grounded no matter what the weather is like.

As you can imagine, a 4,628 mm long car with 250 hp is not going to be slow, nor blisteringly fast, but a zero to 100 km/h time of just 6.1 seconds is very respectable.

Figures are one thing, how the car feels is quite another. This car sits very squarely on the road, very stable and composed. The ride quality is excellent and irritants like road and wind noise are at a minimum, which makes this an ideal car for long trips.

The seats are what make this car ideal for trips. While they might not look special, the moment you sit in them, you realize that the seat is not only supportive, but the angle is just perfect. Also, the angle of the steering wheel in correlation to the seat is perfect. It's very easy to find the perfect driving position in this car and this just makes me think that Volvo uses actual humans to fine tune the interior, not just crash test dummies.

Speaking of crashes, you can rest assured that this car is the safest in its class. It also has systems to help you avoid crashing in the first place. Volvo's City Safety system uses cameras and laser scanners to look out for potential hazards such as parked cars or pedestrians, and has features in place to avoid lowspeed crashes. This system is not perfect, and it's best to pay attention while driving, but it's good to know that the car is looking out for you.

This is a capable car with a comfortable interior, safety features and impressive performance. Sounds like it's perfect, right?

Wrong. As with any car, there are some issues. My first complaint is with its centre dashboard. It has too many tiny buttons and they are not the easiest to make sense of when you are trying to use them while driving. This car also lacks a reversing camera — something I would have expected to come standard on a car in this price range. And then there is Volvo's reluctance to feature a heated steering wheel. Sweden, where Volvos are made, is a very cold country (even colder than Canada), so why they did not include this feature is beyond me! (Though, thankfully, this car does have heated seats.) In the scheme of things, these problems are tiny, and should not put anyone off from buying this car.

One not-so-tiny complaint people used to have of Volvos, especially of their AWD models, was that they have terrible fuel economy, but they have fixed that, too. My week's average was just 10.4 litres/100 km, which is fantastic.

Then there is the price. At $41,150, it is more affordable than its German rivals. It's a decent car that can be improved upon, and I went to the auto show in Detroit to meet this car's alter-ego, the 501 hp S60 Polestar.

Polestar is in the business of making race cars out of Volvos, and they have done quite a successful job of it by winning races. However, Polestar is not just interested in going racing; they also want to be Volvo's performance arm for their road cars. Their first effort was a 400 hp AWD version of the C30 hatchback. While this model didn't go into production with this spec, a Polestar body-kit version did go on sale in the U.S.

For the last few months, Polestar has been showing their version of the S60. This version takes the 3.0 litre, T6 motor and tweaks it to produce 501 hp and 424 lb/ft of torque. Power is fed to all wheels via a sixspeed manual gearbox.

Together with the body kit and suspension tweaks, this looks like a true hot-rod Volvo that can go about every day, scaring Audi S7s and BMW M3s.

Unfortunately, it's not looking like this car will ever be a common sight on our roads. While there is a customer in Europe who has one, and Polestar has built a few other show cars, there are no plans to put this model into series or limited production.

Andreas Naeslund, who is the sales manager of Polestar in North America, took time out to talk to me at the show. He is a truly enthusiastic car guy who loves performance cars. He was quite pleased that Volvo has given Polestar such great access and publicity by showing off their car at motor shows. He said he hopes the positive reaction that this car has been generating will convince Volvo to turn this amazing concept into production. I hope so, too.

The S60 in any trim is a nice car and should be on your shopping list. If they decide to put the Polestar version into production with the same spec motor, it will be on the shopping list of customers who currently go elsewhere to find fast family cars.
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