2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD and 2013 Audi A4 Quattro - For This Driving Dimension - Review / Comparison

In another dimension drivers are as capable as a space-shuttle orbiter pilot.  Roads are dry as a bone. The only congestion on them is for those who have the sniffles. Occupants are light as feathers. Heavy cargo: there isn't any. There the conventional wisdom of rear-wheel drive for optimal vehicle control works just fine.

Reality check: Each driver thinks he is better than the other. Laws of gravity, inertia, friction and jurisprudence apply. Living in the same city for 40 years some folks are still lost without a GPS based navigation system. It rains. It snows. Salty melt splashes. Then it ices over. No single known rubber tire  copes with it all. The First Lady is fighting an uphill battle trying to get Americans lighter.  And everyone thinks themselves part of TV's "This Old House" team.

One solution: front-wheel drive (FWD). Where plenty of vehicle mass lies atop the steered wheels. Wheels are already tilting and turning. So throwing abrupt spin can result in an instability aka torque steer. Equal length axle half-shafts and mechanical / electronic differentials help up to a point.  However, power is wasted and under-to-oversteer issues for vehicles with sporting aspirations can't be excised.

To the rescue: all-wheel drive (AWD). OUT are the heavy mechanical transfer cases. IN are electronic or hydraulic center viscous differentials splitting the power between front and rear.  The barest slippage is picked up by stability control / yaw / ABS sensors.  Power to a given wheel can be cut imperceptibly fast. The best part: modern AWD nominal weight and cost.

"Drive...He Said" presents two takes on AWD in the luxury compact sport sedan segment: the 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD and the 2013 Audi A4 Quattro.

Where Similarities End:

- Both Audi A4 Quattro and Volvo S60 T5 AWD have roots in front-engine, front-drive luxury executive sedans.

- Dimensionally both sedans are rated as "compacts" by the United States EPA.  The S60 is marginally wider and taller. The A4 is a couple inches longer good for 1"-inch greater wheelbase at 110.5". Which begets the Audi 2"-inches of extra legroom in the aft. So how does the A4 make anywhere from 1"-2" greater headroom? If there's a thinner seat cushion, it could have fooled us.

- The Audi keeps up with the Volvo from nil to sixty miles-per-hour. Call it 7 seconds. From there on up it's all Volvo. The smaller-engined A4's combined 22 miles-per-gallon edges out the S60's 21 mpg.

Routing the Spin:

- the Volvo aligns its engine "east-to west" (transverse) ;  the Audi makes room for a "north-to-south" (longitudinal) installation.

- Audi Quattro employs a locking Torsen mechanical center differential. Torque splits 40/60% between front and rear wheels. Slipping wheels get a power cut courtesy of e-mechanical differentials between half-shafts.

- Volvo's Haldex 4 AWD set-up features a viscous center diff. Nominally the F/R power split is 95/5%. In hard turns there is an imminence of abrupt rotation in the S60 T5. And then, as up to 100% up power jumps rear-wards in a micro-second...your A#$ is saved.

- Among the last of a dying breed is the Volvo S60's  inline-5 cylinder 20 valve gas engine. For just 2.5L of displacement, direct injection and forced induction co-develop a robust sounding 250 horse-pressure and 266 pound-feet of torque. Audi, which proliferated five-bangers back in the day, adds variable Valvelift to the DI VAG EA888 TFSI 2.0 gas straight-four mill. The result: 210 gallopers and an impressive 258 lb-ft worth of "Whirling Dervishes" at a Mariana Trench low 1500 rpm. Sounding less imposing than the Volvo I-5, the Audi four-banger remains a paradigm of small engine refinement.

- Both these European executive saloons transmit power by hydraulic torque converter gearboxes with manu-matic modes. Audi's ZF 8-speed unit has two overdrive gears over the Volvo's Aisin 6-speed. On hard throttle the Volvo slushbox becomes momentarily lost. The Audi eight-speed is creamy all the way.

- Our A4 tester had handsome magnesium steering wheel mounted paddle shifters; the S60 gets an illuminated crystal-clear console gear shift-lever head.

For Control Freaks:

- Different front ends beget a different ride. The Volvo S60 T5 has a strut / lower control arms; the Audi A4, upper A-arm, two lower-links, and an upper link. The S60 dampers react quickly producing some jarring over broken tarmac.  Suspension rebound in the A4 is less abrupt. Serving up more roll and dive, the Audi chassis communicates more clearly.

- Steering in the S60, lower in amount of assist boost, requires heavier a heavier hand. Though, the driver is grabbing a steering wheel that is as substantial as they come. Audi fitted a quicker 16:1 electric assist to the A4 rack and Shazam: there is genuine feedback.

- The Volvo's four wheel disc brake binders may have the greater initial brake force, while the Audi has larger diameter front rotors (12.8") with more consistent and linear pedal feel.

Always Dapper With a Dash of Flair:

- The S60, arguably, is blessed with the most dramatic, somewhat aeronautical, design here. So why is the Volvo so anonymous? Chalk it up to two decades of boxes-on-wheels. Audi launched front LED parking lights almost a decade ago. And the no-less-sleek A4 demonstrates that the company does that feature better than anyone else. Looks nothing like its distant ancestor the Volkswagen Dasher, though it can't conceal elements of the European VW Passat B6.5 in the nose and tail sections.

-  the S60's sloping roof-line bent on vying for coveted "four-door coupe" status is a threat to taller folks out back. You should have seen our cameraman's had tilted sideways against the roof headliner to capture cabin shots from the back seat. The A4 verges on mid-size classification. Despite that Zugspitze of a rear seat transmission hump.

They Promised You A Rose Garden:

- Slip inside either of these luxury sport sedans and the reaction is "Aha. They get it. Driver's controls designed around drivers." So the 7"-inch infotainment displays may not make the Cinemascope cut of some 8.5" or 12" units out there. And we thought instrumentation was intended to inform rather than overwhelm and distract. The Volvo gets the nod for cluster dials which speak Rolex. And the Audi a horn-toot for it's MMI (Multi-Media Interface) center console rotary controller. An abundance of forest-sparing turned aluminum takes its turn as "bling" throughout both cabins, even if someone at Audi got carried away polishing the stuff. The contrasting tan on black treatment in the S60 promises there will never be a dull moment. Switchgear, plastics, fabrics and even the short pile carpets lining the trunk of the A4 could survive in a Bentley. And they probably have.

Your Sitting Number:

- Volvo designs automotive seats like nobody's business. Possibly racing Recaro's and Sparco's excluded. The S60 buckets  meld with torso and extremities. Audi threw in the optional Sportline seats on our A4. More size accommodating than the S60 perches, they also feel more yielding. Hides feel sourced from cattle which received daily rub-downs. One look at the rear passenger confines in either A4 or S60 and it's apparent that front occupants get the better deal. Neither is as well-suited for cross-country five-adult road trips as a 1973 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser. Either 12 cubic-foot trunk will tidily accept a weekend getaway's worth, with the Audi offering the widest aperture for load convenience. And both offer split folding rear seat-backs.

For The Burning and Burnt-Out:

So your work day generally depletes too much adenosine triphosphate? The 2013 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro defaults to a Brahms lullaby when not shaming other executive sports sedans. This impeccably crafted machine from Ingolstadt can be had with a myriad of options that can set off the $34,600 base price like fireworks on the Fourth.  Our tester, replete with HDD navigation and Bang & Olufsen sound-system [lite], would digest $43,700 from a bank book.. For that end of the work day driving commute adrenalin surge, there is the 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD with its not-me-too styling. This Swede, by way of Ghent, Belgium, comes in at a veritable bargain of $38,170. City Safety forward traffic collision avoidance included, though easily set off by a rising parking gate, gives the S60 T5 the "technical advantage."

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