When we last reviewed the Volvo S60, it had just undergone a mid-cycle refresh, gotten a new series of engines installed underneath its hood, and had us smiling. We also said that this car was “sporty and fun to drive.”
Yes, those words.
Since then, Volvo added more to one of its most popular models in its lineup. For 2016, the S60 gains two more variants. One is the lifted Cross Country model, adding some ground clearance to the sporty sedan. We have seen this kind of vehicle before; I believe Subaru and American Motors once sold a lifted all-wheel drive sedan each some time ago.
The other new variant addressed a complaint we had with the S60: lack of rear seat legroom. This model was actually not originally conceived in Sweden, which leads to a very interesting twist to this story.
As you may know, Volvo Cars is owned by a Chinese company, Geely. In China, there is a trend where some cars were stretched for the owners to be driven in. These owners happen to be anyone with some sort of power: corporate people, government officials, and members of the ruling party inside the People’s Republic. They have enough money to buy a stretched sedan and employ a driver to drive them around to wherever they need to be.
Geely figured since they had Volvo as a worthy asset, they could dive into their home market with a stretched version of the globally popular S60 sedan. In China, they simply called it the S60L. Here, we call it the S60 Inscription. And, yes, it is now a part of the Volvo lineup stateside.
There is yet another twist to the S60 Inscription’s story. Because the idea was originally conceived in China, it seemed natural that they would build this stretched S60 over there. Volvo’s Chengdu plant (also operated by parent company Geely) was also tasked to build every S60L for any market that wants to sell it. That includes selling it here. Therefore, this car has the distinction of being the first Chinese-built car to be sold in the United States of America.
When a Volvo S60 Inscription arrived recently for its round of evaluations, many questions were considered. What we would like to explore is not only the quality question of whether this Chinese-built Volvo is as good as any built in Europe, but also whether stretching the wheelbase and rear seat space improves or hinders our original conclusions of the S60.
If you come face-to-face with the S60 Inscription, you might find that it is just the same as the regular S60 sedan. The distinction between the two S60s is easily discovered right at the B-pillar. The rear doors are quite long to match the 3.1-inch stretch of the wheelbase over the normal S60 model. Not to mention, all four doors open wide for easier access in and out of the car. The short deck of the S60 remains intact, a telltale of what this car truly is.
For the S60 Inscription T5 tester we had, only 17-inch wheels were shod on this model. They look fine for the purpose of being more of a comfort sedan than a sporty one. In all, the S60 Inscription is quite handsome to look at.
The big story about the S60 Inscription is the 2.9 inches of legroom over the regular sedan. It does make a difference, especially when one cross-shops the S60 against the likes of the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Cadillac ATS, and Lexus IS. Instantly, the S60 Inscription becomes the winner above all premium so-called compact sedans in terms of rear seat room and space utilization. For people up to six-foot-one-inches tall, you have it made in the back seat. Even with the extended rear leg room, there is no difference between the regular S60 and the Inscription in terms of trunk space. Volvo claims it has 12.0 cubic feet. Honestly, it appears much bigger than that.
Front seat room is the same as in the regular S60. Seating offers plenty of bolstering and support while wrapped in a great swath of leather. Usually, Volvo hides are pretty soft, although this one is made for durability. The driver faces the same instrument panel as in the standard S60, with its switchable screens for the speedometer, tachometer, trip, and fuel economy readings with a choice of three themes to select from. You can also add other functions on the fly, thanks to the switches on the turn signal stalk. Various switches are found on the steering wheel, the two other stalks off of the steering column and below the beltline. If you have never driven a modern Volvo, take some time to familiarize yourself with them. They are not as easy as they appear to be.
The center stack is another feature from the normal S60 models that requires some understanding. The keypad and switches surrounding it are actually more logical than they appear. The climate control switches are among the easiest to decipher, as Volvo first created the “human” zone switches for airflow. On top is the screen for the Sensus infotainment system. Here is where you can be entertained, informed, and navigated to your destination. As a bonus, Harmon/Kardon offers one of the finest speaker arrangements in a sedan.
For the S60 Inscription, two driveline combinations are available. All-wheel drive customers get the 2.5-liter five-cylinder turbocharged engine with 250 horsepower. Our tester came only with front-wheel drive, which meant having the 240 horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter Drive-E four-cylinder engine under its hood. Combined with an eight-speed Geartronic transmission, the S60 Inscription is very motivated with smooth delivery and a nice clip. It is also quite efficient. On average, the turbocharged Drive-E engine delivered 27.5 MPG in a mix of city and highway driving.
On the road, there is a distinct difference between the shorter S60 and the Inscription. A longer wheelbase means a smoother ride, right? In relative terms, yes. It does the job when dealing with indifferent road surfaces, yet I found no distinct difference between the two wheelbases in terms of ride quality. They both ride pretty well. Handling is on the softer side, however. It corners well, but not without some minute roll and lean.
Though the steering system feels a bit numb, the S60 Inscription has quite a turning radius despite its longer wheelbase. Reaction from the wheel is good, especially in evasive maneuvers. Braking is superb, starting with great pedal feel and exceptional stops in normal and panic situations. One thing that was pointed out was the size of the disc rotors seemed to be on the smallish side for a car designed for optimal safety. Sometimes, when the shoe fits, it wears very well.
A Volvo is not worthy of its badge if it is not equipped with the latest safety technology. The S60 Inscription offers Intellisafe, a suite of features that includes active cruise control, lane keeping aid, pedestrian and cyclist detection with full auto brake, collision warning, distance alert, driver alert control, and road sign information. Our tester came with the addition of Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) and Park Assist Pilot.
The 2016 S60 lineup starts with a base price of $34,150. A jump to the longer wheelbase Inscription will set you back another $4,750. This Platinum trim T5 front-drive tester came with a complete sticker price of $45,825. For an all-wheel drive Inscription, expect to pay at least $40,400.
To answer those questions from earlier in this review, let us take them one at a time. In terms of quality, most of the vehicle itself indeed matched areas of build and materials between European and Chinese-built S60s, but we did find some minute differences. If we stated what they were, they would be brushed off as mere nitpicking. The Chinese-built S60 Inscription is a well-built vehicle that is worth looking at, if one is in the premium compact sedan market.
As far as whether to choose the S60 Inscription or its shorter brother, the answer lies between the B and C pillars of the roof. If you demand excellent rear seat room, the S60 Inscription fits the bill. End of discussion.