DETROIT – The Volvo S60 concept vehicle offers a glimpse of what the production version will look like when it bows in 2010, while also heralding the new design direction the Swedish auto maker is embarking on.

“We interpreted it as a step forward,” Volvo Design Director Steve Mattin tells Ward’s on the sidelines of the North American International Auto Show here. “We still have the typical Volvo DNA elements, but we’re interpreting each of those in a more emotional, dramatic way.”

One element designers changed was the continuous shoulder flow found on earlier Volvos. The sculpted look has been replaced by what Mattin calls a “double-wave” shoulder line.

“The shoulder is still there, but we added a lot of sensuality and emotion to it,” he says. “We wanted to create more interesting body surfacing.”

The interior, which boasts a handmade “waterfall” center stack and “floating” seats, is a “completely new take on modern Scandinavian design” that is more upscale than previous Volvo models, Mattin says.

“We’re always trying to push the brand a step further,” he adds, citing the concept’s light-emitting diode headlamps as an example.

Mattin likens the twin-lamp setup to two longboats with sails filled with LED light.

“When we started creating the first sketches on this vehicle, we wanted to create a different look and identity,” he says. “And some of the ideas that came out of the initial sketches started to look like Viking ships. We found it a cool, Scandinavian way to show technology in a unique way.”

While Mattin is confident there is potential to drive Volvo design further, he acknowledges the auto maker isn’t known for stylish vehicles.

“It’s one of the problems the brand has,” he says. “We have so many of the old vehicles out on the streets today because they were built so well (and) they last forever. So the preconception out there is Volvo still is a boxy, boring brand.”

bpope@wardsauto.com