First Drive: 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD [Review]

Volvo adds all-wheel-drive with corner-carving torque vectoring. We run it through some canyons and come away impressed.

Though the snow belt has long been a Volvo stronghold, this Swedish brand's newfound emphasis on sportiness finds the once-staid automaker bragging about its new S60 T5 AWD's surefootedness on any kind of road.

No, the S60 you're looking at isn't brand new (it was introduced for 2011), but 2013 marks the first time the high-volume 250-horsepower 2.5-liter five-cylinder has been paired to a particularly sophisticated all-wheel-drive system with corner-carving torque vectoring.

And it's that last tid bit that might make the S60 T5 AWD something of a hot commodity in places where cold weather doesn't necessarily reign. After all, Volvo pointed out to Leftlane that its two largest dealers (and also its seventh) are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, a region hardly known for its snowfall.

Torque vectoring is a fancy term for an electronic system that automatically sends additional power to the outside wheel during aggressive cornering. The result is an uncanny improvement in grip, as well as a newfound nimbleness. The technology isn't brand new, but it is designed to make all-wheel-drive appeal to buyers who don't necessarily need it to venture over the (frozen) river and through the (snow-packed) woods to Grandma's house for Thanksgiving. The front-wheel-drive S60 T5 also includes torque vectoring, but the difference the system makes really complements the all-wheel-drive model.

As we learned on some of the world's most beautiful roads in and around Park City, Utah, the S60 T5's new all-wheel-drive system is something worthy of praise just about anywhere.

Charting the changes
For the most part, the S60 itself is unchanged for 2013. Distinctively different than its Teutonic rivals, the S60's styling is a little muddy from some angles, while drop dead gorgeous from others. A descendent of the brand-changing, Peter Horbury-penned S80 of the 1990s, this latest design language is less subtle than before and that's probably a good thing, even if we think the fussy front fascia could be cleaned up.

Underhood, Volvo's familiar 2.5-liter five-cylinder returns, putting out a solid 250 horsepower and 266 lb-ft. of torque. An overboost function delivers an extra 29 lb-ft. for the first 10 seconds of a gear change when the accelerator is mashed to the floor. Even at 8,000 feet above sea level, we found the S60 T5 to be a strong performer with none of the lag sometimes exacerbated in smaller engines.

A few changes to the motor have increased its compression and lowered friction for 2013, which means that fuel economy is up 1 mpg all around, while 0-60 sprints are a little quicker. The standard front-drive S60 returns for 2013, hitting 0-60 mph in 6.4 seconds (down from 6.8) and it averages 21/30 mpg. Opt for the all-wheel-drive system and those numbers slip to 6.6 seconds and 20/29 mpg. Either way, those numbers best most rivals all around.

A 300-horsepower, six-cyliner S60 T6 AWD remains available, although it sells at a far lower volume than the T5.

Also new for all models is a manual-looking automatic gear lever, as well as a few welcome usability changes to the automaker's Sensus infotainment system that make channel surfing a simpler affair. Otherwise, the interior remains particularly comfortable, especially in our tester's baseball glove-tinted leather trim. Though the center console isn't shy about its button count, controls are generally intuitive. Materials are mostly top-notch aside from some obviously cheap plastics around the window controls on the door panels.

Pricing remains an S60 asset compared to many rivals. The all-wheel-drive T5 model commands a $2,000 premium over the $31,750 front-driver. Our tester, loaded up with goodies like heated leather seats, a spoiler and a moonroof, listed for a not-unreasonable $38,170. That's nearly $2,000 less than a no-option BMW 328i xDrive or a Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic, although the Audi A4 quattro comes in about a grand cheaper for a similarly-specified model.

Paper trail
On paper, the S60 is something of a bargain, but that doesn't mean it gives anything up on the road. We've used this space before to comment on the remarkably nimble feel of the S60, and the addition of all-wheel-drive with torque vectoring only improves the experience. Tossed through smooth canyon roads east of Salt Lake City, the S60 was a willing performer with seemingly endless grip.

Though it doesn't feel quite as lithe as the 3-Series, it rewards with precise, nicely-weighted steering that exhibits none of the occasional vagueness that has irked many in the motoring press about the latest BMW. The electro-mechanical steering setup's feel is still dulled more than we would prefer, but effort is consistent regardless of speed.

On arrow-straight highways, the S60 is quiet and smooth, its five-cylinder engine emitting a distant refined growl under hard acceleration. Gear changes from the six-speed automatic were rapid and precise, while a sport mode dialed up the wick to hold gears for longer. A manual-style mode is accessed by flopping the gear lever forward and backward, but paddle shifters aren't available on the T5.

Riding on 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in all-season Continental tires, the S60 handled what few pockmarked roads we could find with aplomb. The suspension is sports sedan firm and generally composed, although road noise seemed a little higher than we're used to in this segment.

Leftlane's bottom line
Though Volvo expects most S60 T5 AWDs to wind up in wintry climates, this grippy and zippy all-wheel-drive system is worthy of nationwide consideration. It transforms the already underrated S60 T5 into a truly polished sports sedan.

Dynamically, the S60 is up there with the segment's leaders, and its comfortable cabin and flexible powertrains make the package even more appealing. Throw in bargain-basement pricing and the S60 T5 AWD should easily live up to Volvo's plan to sell 20 percent more S60s during the 2013 model year.

2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD base price, $33,750.

Words and photos by Andrew Ganz.