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2002 Volvo S60 AWD - Driving Impression

A Gripping Tale Of How High Technology Improves All-Wheel Drive

Bob Nagy
Jan 18, 2002 SHARE
Epcp_0201_01_z+2002_volvo_s60_awd+front_view Photo 1/1   |   2002 Volvo S60 AWD - Driving Impression

Volvo's S60 is no stranger to these pages. Smartly styled, its impressive combination of handling and performance, coupled with a magnum load of comfort and convenience touches, keep this Swedish sedan in constant demand as part of our long-term fleet. It's been much the same story out in the real world, where the S60 hit the ground rolling and never looked back. In its first full season, Volvo's newest offering has made serious inroads into the entry-luxo segment, grabbing market share from European and Japanese competition alike.

Not content to rest on its laurels, the Gothenberg Gang has added a fresh twist to the mix for 2002 in the form of a new all-wheel-drive model, the S60 AWD. In addition to broadening the S60's appeal, this latest adjunct introduces a strain of new and improved technology that will ultimately supplant the existing AWD package throughout its corporate lineup.

The arrival of an all-wheel-drive S60 model is hardly surprising. Sharing the same basic P2x platform architecture with the successful V70 AWD and V70 XC wagons, the S60 was an obvious candidate for this type of upgrade. According to Jay Hamill, segment manager for the car, any lingering doubts were resolved by market research that indicated a solid-and rising-demand for this option. "About one third of the S60 owners we surveyed said that they would buy an all-wheel-drive version if we offered one," Hamill noted.

He also indicated that AWD purchasers would likely be a bit older and even more affluent than the current target owner. Given that the S60 has been attracting hordes of "aspirational move-ups" for the marque-demographically desirable types in their late 30s with a household income of $100K and up-the capability to reach out to the next higher group can only be viewed as very good news.

As might be anticipated, the prime purchase motivations with this buyer segment tend to center on safety, security and peace of mind under all weather and road conditions. Despite Volvo's intentions to emphasize the system's relative strengths in those areas on this initial application, there's plenty of capability in hand for more demanding future fitments. Cases in point are Volvo's upcoming super-high-performance sedan and wagon models due to arrive in 2003 (see sidebar), which will utilize an identical AWD system. Of more immediate and practical import, this second-generation setup allows the fitment of Volvo's DTSC stability system, which is not compatible with the viscous-coupled AWD presently used on the V70 AWD and XC wagons.

The heart of the S60's new Active-On-Demand all-wheel drive is an electro-mechanical package developed by the Swedish firm Haldex. It relies on an electronically controlled/hydraulically actuated multiplate wet clutch pack to regulate power transfer to the rear wheels. Volvo contends this is the most technologically advanced all-wheel-drive system in use today, offering two key advantages over a traditional viscous coupling. First, it can be more effectively integrated into all aspects of the vehicle's existing electronic control systems. Second, it's capable of responding far more quickly to any wheel slippage. Where a viscous link may require up to 3 seconds to fully engage depending on surface conditions, this system begins reacting within milliseconds and can transition to full lockup in only 15 degrees of wheel rotation.

At introduction, the S60 AWD is only being offered in concert with the 2.4T light-pressure turbo engine and Geartronic five-speed automatic transmission. Other system-specific hardware includes the rear subframe and differential from the V70 AWD/XC, slightly stiffer suspension tuning, an upgraded ABS brake controller, the rear-mounted differential coupling/clutch pack assembly and its associated electronic control module. Basic engagement levels are determined using input from the engine and brake ECMs. The AWD system also provides direct feedback to both of these processors, further optimizing its overall operation.

Under normal dry-surface/straight-line driving, output bias runs about 95/5 percent front/rear. As traction conditions begin to deteriorate or the road gets more serpentine, that ratio can be shifted up to a 50/50 mechanical split. The system remains fully functional even when the transmission shifts into overdrive. As with Volvo's other AWD package, it immediately decouples any time the brakes are engaged, returning the car to a basic front-drive configuration.

Our first encounter with the new S60 AWD took place in Maine, using a cadre of pre-production models. While all were fitted with Volvo's basic TRACS traction control, none had the optional DTSC stability system, which joins the S60 AWD's option roster in January 2002. Adding DTSC capability to the AWD system also involved fitting the aforementioned new iteration of ABS controller unit to the mix, and the operating algorithm for that Teves-supplied component was still being finalized even as we slipped behind the wheel for this early evaluation. On a related note, Volvo has also given the standard-issue TRACS a functional boost for the new season, increasing its maximum operational speed from 44 to 75 mph.

As luck would have it, all of our hands-on time with the S60 AWD was spent on dry pavement-save for a smattering of closed-course dirt work thrown in for good measure. Under those relatively low-stress conditions, the system lived up to its billing as being virtually transparent in operation and extremely predictable. While AWD modestly boosted the S60's already quite formidable basic corner-carving prowess, Volvo tech types were quick to note that its real advantages will be most apparent on rain-slicked or snow-covered road surfaces.

Final EPA figures were still pending, but AWD is expected to slice about a 6 to 7 percent off of the S60's existing 21/28-mpg city/highway numbers. Adding 140 lb to the curb weight of a normal S60, the system also exacts a slight penalty in terms of absolute acceleration. However, the 2.4T's stout bottom-end torque-210 lb-ft at just 1800 rpm-always provided sufficient twist to keep it stepping out smartly from a dead stop. An equally solid mid-range output ensured that freeway-overtaking maneuvers were also stress-free. Despite the S60 AWD's slightly stiffer shocks, higher-rate rear springs and a stouter rear anti-roll bar, we found little tangible impact on either control or compliance compared to a front-drive model.

Volvo anticipates selling about 1,500 S60 AWDs in North America during the 2001 calendar year, 90 percent of those here in the U.S. We're also slated to get between 5,000 to 6,000 more during CY 2002, although there's reason to believe those figures could climb a bit should demand warrant. Taking a page from the Audi playbook, the firm is tagging this option at a very nominal $1,750. Given the S60 2.4T's base price of $29,850, Volvo expects most AWD variants will roll out the door somewhere in the mid-$30K range when fitted with the usual array of popular options. That should put the S60 AWD in a seriously competitive position against similarly configured Euro sedan offerings from key rivals Audi and BMW.

Blue Lightning Meets Blue Thunder
Last year at the Paris auto salon, Volvo took the wraps off of its S60-based Performance Concept Car. The follow-up came last September at the Frankfurt motor show, where the firm showed the next logical variation on this take-no-prisoners theme, an equally well-fortified V70-based wagon called the Performance Concept Car II. Rounding out that particular show-and-tell session was the news that Volvo enthusiasts had been waiting for: Both of these stunning stormers are headed for the showroom, starting in 2003.

Although a final production brief has yet to be filed, much of the trick technology present on each of these one-offs is expected to make it into their volume-build counterparts. The story starts underhood, with a high-pressure turbocharged 2.3-liter five-cylinder engine that cranks out 300 horses and 295 lb-ft of torque. Although both of the show vehicles were fitted with a Volvo-designed, compact six-speed manual gearbox, there's a good chance we'll see autoshifted versions as well. In addition to the new AWD system, the PCC I and II are fitted with Volvo's electronically variable, tri-mode Four-C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) underpinnings, bolstered by TRACS and DTSC systems plus massive Brembo ABS discs for superior stopping power. Visually, both vehicles boast more aggressive front/rear fascia treatments and wrap 245/35ZR19 Michelin performance tires around BBS magnesium wheels. Inside, grippy sport buckets, aluminum pedals and unique color-coordinated instrumentation complete the package.

Volvo has yet to confirm nomenclature or pricing for either of these bold new offerings. However, we're told there's a strong likelihood they'll arrive in dealerships carrying "S60 R AWD" and "V70 R AWD" badges on their respective rear quarters.

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By Bob Nagy
1 Articles

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