Despite the influx of SUVs and crossovers, the compact luxury sports sedan remains a thing. It's still a thing because, when done right, a small sedan can define and elevate a brand. This is a segment with influence, and it remains healthy and full of cars fighting to distinguish themselves by combining sportiness, luxury, design, and technology.
Genesis clearly understood that when it created the G70, and as the brand's first attempt in this space, the Genesis G70 manages to combine performance, value, and luxury so compellingly that we gave it our highest honor, a 10Best award for 2019, not to mention a spot in our long-term garage. Volvo has been building cars for this segment for decades. Its freshest entry, the Volvo S60, is an attractive four-door with the best seats this side of StubHub. The S60, however, is essentially a front-wheel-drive player in a rear-drive field. Like many of its competitors, the Volvo offers all-wheel drive, but only as an option on certain versions. How do these two upscale sedans fare against each other when lined up door handle to door handle?
For $45,645, it's possible to get a G70 with a 365-hp twin-turbo 3.3-liter V-6. But, instead of a lightly optioned test car with a big engine, we went for a well-equipped rear-drive G70 with the standard turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four making 252 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. In the interest of parity to the S60, we opted for the available eight-speed automatic transmission rather than the standard six-speed manual, something the S60 doesn't offer. At an as-tested $44,895, our G70 came well-optioned with $8450 in tech and luxury features. The $3850 Prestige package came with our sole performance-enhancing option: 19-inch wheels wrapped with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer tires .
After the previous model had served the brand for nearly a decade unchanged, Volvo redesigned the S60 last year. In selecting an S60 to face the G70, we went for the entry-level 250-hp T5 powertrain—also a turbo 2.0-liter inline-four mated to an eight-speed automatic, only mounted transversely rather than horizontally as in the G70—which starts at $36,050. The 316-hp T6 model can be had for just over $40K and comes with all-wheel drive, but like the G70, we went for a well-equipped model for this comparison test. At an as-tested $46,240, our S60 T5 cost a touch more than the G70, but take away its optional pebble-grey metallic paint and the lime wood inlays, and their prices are nearly identical.
On the Road
The Genesis shines brightest on a winding road, where its taut chassis and sticky summer tires shine. The G70's steering transmits a good deal of feedback, undulations in the pavement come through to the driver's hands, and the secure rise and fall of steering effort during hard cornering is apparent. In contrast, the S60's steering is bit aloof, and while it's quick to react to inputs, feedback is absent, which erodes confidence when you're hustling.
The base engine in the G70 is a version of the same corporate four-cylinder found in other Hyundai and Kia products, and while it isn't bad, it isn't something that makes us look forward to spinning it toward its redline. The eight-speed automatic will occasionally slur a shift and sometimes even shifts too harshly. The Genesis is slower than the Volvo both to 60 mph and through the quarter-mile mark by 0.3 second. That's not a huge gap, but we expect stronger straight-line performance once Genesis replaces the 2.0-liter with the parent company's turbo 2.5-liter four.
The Volvo doesn't inspire high-speed cornering antics. Instead, it would prefer you to take it easy and enjoy the smooth ride and the quiet cabin. However, even though the Volvo was quicker at the track than the Genesis, turning in a 6.1-second run to 60 mph and a 14.6-second quarter-mile pass, it still doesn't exude performance. On twisting mountain roads, we found that the transmission was eager to upshift and lazy to downshift, requiring the driver to prod the throttle significantly for any meaningful acceleration. Even though the Volvo's 0.92 g of skidpad grip nearly matched the G70's 0.94-g effort, the two are worlds apart. The G70 resists understeer all the way to the limit, while the Volvo beats on its front tires until they surrender grip.
The Inside View
The cabin of the Volvo S60 is decorated with beautiful wood inlays, a flowing dashboard, supremely comfortable and supportive seats, and Volvo's vertically oriented touchscreen infotainment system. While the touchscreen works better the more you use it, we do wish for a few actual buttons instead of having to scroll and tap through the system's menus for many basic functions.
The G70's interior takes a different approach but is every bit as rich and inviting as the Volvo's. Leather front seats feature heating, ventilation, and quilted stitching. The instrument panel is driver oriented, and we like that. But a few bits, such as the infotainment system and some switchgear, appear to have been borrowed from Hyundai. Our example also exhibited a whistle of wind rush at speeds above 60 mph that sounded as though a window was cracked open.
Although these two cars are nearly identical on paper in terms of passenger and cargo space, the S60 does have the larger trunk—14 cubic feet versus the G70's 11 cubes—and feels subjectively larger on the inside, especially if you're sitting in the back seat. If we were forced to drive any meaningful distance in one of these cars with three other adults, we'd prefer the Volvo.
The Bottom Line
The Volvo S60 and Genesis G70 represent distinctly different approaches to the same segment. The Volvo is the more luxurious of the two. Inside and out, its design is more cohesive and elegant. It can't master back roads like the G70, but it is slightly more refined and comfortable than the Genesis. However, we're willing to trade a little bit of luxury and comfort for the Genesis's greater sense of athleticism on twisty pavement. We like our sedans sporty, and the G70 simply is more fun to drive than the S60, yet it remains similarly polished and strong in value. For those reasons, the Genesis wins this round over the Volvo.