The Numbers

S60 T6, 1969cc turbo and s’charged 4cyl, AWD, 225kW, 400Nm 6.4L/100km, 0–100 in 5.9secs, 230km/h, n/a kg, $70,000 (est)

The Topgear Verdict

Engine sounds good and makes for a punchy car with a taste for corners. Getting closer to its German rivals.

2013 Volvo S60 T6

Fences are plentiful in the world of cars. There’s Holden or Ford, Japanese or American muscle, My Family stickers or People Who Aren’t Annoying. Then there are those who sit on the fence with all these things. And there are also those who choose to either pray at the church of turbos, or worship at the altar of supercharging.

Like Protestants and Catholics, they are praying to the same god, effectively. A turbo is an air pump driven by exhaust gases which feverishly escape the engine like scalded ghosts, spinning up a tiny little fan. A supercharger is an air pump driven by a belt on the front of the engine. But both achieve the same thing: ram more air into the engine, then you can cram more fuel, make a bigger explosion, make more kilowatts, and ultimately go faster.

Traditionally, you had to have one or the other. But, like the wise little girl from the Old El Paso TV ad sagely mused, why don’t we have both?

It’s been done before. Car companies have experimented with this kind of blissful mechanical polygamy for decades, but now Volvo is having a crack. Creatively imprisoned by its relationship with Ford for many years, its new Chinese overlords have permitted it to create its own engine from scratch – a 2.0-litre four-cylinder canvas that may as well be made of Meccano, such is the many variations it will come in. Such as a turbo-only petrol, a twin-turbo diesel and, of course, the ‘twin-charged’ petrol you’ll find in the S60 T6.

It’s not all high-fives, though. Volvo will soon summarily execute all engines with more than four cylinders, so kiss goodbye that sweet five-cylinder, and the inline-six in the old S60 T6 which, while it had a kilowatt less power – 224kW – actually had 40Nm more torque than the new twin-charged four-cylinder. It’s slower, though. The new S60 bolts to 100km/h in 5.9 seconds, a grasshopper sneeze quicker than the old car, which did it in 6.1 seconds. You can no doubt thank a new eight-speed auto for that, in whose gearbox are eight gears cuddled tightly together.

To complement its new suite of 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines, Volvo has completely refreshed the front-end design of the car. And inside, there’s a new TFT instrument cluster. Press a button and you can switch between Performance, Eco and Elegance depending on your mood. In Eco, for example, you get a soothing shade of green and an analogue speedometer. But in Performance, everything turns red, like a flag to an antagonised bull, and up pops a digital tachometer and a large digital speed display. It looks good.

Of course, lest Stig found out we did otherwise, we activated this mode for our thrash in the S60 through a canyon near Nice in France so narrow, the side mirrors shut their eyes and screamed in terror for the whole ride.

As we pushed accelerator pedal closer to carpet, we were shocked. Hot-rodders will gasp so hard they’ll inhale their beards when they hear a sweet little supercharger whine from low RPM, transitioning into a deep, masculine exhaust bellow at high RPM. And, if you put the windows down and focus your ears like you’re trying to hear a mouse whispering, you can hear a little turbo whistle.

Punch the accelerator and the S60 will punch you back, in the lower spine, as it thrusts forward with unexpected aggression. The supercharger works its sorcery at lower RPM, feeding in much-welcome torques, until higher RPM when the turbo takes over. The engine and gearbox work well together, the eight-speed grabbing higher gears quickly around 6200rpm, if not as crisply and sharply as, say, a DSG. The S60 has flappy-paddles, too, but we were disappointed with the down-changes. The car doesn’t blip the throttle enough when you select a lower gear and instead, lurches awkwardly as the revs come match up. Dawdling around town, it also makes it its mission to grab higher gears as quickly as possible, no doubt to save fuel, but with the side effect of making your blood boil.

Fortunately, though, when it comes to attacking bendy roads, the S60 T6 finds an appropriate middle-ground between sport and comfort. There’s plenty of grip from the 19-inch wheels, and suspension sufficiently stiff to confidently find that limit of adhesion (which is mostly understeer). There’s that confident feeling, too, that comes with an all-wheel-drive system. But those huge tyres are hushed on a motorway, where the S60 is pleasantly quiet. And the suspension retains its appetite for bumps big and small.

Having said all that, given the anger felt from its 225kW and 400Nm twin-charged engine, we’d love to get an S60, cover a track in dishwashing liquid, switch off all the electronic systems, and go nuts. It feels like it could nail the all-wheel drift.

Unfortunately, our thrash through the French gorge had the engine drinking like it was Mel Gibson circa-2006. Volvo says the S60 T6 will do 6.4L/100km 100km. Sure, if you screw a block of wood underneath the accelerator pedal. Our fuel consumption was more like 20L/100km when we were bolting up French mountain roads, but it did settle down to more sensible numbers once we were tootling around town. Particularly with the stop-start – one of the better ones we’ve tried, the engine coughing back to life quickly and smoothly.

We were initially scared at the thought of a four-cylinder S60 Polestar, such is the impressive ferocity of its turbo inline-six. But a four-cylinder one mightn’t be so bad. If the supercharger whine is wound up, the turbo whistle is more mental and the whole shebang works a little magic on that $110k pricetag, it might finally be something achievable for humans of normal financial endowment who want to own the angriest Volvo around.

Reviewed by: Dylan Campbell

Driven: November 12, 2012