Volvo’s S60R – a Volvo with an attitude

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman


Volvo uses a process of raising the turbo boost on variations of its acclaimed inline 5-cylinder engine to gain horsepower and performance. For example, the 5-cylinder engine found in its mid-sized S60 sedans show horsepower gains of 29, 38 and 77 over the naturally aspired version as they go up the scale of turbo pressure in 2.3-liter, 2.4-liter and 2.5-liter variants.

The same principal was used for the all-new 2004 S60R (and V70R), Volvo’s first high-powered sports sedan (and wagon) designed to compete with other European muscle cars from BMW, Mercedes and Audi.

The R version, which has been in showrooms for several months, uses a heavily modified variation of its turbocharged 208-horsepower 2.5-liter inline 5 to produce a 300-horsepower monster that develops 295 pound-feet of torque.
Add all-wheel drive and a close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission to the mix and the Volvo R enters the rarefied performance atmosphere of the BMW M3, Mercedes AMG C32 and Audi S4.

The giant horsepower gain was accomplished through continuously variable valve timing, a high-pressure KKK turbocharger and twin intercoolers.

Put this on the pavement and you have a sedan that can arrive at 60 miles per hour from a dead stop in a neck-snapping 5.5 seconds and can finish off a quarter mile in 14 seconds at 101 miles per hour.

Hey, Mustang boy, beware of the Volvo.

Straight-ahead performance alone doesn’t make a sports sedan, however. Cutting-edge grip in the corners is a necessity. And this Volvo has the goods with a suspension that can be tuned by a press of three dashboard buttons.
Volvo calls its adjustable shock absorber and microcomputer technology Four-C, or Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept.

The “comfort” level, something driving enthusiasts will probably be averse to using, gives the sedan a compliant yet firm ride. There’s nothing soft about this car.
The mid-level “sport” is in all likelihood where most people will keep the suspension engaged. It’s a nice balance between firm, that translates into excellent handling and livable on the highway.

If you want the suspension tightened up like a rock hit “advanced” and the Volvo and you will feel every road imperfection. Jarring is a good term to describe this setup.

But it’s up to the driver, and with “advanced” engaged the S60R is a beast in the corners, as nearly flat as you will ever likely find in a mid-sized sport sedan.
The neat trick here is that Volvo has allowed the driver to turn his sedan into racetrack form for the afternoon and back into interstate mode for the trip home.

We first experienced the R version Volvos with the Four-C technology on a race track in the south of France. If the phrases such as “sticks like glue” and “goes like stink” don’t give a clue to performance value of the S60 and V70 nothing will.

Add to that experience pouring rain and crazy journalists on the track at the same time and you will understand why we have even less hair than before the event. But know the cars were so capable we all survived with nary a car damaged or worse for ware. Also know that we do not recommend ever driving in those kinds of conditions like we did. We did it under very controlled conditions and your expectations should not be the same as ours.

Back at home we found the S60R very responsive with little or no turbo-lag during a week long testing period – without rain.

Unfortunately, the all-wheel setup is a 90-10 bias toward the front in normal driving making the sedan basically a front-driver. More continuous bias to the rear, it seems, would aid in overall handling characteristics.

The 6-speed manual, the only transmission available, is a slick shifter, but the clutch can be tricky. This is not a car you can step into and drive flawlessly the first few times out. Getting accustomed to the clutch setup takes a few trips around the block.

Redline approaches rapidly in first. And then second gear is exhilarating, a real kick in the seat of the pants. The S60R gets its excellent 0 to 60 clocking because 60 arrives well before the 6,500 rpm redline while in second gear.

While steering feel is good, it lacks the one-with-the-road sharpness of the BMW 3-Series. But, in fairness, few cars do.

Where the Volvo doesn’t have to take second place to any other sedan in this segment is in seating comfort. The eight-way power bolstered sports seats with lumbar are excellent, a real treat.

Finding an optimum seating position should be easy for any size driver. Unfortunately, comfort doesn’t necessarily include the backseat.  There’s nothing wrong with the seats, just the small amount of legroom, especially if the front seat users need their chairs pushed back. It’s possible for four adults to reside comfortably, but some compromises might be needed.

The interior layout is classy, particularly the sky-blue gauge package with polished metal surrounds. It’s a unique blend of colors and proved fairly legible under all lighting conditions.

The beige leather seats and black dashboard surfaces, combined with polished metal splashes on the doors and the shifter, give the Volvo the right feel.
The S60R also has eye-catching exterior visual cues. Standard are 17-inch alloy wheels, but for a guaranteed head-turning affect the optional 18-inch wheels are the way to go for $995 extra. They fill up the wheel arches for a real sports-sedan look.

A new front bumper and a subtle deck-lid spoiler add the right touches.

Volvo has a well-earned reputation for safety, and the S60R is loaded with the latest technology, as you might expect. Standard features include Dynamic Stability Traction Control, inflatable curtain side impact head protection, front side impact airbags and Volvo’s WHIPS whiplash protection system.

The S60R comes well equipped for a starting price of $37,510. When compared to other European high-performance sedans, that’s a bargain.

Our test vehicle had a few options including the larger wheels, a climate package including heated seats and rain-sensing wipers and an upgraded stereo with 4-CD in-dash changer. That brought the bottom line to $40,055.

For those who like the R sedan but perhaps could use more storage space don’t forget that it can also be purchased in wagon form as noted above.

Be advised that Volvo is only earmarking about 5,000 R sedans and wagons for the U.S. over the next 12 months. If you’re a speed enthusiast who still wants the comfort and security that Volvo brings to the party it’s time to get in line. But stay out of the rain.