2012 Volvo S60 R-Design

YOUNTVILLE, Cailf.  — Volvo engineering has always been front and center about safety; performance and style not so much, although Volvo has had a tad of success with both when you take a look back.

For example Volvo seriously started playing with performance in the middle 1990’s with the 850-T5R, a smash hit with club racers and on the stock car circuit. Even everyday 850 owners got a kick out of the sportiness of the 850 with its additional 18-horsepower over the standard turbo engine.

As the years progress and Volvo took giant strides forward in safety those performance engineers and designers kept toying with ideas such as the S70 and V70 R models. They were fresh new cars with plenty of gusto, and they took on a bit of a new look as well.

The Volvo design team was not asleep at the switch when they introduced us in 1992 to the Environmental Concept Car (ECC), an early hybrid on the back-lot of Paramount Studios. It was stunning with its new softer front end look, shoulder like tail lamps and a more sculpted aerodynamic flow to the body.

Those were downright dramatic changes for the tried, true and squared brand. Those design cues found the way to the S70 and V70 in the late ‘90s. The sculpting created for the ECC has continued for nearly two decades and can now be found in one form or another on every Volvo, from the C30 to the XC-90.

What is interesting about all of this is the continuum of what makes a Volvo a Volvo.  Safety still remains at the forefront. But the thinking that went into the 850 and the S and V70 and the ECC hasn’t gone away either; and that thinking today brings us to the S60 T6 R-Design.

Like the 18-horses that gave the 850 admirers that extra punch of fun, today the 300-horsepower T6 gets a boost of 25 horses for the R-Design giving it a zero to 60 of 5.5-seconds. Torque increases 29 more lb.-ft. to 354 lb.-ft. for that additional quickness. The engine tuning which is exclusive to North American T6 R-Design models was created by Swedish racing and engineering firm Polestar.

In the rest of the world the R-Design model carries all the new exterior and interior design cues, matched to any of Volvo’s engine/transmission combos .

While the rest of the world uses the well constructed 4C active chassis, Volvo beefed up the suspension for North America enabling them to lower the car for a more aggressive look. All-in-all the suspension from bushings to the sway bar creates a much firmer ride with tighter steering and better all around handling; the standard AWD added to the experience.

All that said, the T6 R-Design is not revolutionary, but like the changes in the 850 merely evolutionary. A competitive comparison would be the Audi A4 S-Line rather than the Audi S4. The good thing is that with R-Design Volvo becomes a player in the sports sedan market, something many buyers aspire to. 

Our test drive was in a Passion Red R-Design, a color exclusive for the model. The dove gray sport seats were just okay for this backside. The manual lumbar support mechanism didn’t seem to accomplish much and we wouldn’t be inclined to take it on a cross country drive.

Base price for a very well equipped car is $43,375 including destination. Our test car included the climate package ($800) and the multi-media package with navigation ($2700) bringing the bottom line to $46,875.

— Ted Biederman