Okay, okay. I'll admit it.

Somewhere, deep inside of me, I've always had this thing about Volvos and their owners. I've heard the stories about Volvos being in hideous accidents and their owners surviving with nary a scratch. I suspected the reason these people drive Volvos is because they are such bad drivers they need the protection of the famed Swedish tank maker.

Now that I've driven the new Volvo S60, I know that was a mistaken assumption.

The S60 replaces the boxy S70 with stylish new lines that mimic the larger, more luxurious S80. That means it has a pronounced grille, broad shoulders along the belt line and a pronounced trunk with large tail lamps out back. The look is unmistakably Volvo. But a rounded greenhouse accents the car's lack of boxy corners, lending a rakish sportiness to the car.

Has the Swedish frump become a sexpot?


There's still a whole mess of safety gear on board -- front airbags that deploy in different stages depending upon an occupant's size, seat belts with pretensioners which take up slack, whiplash protection headrests, side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes and traction control.

A week with the new S60 convinced me that there's more to love about this car than just its safety features.

Start with the engines. There are three double-overhead-cam five-cylinder engines available, all displacing 2.4-liters. The base engine is good for 168 horsepower.

Next up is the low-pressure turbo-charged version, which ups the ante to 197 horsepower. The top of the heap is the high-pressure turbo with intercooler, good for 247 horsepower.

A five-speed automatic is available on all trim levels. It features manual shift capability and a winter driving mode as well. A five-speed manual is available on base and high-pressure turbo models.

The test vehicle featured the base engine. With just 167 horses, power was sufficient off the line. Initially, it doesn't seem too willing, but stay with it. Power builds swiftly and strongly, and before you realize it, you're going VERY fast. Handling is adept, but not sporty. There's body lean, but it's well-managed. Ride is excellent, with bumps being easily absorbed with a muted thunk. Steering is quick and somewhat communicative, with good weight.

Braking is outstanding. It's so good, that the first tap of the brakes will send you hurtling towards the windshield. Pedal sensitivity is good, with a terrific progressive feel.

The overall ride and handling is enhanced by the silent cabin, with just a bit of wind rustle on the passenger's side and a bit of tire noise detracting from an otherwise quiet, sophisticated ride. Even the sunroof helps keep things quiet. Baffles on the side of the sunroof help quell the booming effect, common when one tilts open a sunroof.

Of course, no one makes a better seat than Volvo. The front buckets were no exception. They were supportive over long distances yet soft and comfortable. Most automakers have trouble balancing these priorities, yet Volvo always seems to accomplish it.

The driving position was okaywith a long reach to the tilt-steering wheel, which doesn't telescope. Otherwise, the driving position was fine. The driver's view out the back was blocked by the plethora of headrests, but this is something most safety-conscious Volvo drivers won't mind.

The dash has a look and design as sophisticated as the rest of the car.

The center stack is angled toward the driver and is canted just enough to make all controls easy to use. The only nit to pick is that the rotary climate controls are a little small.

Quality of materials seemed appropriate for this car's station. They were better than your run-of-the-mill family car, yet not quite as plush as a high-end luxury car.

Back seat space was typical for this class of European car, sufficient but hardly overwhelming. The rear doors are a little narrow at the bottom.

Trunk space was good, with the trunk going well-forward. The opening is on the small side, but at least the trunk uses struts that don't impinge on trunk space. The car's solid build quality is rare among new cars of any sort, let alone in this price range.

Even fuel economy was excellent, with a mix of city and highway driving returning 23 mpg.

Overall, this Volvo had enough sporting personality to keep this enthusiast satisfied, yet it was never overbearing. It was a joy to drive day in and day out.

Notice to Volvo owners: I stand corrected.