2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD: A thoughtfully designed premium sedan.
Price: $38,170 as tested ($31,750 base)
Marketer's pitch: "Driven to the top."
Conventional wisdom: Safe and staid.
Reality: More fun than it used to be, and more enjoyable than I expected.
Up to speed: Last week, Driver's Seat scrutinized the Cadillac ATS. This week, a comparably sized and priced Volvo gets a peek.
Outside the box: Volvo long ago shed the square, boxy image that made the company a name for itself. Safety is still a focus, but the brand has long since lost that niche as almost every automaker has adopted the features Volvo pioneered.
When Ford decided to cut Volvo loose a few years back, it looked to be teetering on extinction. But Chinese-owned Geely Holding Group swooped in and saved the Swedish automaker from the fate of fellow countryman Saab.
Outside: The prominent center grille with the diagonal badge and lowered corners still make the car instantly recognizable as a Volvo. But in profile, the swoopy design may leave some guessing.
Inside: The brushed aluminum cover on the infotainment and heating pod is beautiful. Everything seems in reach and intuitive.
From behind: The seats are so comfortable as to be almost unnoticeable -- supportive and well proportioned. Those comfy seats come covered in leather and move at the touch of a button for $2,200, but that money also adds a sunroof and keyless entry. And they get heated for another $700 (along with heated washer nozzles -- something I never knew I needed).
On the road: The handling of the S60 is delightful. Europeans have always had a way with becoming one with the road -- perhaps because they aren't put off by overdesigned components that can be trouble-prone -- but the S60 is right there for fun on winding roads and feedback for the driver. The $2,000 all-wheel-drive package surely enhances this aspect.
Tunes: The radio itself is so well placed that the steering wheel buttons are almost unneeded. It's so easy to reach. And yet, the steering wheel buttons were so intuitive. I don't recall ever being able to adjust cruise or volume simply by feel after a day or so. And the icons were easy to read on the black steering wheel. (I later got an XC60 with tan interior and that color combination made it a little harder to read.) Two more reasons this is a well thought-out cabin.
Easy comfort: The heating controls show a little person and you can press on his head, torso or feet. (Don't tickle Little Mr. Volvo.) But changing the cabin temperature can be tricky when riding solo. Separate dials operate driver and passenger heating, but there's no sync mechanism to set them at one single temperature.
Friends and stuff: The back seat is pretty tight. I had just enough room for my feet and legs and could feel a twinge across the top of my foot. The middle occupant would weep. Head room in back is OK, though. Heater vents on the doors for the back seat show attention to detail. Trunk room is not bad. No slot is available for a cell phone near the driver, though.
Twinges of nostalgia: It's been a long time since I last drove a 245 wagon, but some of the touches remain. The dashboard itself retains some of the plain simplicity of olden days, with a black, quasi-Amish look and square heater vents. A phone-style keypad also harks back to olden days.
A flash of the downside: Almost everyone except Mitsubishi has decided that high beams are forward on the turn-signal stalk and low beams are back. Volvo still has a toggle, which is not as easy to control or notice by feel.
Shifty: And shift capability with the automatic transmission is not really there. The + - is for sport mode, and it'll keep on shifting whether you want it to or not.
Fuel economy: 26 mpg in the usual highway-heavy mix of driving that is my routine.
Where it's built: Ghent, Belgium
How it's built: Consumer Reports gives the S60 a predicted reliability of average.
In the end: I'd have to say I find this a tossup with the Cadillac. Both are nice vehicles but neither one strongly offers the sporty/economical/fun-to-drive mix I prefer. I love the S60, but I'd go with the Caddy for two reasons: It offers a stick, and the future of Cadillac is probably more secure.
Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at email@example.com.