The all-new 2011 Volvo S60 is certainly much more charismatic than the car it replaces—with a sportier driving feel and even some track cred, yet more comfort than most other sport sedans.

While the S60's driving personality—and safety, of course—is part of its appeal, it's also uber-stylish. And with safety increasingly emphasized across the market, Volvo is relying more on standout Scandinavian design to stay relevant.

Volvo took a completely different route with the S60, especially inside, compared to most compact or mid-size luxury sport sedans. You won't find the requisite leather door and dash-top trim, and the exposed stitching; you also won't find Volvo showing off any S60s with monotone gray, black, or all-beige 'standard luxury' interiors.

"What we really like doing is playing with contrasts in the interior," said Jonathan Disley, chief designer for the S60. "This comes from looking at Scandinavia in general," he explained, noting the harsh contrasts that come with the seasons, as well as with the terrain and architecture. Disley is also particularly fond of the contrasts, where he lives, on the Swedish West Coast, where you get rocks jutting out from the sea, "So you have this really strong contrast between soft water and hard rock, and you see that in color as well. He pointed out that Volvo has made an effort to bring out those contrasts, between textures, trims, and colors."

Rippled water used to model surfaces

The grain on top of the dash was not modeled after leather, as many luxury surfaces are, Disley said, but after water itself. Designers scanned in pictures of rippled water and modeled the surface after that. "When you watch water, you instinctively feel relaxed, right?" Disley says that although leather definitely speaks premium in many luxury cars, the decision was made to go with something that speaks modernity. "The exterior attracts attention; it exudes from the outside what I want to show, but when I sit in it, I feel comfortable, I feel relaxed, I feel like I'm at home, basically."

Disley said that the S60 and XC60 were sketched out at the same time, several years ago, and when looking at the two he pushed for the sedan to be quite different in design feel. "I wanted this to be a different animal, to be sporty, dynamic—really, truly, sporty dynamic." But with both vehicles, he said, "it's quite a youthful mindset."

The surprise inside, as reported in MotorAuthority's First Drive of the new S60, is that taller adults can fit fine in the backseat, under that rakish, aggressively downward sloping roofline. One of the keys to this was that rear seating is lowered and, for the outward positions, carved out a bit, allowing adequate headroom. Disley says that there was much more of a connection between the development of the exterior and interior than in other projects, while the exterior is usually done first, and with respect to seating all around there was a focus to assure that it would feel like you're sitting 'in' the car rather than 'on' the car.

Youthful design, not alienation

Regarding the progressively more flamboyant, youthful design direction that Volvo is taking, Disley thinks that as long as functionality isn't compromised, it can only be good. "Volvo is appealing to new buyers, but it's also maintaining the buyers that have had many Volvos in the past—because people want to feel youth in a car. It's not gone so far that we're alienating people; it's actually bringing people to the brand and keeping it fresh."

Disley says that Volvo can't be stagnant with respect to design, that it needs to move forward. "As a purchaser, I always want to move forward as well. If you look at Apple products, they subtly move forward—and sometimes they make a big jump, but they don't alienate their old clientele. And I think that's major lesson, and something we're doing quite well actually."