LAS VEGAS – Volvo has set out to reestablish itself in the U.S. market after years of sales decline, and the first step is the launch of a refreshed ’15 S60 sports sedan and V60 wagon.

Although the models receive a number of exterior and interior tweaks, their true importance lies underneath the hood, where a new generation of powertrains, dubbed Drive-E, resides.

Volvo will offer two new Drive-E engines in the U.S. – a 2.0L turbocharged inline 4-cyl. producing 240 hp and a 2.0L supercharged and turbocharged I-4 making 302 hp.

Initially, the Swedish automaker is offering its Drive-E engines only on front-wheel-drive models, but plans call for expanding availability to all-wheel-drive vehicles in the near future. In the meantime, U.S. customers still can order AWD models equipped with Volvo’s current engines.

Volvo provides both new Drive-E engines for testing here in the S60 and V60.

The less-powerful 240-hp I-4 pulls the V60’s 3,527-lbs. (1,600 kg) with relative ease, but low-end torque is not quite up to snuff as it takes a few seconds for the turbo to spool up. Once up to speed the engine is quiet and refined, providing enough power to pass on the freeway and accelerate hard out of turns.

Driving on a mixture of highways and low-speed switchbacks, we manage to achieve a combined 27 mpg (8.7 L/100 km) city/highway rating, just a tad below the advertised 29 mpg (8.1 L/100 km) combined figure. But still impressive for a vehicle this size.

The AWD version likely will knock a couple of miles per gallon off the rating, but even that still would stack up favorably with the competition.

The 302-hp mill, tested in the S60, is more impressive. Thanks to the supercharger, peak torque of 295 lb.-ft. (400 Nm) comes on quickly, and the engine propels the sedan to highway speeds in a blink of an eye.

Power is delivered evenly, with a smooth torque band and low noise, vibration and harshness characteristics. If there’s one knock on the engine, dubbed the T6, it is our 24 mpg (9.8 L/100 km) combined city/highway fuel economy. That’s 4 mpg (1.7 km/L) off the advertised figure, although the T6 lends itself to more spirited driving than the entry-level engine.

Volvo’s goal is to provide the power of a much larger engine with the fuel economy of a low-displacement 4-cyl., and for the most part it achieves this task. The new mills put Volvo right with the competition.

Both engines are paired to a new 8-speed automatic transmission sourced from Japanese supplier Aisin. Shifts are crisp and well-timed, squeezing maximum fuel efficiency out of the engine without sacrificing power.

Handling is predictable, which fits Volvo’s reputation as an automaker that produces safe but fun-to-drive vehicles. Steering is well-balanced and confident when entering or exiting an aggressive curve.

There are no dramatic changes made to either model, although some upgrades have been made.

The S60, which alongside the XC60 CUV, accounts for the bulk of Volvo’s U.S. sales, gets new exterior panels from the A-pillar forward, including revised hood, front fenders and fascia, for a more aggressive appearance.

Inside, both the S60 and V60 benefit from a new thin-film-transistor instrument cluster, which allows the driver to choose from three settings: “elegance,” which has a traditional appearance; “eco,” featuring a green background with a meter to indicate how efficiently you’re driving; and “performance.”

A new available infotainment system is leaps and bounds better than Volvo’s current offering. The Volvo Sensus system, which is displayed on a 7-in. (17.7-cm) high-definition color monitor in the upper part of the center console, allows the driver to easily access a number of features and to personalize the system to best suit his needs.

The V60’s exterior largely resembles the S60 and strays from Volvo’s traditional box-shaped wagons. The automaker says the V60 is designed to give another option to people shopping for an XC60 CUV or who already own one.

Both the V60 and S60 carry over current-generation seats, which are comfortable and supportive and remain among the best in the business.

The new powertrains, paired with the minor exterior and interior upgrades, give Volvo stronger competitors in the V60 and S60. Next up is an all-new XC90 CUV and refreshed S80 flagship sedan, as well as electrified powertrains arriving next year.

The new models and technology may not give Volvo the immediate sales boost it seeks, but could halt the brand’s sales slide and put it back on the road to becoming a viable player in the U.S. luxury market.

bpope@wardsauto.com

’15 Volvo S60
Vehicle type 5-passenger, FWD sports sedan
Engine 2.0L supercharged, turbocharged inline 4-cyl.
Power (SAE net) 302 hp @ 5,700 rpm
Torque 295 lb.-ft. (400 Nm) @ 2,100 rpm
Bore x stroke (mm) 82.0 x 93.2
Compression ratio 10.3:1
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase 109.3 ins. (2,776 cm)
Overall length 182.5 ins. (4,635 cm)
Overall width 73.4 ins. (1,864 cm)
Overall height 58.4 ins. (1,483 cm)
Curb weight 3,472 lbs. (1,574 kg)
Base price $38,150
Fuel economy 24/35 mpg (9.8-6.7 L/100 km)
Competition Cadillac ATS, Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, Lexus IS, Mercedes C-Class
Pros Cons
Exterior gets refresh Design changes don’t move the needle
Powerful entry-level engine Low-end torque lacking
AWD coming with new powertrains AWD not available at launch of new engines