2023 Volvo S60 Recharge review: power and value
It's got gobs of power, but there are other areas that hold the S60 back
2023 Volvo S60 Recharge Ultimate Black Edition review with The Road Beat
Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman
What is it?
Swedish carmaker Volvo's latest S60 sedan, revitalized with a storming powertrain that is one part combustion, one part electric. As a plug-in hybrid with a usable 40 miles of electric range in the real world, options have never been so flexible between choosing from a gas-powered or an electric vehicle. Competition is never easy, though, for compact 'executive' sedans, with BMW's 3-series, Audi's A4, and the Mercedes C-class as the ever-venerable German trio of default-choice. Unlike the kraut crowd, this Volvo has heaps more power than comparable models, and comes in even as good value on paper. The price as-tested for this ultimate Ultimate Black Edition is $63,690.
The Volvo S60 Recharge packs their new 455-horsepower power system, comprising of turbocharging, supercharging, and electric propulsion that contribute to that astounding figure - Not bad for a luxury costing only just north of 60 grand! For on-paper bragging rights, BMW's M340i, which is only turbocharged, makes 382-horsepower. How does this super-hybrid contraption work in the real world? It's quite effective, with 0-60 MPH dashes happening in a brisk 4.2 seconds. So quick, in fact, that passengers will likely be second-guessing if this is indeed a Volvo to begin with. With the 'power' mode engaged, helping the immediacy of all powertrain components involved, throttle response is perky, with minimal turbo lag that's largely masked by the retorts of both the supercharger and electricity, comparing favorably to the traditionally (and inherent) lagging nature of turbochargers.
However, as quick as this may be, that same BMW, with a 70 horsepower disadvantage on the spec shet, is actually no slower. Then again, I've always felt that modern BMW's all have grossly underrated horsepower figures. A very impressive and complex powertrain in the Volvo still only just matches the simple six-cylinder turbo from Bavaria.
Economies of scale
With a trick hybrid and electric powertrain, you might be expecting the S60 to not use a whole lot of gasoline. And you'd be right, with the S60 averaging 29 MPG during my time, and that's with it never being plugged in to charge the 14.9 kWh battery pack. So, you could potentially never plug in this plug-in hybrid, and still average close to 30 MPG. I noticed on trips that the MPG was substantially worse when the ICE motor was strained, such as hills on a highway, but on level freeway, the Volvo does damn-near 40 MPG when it's relaxed and cruising. If you do choose to recharge the S60 Recharge, you can unlock about a usable 40 miles of electric range, versatile for many drivers and their commutes. So, if you have access to free or cheap electricity, you could potentially do lots of driving without ever using any gasoline and save the combustion for only longer journeys and road trips.
Though, if we're bringing up that BMW M340i again, that pesky German, without any hybrid assistance, will also average about...28 MPG in my experience. Despite all the added tech and components of the Volvo's power-unit, an M340i is just as fast and can do about the exact same fuel economy still. If you're planning to plug-in, though, that's where the Volvo will have a distinct efficiency advantage.
Cozy and comfortably luxurious
Volvo continues to have class-leading seat and steering wheel warmers in all their products, with the wheel warm enough to feel through gloves even; Great for those in snowbound climates. Overall, the S60 has a charming cabin filled with high quality materials and fabulous metal detailing. The shift knob is crystal, though it is prone to fingerprint smudges and mine did have a noticeably sharp edge on one corner - not sure if damage from a prior occupant or it just narrowly escaped final inspection. The Bowers & Wilkens sound has gorgeous speaker covers, and it does indeed sound terrific, but you will have to really appreciate hi-fi to justify the $3,200 that this upgraded stereo costs.
Space is abundant throughout, helped by the long 113" wheelbase, and the seats are all quite comfortable. Noise is low on the highway, too, all helping make this Swede a classically consummate cruiser. Open the trunk, and you'll find plenty of luggage room for the whole family, too. But, there are some rather unfortunate limitations that contradict the otherwise apparent roominess, such as the absolutely tiny center console storage. Maybe it's the transmission or battery pack below that intrudes, but the center console, just aft of the shifter, is only deep enough for a pair of glasses. Glasses in their case? Nope, it won't close. It's so shallow that it will be limiting for those that like to keep certain items in easy reach; At least a standard pack of gum fits. The glove box ahead of the passenger seat has typical storage space, but it also doesn't have a lock on it which I quite like in other luxury cars.
In the center of the dash you'll find a large display that is a sure-fire item for grabbing attention, with touchscreen capabilities for all media, settings, and navigation (including Google Maps integration). But, there are some issues: You have this large center display, but why can't it display both the rear-view and top-view cameras at the same time? So many other cars do it (even a Toyota RAV4), and the screen has the real estate for it, so there's definitely room to display both simultaneously. There's obviously space as, when the rear view is shown, the top half of the screen has a vehicle outlined from above with a black background showing color-coded proximity sensors, but not the actual live image. It can be oh so useful when in certain parking situations rather than having to click back and forth between the two views, like when parallel parking. Is it a necessity to see both? No, but if you have both, why can't you see both? This is also true in other Volvos.
Also of note is the highly erratic range/miles-to-empty counter. No ICE-powered vehicle gives range anxiety quite like a Volvo. For example, when the S60 was delivered, the estimated range with a full tank was 330 miles. One 40 mile drive later and that figure climbed to 530 miles - almost double. Driving that same 40 miles back home, and I'm back to 300. You're telling me I gained and lost 230 of range that quick? And mind you, at this point with the car, I was still averaging a combined 31 MPG. Math is easy, and no other cars are this crazy with jumping by the literal hundreds at times when it comes to range estimates.
It's worse when the fuel gets low, because after leaving my house with 100 miles showing one evening, I drove 30 miles to Sacramento, averaging 38 MPG on that trip alone per the trip computer, and I arrived with now 180 miles showing. Great! When leaving, upon turning one block, the range dropped to 120 - in just one block! I get to work and now it's just 60 (40 miles of freeway later). I later take a 2 mile trip to the post office during lunch and now we're at 80. I leave the post office, and it's now just 20 before climbing back to 50. Like, this is absolutely crazy. When the fuel gets low, how can you have any confidence in how far you can go when it jumps around so much? You can literally go from one minute of being oh we're doing alright, nothing to worry, to whoa, we need some gas! Imagine being on a road trip in a remote area...It just doesn't make sense, and a range computer shouldn't be this difficult to design. Shoot, my old 1993 BMW 325i had a range computer that was far more accurate - 30 years ago! This might sound like dumb nitpicking, but how can oversight like this be allowed?
During the entire time with the S60, the Google Maps navigation was permanently stuck in Richmond, CA, so it proved zero use. Even though the gauge cluster can neatly display the map while driving for a quick view, it was fixed in the Bay Area as well. That's not to mention the other technical glitch where the head-up display could not be rotated. In the settings, there are means of adjusting the HUD by both height and rotation. I noticed the display was slightly crooked so I ventured to the settings to adjust and, lo and behold, it proved futile. On-display Instructions were given for which steering wheel controls were supposed to be used and no such success. I attempted to rotate it multiple times and failed at each. The height adjustment worked just fine, but rotation? Nope.
Other tech tidbits I didn't like were having to go through the center display with multiple clicks to change the drive mode from hybrid to power, some outdated graphics in the settings, and a cruise control that had trouble maintaining your set speed at times.
While the S60 Recharge has boatloads of power, the chassis is not meant to match that generous firepower. The AWD system provides lots of confidence and enough grip for fast freeway entrances, but it lacks the fidelity of more focused sedans and is met with electronic intervention too often. Volvo has the option for a Polestar chassis upgrade for more sporting intent, but that's an option that alone costs well over $10,000. Yikes. Having driven both, BMW's M340i does provide greater thrills, and the Lexus IS 500 exceeds both in terms of pure theater and charisma and with spectacular steering feel to boot. But, that bombastic V8 Lexus averages under 20 MPG in the pursuit of its star character.
I was impressed with the ride quality, finding it comfortable on basically all road surfaces, but the steering is just okay even with a setting for 'firm' engaged, missing a connection to the front wheels. In highway driving, I did find the S60 to wander slightly more than other recent cars I've driven due to the somewhat aloof steering. With the electrified powertrain, there are modes for regenerative braking that allows for one-pedal driving, meaning it decelerates as you release the throttle as means of recharging the batteries. I did find this one-pedal integration to be smooth and easy to adapt.
A complicated verdict and complicated taxes
Look, this is thoroughly nice vehicle and offered at a wonderful price, starting below $55,000 with this potent power-unit. Add (or, minus) the generous $7,500 US federal tax credit the Volvo can qualify for and it's really a quite amazing deal considering the power on showcase. If the concerns I mentioned are of no worry to you, then it's difficult to overlook in terms of value for such a luxurious and fast car. However, the new tax rules put a cap at vehicles costing $55,000 new before destination, meaning this Ultimate package does not make the cut and will receive no tax credit. If you're after value, bag the cheapest S60 Recharge you can buy as it still comes with the same powertrain and enjoy huge tax credit savings. If you want the goodies, be prepared for no government subsidized assistance, though. Against the BMW? I prefer how the BMW drives, its electronics inside, and its real world MPG and performance is basically identical (if you don't charge the Volvo), but it's also pretty boring and isn't a looker. Your preference may be personal, but the best S60 might be the cheapest one thanks to qualifying for that federal tax incentive.
2023 Volvo S60 Recharge Ultimate Black Edition
Price as-tested: $63,690
Pros: Economical and powerful, exceptional value
Cons: Tech issues and oversights, rivals are more fun