KANANASKIS, Alberta — The Kananaskis Lodge was built to accommodate skiers for the 1988 Olympics in nearby Calgary, Alberta. It still houses skiers, and offers a shuttle to nearby Nakiska ski resort. But the shuttle won't take skiers to nearby Fortress Mountain, the driver explains. You need 4-wheel drive, or chains, or burly passengers capable of pushing up the winding and slippery road.
What better place, thunk, for a test-drive of the S60 sports sedan boasting a new all-wheel-drive (AWD) system? The heart of the S60's AWD is an electronically controlled Active On-Demand unit from Haldex of Sweden that provides nearly instantaneous power distribution between the front and rear wheels when it detects the front wheels have lost traction. The S60 is equipped with the second-generation Haldex system, fully integrated into the electrical system. Haldex supplied the first generation of this technology to AG for its 4Motion AWD systems.
Adding another layer of security is the Dynamic Stability and Traction Control, a $1,100 option for which Volvo expects 25% of customers to choose. The S60 ranges in price from $33,375 for the base model, to $38,300, with the average selling price about $36,000.
The AWD and DSTC systems combine for an almost effortless climb to Fortress Mountain. Their quick responses are reinforced on an icy autocross course at Nakiska later in the day: The systems literally grab the back end and force it back into play for some of the most fun you can have on ice without skates.
Volvo opted against Audi-style full-time AWD, deciding it wasn't worth the excess wear and tear on tires and driveline for a feature that need be engaged only about 5% of the time.
Today's S60 with AWD is offered only with the 197-hp variant of the Swedes' tried-and-true 2.5L turbocharged DOHC I-5 — and thus is not a true performance sedan, officials recognize. That will be addressed next year with sale of the limited-volume S60 R performance variant that will harness 300 hp to the Haldex AWD system.
Meanwhile, the 197-pony S60 nonetheless shows sufficient pep and delivers a smooth ride. It is only when the AWD kicks in that the responses get a bit sluggish — but those are the conditions when you appreciate performance taking a back seat to safety.
Volvo is tracking to sell about 9,300 S60s this year, surpassing forecasts of 5,000 to 6,000 in its first full year. Perhaps the traditional box-maker underestimated the effect that strong styling, both inside and out, would have on products already noted for safety.
The S60 competes in a hot segment with tasty items like the Acura TL, Audi A4,3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, but settle into its comfortable leather bucket seats, step on the pedal, and it quickly becomes evident the S60 AWD can keep up with the best of them.