Supercharge? Turbocharge? Volvo does both

The 2015 Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E is a car having a crisis of identity, but in the best possible way.

Taking a moment to inspect the sedan as it rolled into the Car Tech garage, I was impressed by its good looks. I especially appreciated the gentle sloping roofline that transitions seamlessly into the slightly concave trunklid. The hood is slightly sculpted, adding an aggressive edge, and the Volvo’s defined shoulders blend better with the sheet metal of the rear haunches for a less geometric and more athletic appearance than before.

Standing alone where you can appreciate the details, it looks like boring old Volvo’s built itself a proper sport sedan. However, in the crowded flow of traffic or parked along the boulevard, the S60’s style is still generic enough that it simply blends in. For some drivers this is a good thing, and I do like the sedan’s understated, grown-up style. (There’s little more embarrassing than a midsize sedan having an obvious midlife crisis.)

Plus, with such an odd yet powerful engine beneath the hood of our T6 Drive-E model, a little bit of understated, sleeper style goes a long way.

Supercharge or turbocharge? Why not both?

I count four different engine options for the 2015 Volvo S60 in the States. The T5 is available with either a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that outputs 240 horsepower or a 250-horsepower turbo 2.5-liter, depending on whether you opt for front- or all-wheel drive. At the top of the line is the 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 engine of the T6 AWD R-Design that’s good for 325 horsepower.

Our T6 FWD Drive-E is, however, equipped with perhaps the most interesting engine in the lineup: a 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged four-cylinder engine that outputs 302 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.

The 2.0-liter engine combines supercharging with turbocharging for nearly nonstop power.
Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Turn off the stereo, open the windows, and matt the accelerator from a stop and you’ll hear the whine of the supercharger cramming air into the direct-injected four-cylinder, filling the boost gap where there would normally be turbo lag. By about 3,500rpm, the turbocharger has spun up and takes over forced-induction duties from the supercharger; the mechanical whine is replaced by the slightest whistle of the turbo.

Power and torque flows through an eight-speed automatic transmission on the way to the front wheels. The gearbox features respectably quick and smooth up- and downshifts, which are sharpened with the selection of its sport and manual shift modes. Drivers can also select gears by tugging the S60 T6’s steering-wheel paddle shifters.

2015 Volvo S60 T6 Drive E (pictures)
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Thanks to regenerative braking, electric power steering, anti-idling engine stop-start, and an Eco+ mode that further optimizes the transmission program and the climate control system’s operation for even more fuel savings, the S60 T6 Drive-E’s fuel efficiency isn’t bad at 24 mpg city, 35 mpg highway, and 28 mpg combined. I only averaged about 24.3 mpg over the course of my testing, which consisted of a maddening amount of stop-and-go traffic followed by working out that frustration on B-roads through a heavy right foot.

With a clear road ahead, zero to 60 happens about as fast as you can say “No way, dude, this is a Volvo?!” or about 5.6 seconds in normal people time. Between the two ‘chargers and the quick transmission, there’s no dead spot in the power delivery. The mill is very responsive to pedal input during backroad blitzes. It is possible to catch the engine sleeping while cruising thanks to the automatic transmission’s default economy-oriented shift program’s tendency to choose tall, fuel-sipping gears, but that’s nothing that a quick squeeze of the left paddle can’t fix.

Sporty engine, comfy ride

Handling is also pretty good thanks to the optional 19-inch BOR diamond-cut wheels shod with 235/40 Bridgestone tires, an option that also adds the Sport Chassis, which is Volvo-speak for lowered, sport-tuned suspension. The S60 also has a form of torque-vectoring that uses bias braking to make the sedan’s open differential perform like a limited-slip.

The sedan goes around a corner well enough and feels responsive to wheel input. However sporty it is, though, the nearly 3,500-pound, front-drive S60 T6 still feels like comfort is its primary goal, with a compliant ride and slightly muted steering feel, and as much as I think this car’s 302-horsepower engine is the sweet spot in the line, I’m eager to compare how the AWD R-Design model tackles a corner.

Optional 19-inch wheels bring with them meatier tires and a sport-tuned suspension.
Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Go faster, but do it carefully

No one’s surprised that this Volvo arrived with a hefty loadout of driver aid and safety tech.

Lane keep monitoring and assist, driver alert system, park distance sensor, blind-spot monitoring, forward precollision system with visual and audible cues…keeps beeping!

The $1,500 Technology package adds Active High Beam Control headlamps that automatically dim when oncoming traffic is detected, a Lane Departure Warning system, and Adaptive Cruise Control with a Queue Assist feature that allows the Volvo to stop and go when traffic is really jammed up. There’s a Forward Collision Warning system that can also detect pedestrians and cyclists and engage the Full Auto Brake system to attempt stop the vehicle before an impact or lessen the severity. A Distance Alert system gradually illuminates a group of red LEDs at the base of the windshield, making them grow brighter as the gap between the S60 and the car ahead closes to let the driver know that he or she is following too closely. Driver Alert Control is supposed to detect the driver’s level of drowsiness or inattentiveness and may suggest that you pull over and take a break. There’s even a Road Sign Information system that uses a camera to read road signs and displays, for example, the current speed limit in the instrument cluster. That’s a lot of tech for $1,500.

An array of cameras and sensors at the top of the windshield power most of the Volvo’s suite of safety tech.
Antuan Goodwin/CNET

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