Looking Back: 2001 Volvo S60

The Volvo S60 appeared in 2000, replacing the S70 which had its roots in the 1991 850.

2001 Volvo S60 is sleek and cramped: www.autos.ca
2001 Volvo S60 is sleek and cramped: http://www.autos.ca

About 1800 differences distinguished the rectilinear 850 from the less rectilinear S70. Between them about a million units were sold, which is creditable indeed. In the S60’s nine years it managed 631,000 units. According to the press commentary, Volvo aimed the S60 at drivers, tired perhaps of jibes about how dull their cars were. To express this intent Volvo threw out litres of headroom and interior space as a result of the new car’s more rakish profile.

Indeed, it looked good then and does so now but my experience of the two cars is that the S60 is cramped while the S70 is perfect for long drives with a full complement of passengers and luggage.

The S60’s peers included the Mercedes Benz C-class, the Lexus IS200 (nominally) and the BMW 3-series and presumably more expensive editions of the middle market brands, Ford, Renault et al. Distinguishing the S60 was the range of five cylinder engines, starting at 2.0 litres and extending to a rather profligate 250 bhp, 155 mph T5 which no motoring writer ever warmed to. The dashboard gained a more raked and less cluttered appearance than the S70 which worked well enough, it must be said.

2002 S60 interior: www.edmunds.com
2002 S60 interior: http://www.edmunds.com

The design is attributed to Geza Loczi of Volvo’s Californian design studio, who was inspired by the C70 coupe. And that’s where the headroom of the spacious S70 got lost. The resultant car had cab-forward proportions and this is generally seldom a good way to create useful interior space but rather just creates a huge wedge of air over a deep dashboard.

Also out with the bathwater went the baby of quality, according to US owners. While US owners are rather critical bunch, this report at Car Gurus is not atypical and epitomises the reason the S60 did not sell as well as its solid predecessors.

This year and model is a real gamble. We bought this car at 135k less than a year ago, and we’ve now spent as much on repairs as we did on the purchase, including AAMCO transmission, radiator ($670). brake booster ($657) and spare key ($171). Now facing air bag ($800) and emission (100’s) problems. This car seems to be falling apart mechanically. It had a clean CarFax report. We’ve owned earlier generation Volvos for years and have had an excellent experience. I assumed initial repairs would stabilize the car, but new problems keep surfacing. Maybe this isn’t a 200,000 + mile car like the older ones… We aren’t even addressing the engine mount problem that makes it handle roughly and noisily, because that doesn’t relate to the mechanical integrity.

Edmunds.com view was thus: “For: superb comfort, wide variety of safety and luxury features, balanced ride and handling characteristics, available all-wheel drive. Against: handling lacks true sport sedan precision, expensive optional equipment, turbo lag and torque steer in the T5 model.

2001 Volvo S6 sellers photoIn the UK, Honest John  reports “Impressively solid, smart-looking saloon with decent handling and plenty of equipment. Keen second-hand prices. Decent reliability.” But they say the rear space and headroom is poor. What could be the cause of the difference? Is down to the fact that US-market cars came from the Ghent factory while European ones came from Torslanda in Sweden?

In 2001 a base model S60 cost just under £20,000. Today one with 147,000 km is yours for €1900 with a 2.4 litre engine.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

14 thoughts on “Looking Back: 2001 Volvo S60”

  1. The S60 is my favourite Volvo produced under Peter Horbury’s double tenure. The themes he laid down with the ECC concept, reinventing Volvo’s design language, are all faithfully recreated. Although a bit tight in places, the interior was a good place to spend time and the company had clearly laboured over the fit, finish and usability of the dashboard. As for rear headroom, I am 5′ 11″ and never noticed the undue infringement of my air rights.

  2. Back then I was a teenager and I craved the S60 so badly. The proportions were dead-on, the design language very modern and the Scandinavian association desirable – one of them was parking around the corner from my parents’ house and I would coo over it comingback from school. I wouldn’t mind owning one today.

  3. Much as I like the current S60, it has lost the calming solidity which has long been a Volvo trademark. The mark 1 is square shouldered and planted, with fulsome radii and thick window frames connoting safety, quality and durability. Whilst looking much sportier, the mark 2 looks incredibly thin and flighty in comparison. The roof looks like it could be crushed like a yoghurt pot, which was surely not Volvo’s intention.

  4. I remember this car fondly, too. Although when I once was a backseat passenger in one of them, I thought the interior, especially the door cards, was quite bland. It was probably a base version, it certainly didn’t have the wooden trim shown here. The materials were not so pleasant to my eye. But it didn’t feel cramped, which its successor definitely does (I was driven in the back of it, too).

    1. It’s an 850 with facelifted (i.e. more rounded) front and rear end. Allegedly, they also came as a saloon.

    2. I suspected something like this. Here in estate land, Volvo saloons have always been a rarity, even back in times of the 240 or 760, when Volvo was renowned for their roomy and solid estates. Nowadays with the S/V60 where you basically choose between a four or five door fastback coupé, this begins to shift. People tend to buy more saloons – at least the few ones who still don’t want to jump on the SUV bandwagon with the XC60.

    3. I can only speculate about this question. It’s often said that Swiss are pragmatic and practically thinking, so a versatile car that can master larger transportation tasks as well as saloon-like, refined driving is very welcomed here (think of the Swiss Army Knife topic we had here recently). Then it also comes to my mind that Swiss tended to think rather egalitarian and not very image conscious, so being seen in a craftsman’s car wasn’t considered a disgrace. The latter point seems to have changed a litte in the last two decades: more and more estates seem to be aimed explicitly at an ever growing (also here!) image conscious audience who adopt them as stylish carriers of their expensive leisure / sports equipment.

      Or maybe it’s just that the majority of my compatriots find notchbacks as ugly as I do.

  5. Volvo have suffered more than most with the decline of the traditional saloon and estate market. That the XC90 SUV was forced to soldier on so long between updates is a mystery, as for a long time that has been their strongest seller (in profit if not outright numbers). Fortunately, the new XC90 seems to be more than up to scratch, earning rave reviews. It also previews a more sober design language for the whole marque, which can only be welcome.

  6. The Steve Mattin-penned Volvos (current S60, XC60 & V40) are all standing for Ford’s misguided attempts at BMW-ifying/’emotionalising’ Volvo. I’m not sure how much blame is to be put upon Mr Mattin’s shoulders in particular, but the change of management, coupled with first Peter Horbury returning and then Thomas Ingenlath taking over styling duties has certainly done a lot of good to Volvo.

    The first S60 can be seen as a first step into that wrong direction, yet I’m not certain whether it already was Ford who was to blame for adding the sporting pretence to Volvo’s mid-size saloon. The S60 back in the day did feel a bit odd for Volvo, but it still had the bonus of its sober styling, even if the basic packaging was hardly in keeping with the brand’s values. But the best reason for buying one was, of course, the super cool Citroen SM-style gear lever…

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