Remember when Volvos were ugly?

Then the design evolved to a rigorous boxiness. It makes one wonder how the long, dark winters in Sweden effect car designers there.

These previous designs contrasted stunningly with the new front- wheel-drive S60.

Here is a Volvo that was really thought of outside the box, so to speak. Its sporty coupe profile is the perfect answer for sedan- fearing folk. Certainly, this isn't your soccer mom's Volvo.

Oh sure, it's still very safe. That's what Volvos are known for. There are multiple airbags, including two side-curtain airbags. There are anti-lock brakes, with electronic brake distribution to ensure enough forceful braking for conditions. In addition to the anti- whiplash front seats, stability control and traction control add to the feeling of security. The S60's rock-like solidity was evident when you close the door. Of course, that didn't prevent some interior plastics from making some noise while passengers were doing the macarena.

The big news this year is the all-wheel-drive model powered by a 197-horsepower 2.4-liter turbocharged 5-cylinder engine hooked to a five-speed automatic with clutchless manual shifting capabilities. It furnishes good power, although there was quite a bit of turbo lag. When the turbo kicked in, it did so aggressively.

Steering was quick and the meaty steering wheel returned good road feel. The steering wheel tilts as well as telescopes, helping to tailor the perfect driving position. Braking was very strong as well, and the all-wheel-drive system felt transparent. It lent a sure feeling to the agile handling. But, it never felt truly sporty like an Audi A4 Quattro, nor light on its feet like a Subaru Outback and it lacks the panache of the Jaguar X-Type.

The ride was extremely firm, almost harsh, something I didn't recall with the front-wheel-drive S60.

The seats were excellent. Volvo makes some of the best seats in the business. They are soft and comfortable, yet always extremely supportive. While the driver enjoys an eight-way power seat, the passenger must make do with manual adjustments. The optional leather coverings were of good quality, but there were no seat heaters, a curious omission for a Swedish car. Head and legroom were quite good up front, but headroom was extremely tight in the rear due to the coupe-like styling.

There's plenty of standard equipment as well, including dual-zone climate control, folding rear seats, power windows with express up and down, dust and pollen filters, floor mats, rear air vents, electrical folding rear headrests and auxiliary steering-wheel- mounted audio controls. The AM/FM/cassette stereo had good sound, although Volvo no longer has a weather band on its radios the way it once did. A CD changer is optional. Gas mileage was good, breaking 20 mpg in mixed driving. That's excellent for any all-wheel-drive vehicle, and better than almost any SUVs.

For about the same sticker price as an SUV, you get the all- weather traction and luxury amenities that SUV drivers have come to appreciate. While the S60 has some drawbacks, it's still a strong contender for anyone considering an entry-level luxury all-wheel- drive sedan.


Engine: 2.4-liter turbocharged DOHC 5-cylinder

Transmission: 5-speed automatic with clutchless manual shifting

Tires: P205/55HR16

Wheelbase: 107 inches

Length: 180.2 inches

Width: 71 inches

Weight: 3,146 pounds

Cargo volume: 13 cubic ft.

Base price: $33,375

As tested: $35,825

EPA rating: 19 city, 26 highway

Test mileage: 21 mpg

Fuel type: Regular

Built in: Gent, Belgium