By Chris Chase; photos by
Greg Wilson, CanadianDriver.com
In 2000, the Volvo S60 was the second model to sport the brand’s new styling cues, and while it and the S80 (which was redesigned three years earlier) were significant departures from the boxy cars they replaced, these two models looked very similar. In fact, the S60 looked so much like the S80 that it can be hard to tell the cars apart until you get within spitting distance.
The S60 and S80’s broad “shoulders” at beltline level were a throwback to the venerable 240 series, an unlovely car (to many eyes), but one that earned a ton of respect during its long market run.
The S60, and its V70 station wagon variant (covered in its own review), replaced the S70/V70 of 1998-2000, which in turn, had replaced the similar 850 series. Like many European cars, the S60 was offered with a variety of engines in its home continent, but in North America carried on Volvo’s then-current trend (started with the 850) of five-cylinder power.
A 2.4-litre naturally-aspirated five (168 hp) was standard, and two turbocharged engines (a 2.4- and a 2.3-litre) powered uplevel 2.4T (197 hp) and T5 (243 hp) models.
In 2002, an all-wheel drive version of the 2.4T was added to the line-up; in 2003, this became the 2.5T, owing to a bump in engine displacement and a corresponding increase in horsepower to 208.
The 2003 model year also brought with it the potent “R” model (offered in both body styles), powered by a 2.5-litre, 300-horsepower engine mated to Volvo’s all-wheel drive system.
In 2004, the 2.5-litre turbocharged engine was given a home in the front-drive turbo model. The base, 2.4-litre S60 was dropped in 2006, though this engine was still offered in the V70.
While the the V70 was redesigned for 2008, the S60 carried on in a streamlined, two-model range including 2.5T and T5, with all-wheel drive being an option on the 2.5T.
In 2009, the T5 was dropped, leaving just the 2.5T, in front- and all-wheel drive forms. Leather was made standard, and a Luxury Package replaced the previous year’s option packages. The S60 was discontinued for 2010, in preparation for the arrival of the 2011 in late 2010.
Transmission choices were five-speed manual and automatic for base, 2.4T/2.5T and early T5 models; the T5 got a six-speed manual as standard in 2005, though a five-speed auto was offered. The R models got a six-speed as standard too, as well as a five-speed auto option.
With such a wide variety of motors, drivetrains and body styles, fuel consumption figures were all over the place. Here’s an overview: city consumption ranges from 11 L/100 km to 13.5 L/100 km, while highway consumption starts as low as 7.5 L/100 km and stretches up to almost 9.0 L/100 km. Like most cars however, you’d be dreaming if you think you could match these figures in real-world driving, particularly in all-wheel drive versions. Don’t expect to do much better than 14 L/100 km in the city and 10 or 11 L/100 km on the highway, unless you’re really good about watching your speed.
While Volvo’s newer vehicles have a so-so reputation for reliability, the S60 appears to have held up reasonably well since its 2001 introduction: Consumer Reports notes mostly average to above average used vehicle ratings.
Automatic transmission troubles are not uncommon in these cars. One owner posting in the forums at Edmunds.com noted that her S60 began having transmission trouble at 90,000 miles (about 150,000 km), and her mechanic told her that transmission trouble is “common and expected” in these cars. However, it would seem easy enough to link this issue to the use of improper transmission fluid, if this heated debate at VolvoForums.com is any indication.
Look out for broken or worn engine mounts. Like most cars, the S60 has four: two that support the weight of the engine, and another pair that hold the engine in place to prevent it from rocking front to back when the car is being driven. These are the mounts that tend to fail. It’s not an expensive repair and not even all that difficult for a DIYer, but the problem is fairly common in the S60.
Troubles with suspension-related components, like wheel bearings, bushings and top strut mounts, seem to be common. These are wear items, but the real issue is that they wear too quickly in some owners’ experience; one recommendation I came across is to replace components pre-emptively. For example, install new top strut mounts and strut bearings at the same time as the springs and shock absorbers.
Consumer Reports also warns to watch for leaking radiators.
A high-pitched squeal or howl that occurs in wet weather driving is exclusive to all-wheel drive models. The cause is a hot exhaust that gets suddenly soaked and cools, and the metal contraction actually causes the exhaust to contact the driveshaft, generating the noise. Read more here.
Problems with the message centre display in the instrument panel are common. The fix isn’t cheap, but this thread offers a work-around.
Another common fault is with the electronic throttle module (ETM). While this problem gets a fair bit of attention in Volvo forums, this web site might prove more interesting reading: VexedVolvo.org details the problem and tracks the history of one owner’s efforts to get Volvo to own up to the problem.
The S60 scored a “good” rating in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) frontal offset crash tests, but managed just “acceptable” in side impact tests. From the National Highway Traffic Safety Administation (NHTSA), the same S60 earned four stars for driver and front passenger protection in frontal impacts and five stars for front and rear seat occupant protection in side impacts.
According to the Canadian Black Book, used values range from $7,400 for a 2001 S60 2.4 with manual transmission, to $31,975 for a 2009 2.5T with Luxury Package and navigation.
If you’re set on a used Volvo – and it’s understandable, given the comfort and solidity they offer – an S60 would be a good choice, so long as you know what you’re getting into. If you can afford to buy new enough, look for a car with some of the factory warranty left. Furthermore, look for a car that comes with detailed service records, checks out with a Volvo specialist (there are plenty of independent Volvo shops around) and has had at least some of the major faults listed above taken care of by a previous owner.
Black Book Pricing (avg. retail) September 2010:
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There are several good Volvo resources on the web. VolvoForums.com and Volvo-Forums.com (note the hyphen) both offer dedicated S60 discussion sections; so does SwedeSpeed.com. BrickBoard.com is a very well-known site, and if you can get past the antiquated look of the place, there is plenty to learn here. If you’re specifically after an S60 R, check out S60R.com for information.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2006311; Units affected: 23,792 (other models affected)
1999-2002: On certain vehicles, a combination of throttle position sensor (TPS) irregularities, a dirty throttle housing, and/or inefficient software calibration, may cause a warning lamp to illuminate and the subsequent onset of “limp home” mode. Correction: Dealers will install an electronic throttle system software upgrade in both the electronic throttle module (ETM) and the engine control module (ECM).
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004334; Units affected: 9,238 (other models affected)
2000-2001: On certain vehicles, the electric cooling fan may overheat, potentially causing heat damage and, in rare instances, a fire in the engine compartment. Correction: Dealers will replace the cooling fan with an improved version.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2006066; Units affected: 14,000 (other models affected)
2000-2006: Certain vehicles equipped with integrated child booster cushions were incorrectly labelled during vehicle assembly. The label indicates that the booster cushion can be used for children weighing between 15 and 36 kg (33 and 80 lb). CMVSS 213 states that the minimum weight for use must be 18 kg (40 lb). Should an underweight child be placed in the booster cushion and the vehicle is involved in a crash, the child may have a greater risk of injury. Correction: Volvo Canada will send a letter to owners explaining this problem and will supply updated weight limit decal to be applied to each side window.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001090; Units affected: 17 (other models affected)
2001: On certain vehicles, the rear outboard seat belt anchorage bolts may have been incorrectly tightened. Correction: Vehicles will be inspected and, if necessary, anchorage bolts will be tightened to the specified torque.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004027; Units affected: 618
2002: On certain vehicles, the relay controlling the left and right brake lights may fail. If this happens, the brake lights may be on constantly, even when the vehicle is parked; or may not light up at all when the brake pedal is depressed. In both cases, the high mount brake light and all other tail lights will work as intended. Correction: Dealer will replace the defective relay.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2007167; Units affected: 4,098 (other models affected)
2003-2004: On certain vehicles, the fuel pressure sensor may at times transmit an incorrect signal to the Engine Control Module (ECM). If the signal is outside of the pre-programmed allowable limits, a diagnostic trouble code may be set and the check engine light will come on. An engine misfire may occur, reducing available engine torque and possibly causing the engine to stall. In certain traffic situations this could cause an unsafe situation and possibly a crash. Correction: Dealers will replace the fuel pressure sensor.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003226; Units affected: 10,712 (other models affected)
2003-2004: Certain vehicles do not comply with CMVSS 210.2. The symbol indicating the presence of a lower universal anchorage system, and a reproduction of this symbol were omitted from the owner’s manual. Correction: The corrected owner’s manual page will be mailed to owners.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004017; Units affected: 2,396 (other models affected)
2004: On certain vehicles, the front lower control arms may not have been manufactured within the agreed specifications and as a result the stud and nut that secure the control arm to the spindle may lose its initial axial tension. In the worst case, this condition could eventually lead to separation between the front control arm and the spindle possibly causing a loss of control and a crash. Correction: Dealer will install a new type of nut with increased assembly torque.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2006237; Units affected: 1,871 (other models affected)
2006: Certain vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of CMVSS 110. The Tire and Loading Information Label contains incorrect tire inflation pressure value. If the vehicle is equipped with SST tires and the inflation pressure is set to 35 PSI (incorrect pressure listed on the label), the Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) may set a warning message “Low Tire Press. Check Tires”. Correction: Owners will be provided with labels and installation instructions.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2006325; Units affected: 596 (other models affected)
2007: Certain vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of CMVSS 120. The certification label information was not printed in the prescribed manner or order. Correction: Updated labels and installation instructions will be mailed to owners.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2007098; Units affected: 22 (other models affected)
2007: On certain vehicles, the electric cooling fan control unit’s metal cover may not have received the specified corrosion protection during manufacturing process. Moisture ingress as a result of cover corrosion could lead to an electrical short that may initiate an engine compartment fire. Correction: Dealers will replace the cooling fan.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001089; Units affected: 903 (other models affected)
2001: On certain vehicles, the bolted joint that is used for attaching the bracket that is part of the installation hardware for the ISOFIX-type child restraint, may have been incorrectly tightened. Correction: Dealers will inspect and, if necessary, tighten the bolts to the specified torque.
Crash test results
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.
Chris Chase is an Ottawa-based automotive journalist. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).
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