Volvo S60 R-Design — Beyond safety

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman
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 progressed 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 we were introduced in 1992 to the Environmental Con

cept Car (ECC) an early hybrid on the back-lot of Paramount Studios. It was stunning with its new s ofter 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 an upgraded boost, now 325 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. It’s Volvo’s most powerful production engine ever. 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.
To Volvo’s credit the R-Design with all its new power still gets 18-mpg in the city and 26-mpg on the highway; a combined 21-mpg. Some of that mpg success is thanks to Volvo’s excellent six-speed automatic with Geartronic that allows manual shifting along with a Sport mode that remaps the transmission’s shift points that holds shifts deeper into the torque curve. All of this makes the S60 R-Design very competitive.
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 with Instant Traction and Corner Traction Control added to the experience.
The key to the new suspension is the ability to keep the car flat while tackling the twists and turns of back road or mountain driving. That portion of our drives left us with a good feeling about the car and confidence in its performance. On the flip side the minimal compliance, while not totally uncomfortable was at times wearing, even out on the highway.
All that said, the T6 R-Design is not revolutionary, but like the changes experienced 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 to which many buyers aspire. 
Our test drive was in a Passion Red R-Design, a color exclusive for the model (at no extra cost). The dove gray sport seats were just okay for this backside; the bolstering more suited to more narrow physiques. 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.
The design cues in and out are quite nice. While the car is aggressive looking with its piano black grille and 18-inch diamond cut alloy wheels outside, the clean and neat Scandinavian interior with its signature thin cut center stack and ice blue highlighted gauges creates an easing balance of calm maturity; the seats aside.
Experienced on other Volvos but not included on our test R-Design is the Technology Package that includes Adaptive Cruise Control, collision warning with automatic braking, pedestrian detection, and a lane departure system. The package runs an additional $2,100. Also, the popular Blind Spot system, a $700 extra wasn’t on our test car, nor was the keyless system ($550).
Base price for our otherwise very well equipped car including City Safety, originally introduced on the XC60 crossover, came to $43,375 with destination charges. Our test car included the climate package with heated front seats ($800) and the multi-media package with navigation and a rear park assist camera ($2700) that brought the bottom line to $46,875.
Today, with the history of the changes since the boxy 850 and the advent of the ECC, there are several lights shining on Volvo; beyond safety it is now acceptable to think of the brand in terms of fun-to-drive performance and world class design.
Base price: $43,375; as driven, $46,875
Engine: 3.0-liter inline-6 twin cam turbo
Horsepower: 325 @ 5,400 rpm
Torque: 354 foot-pounds @ 3,000 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 109.3 inches
Length: 182.2 inches
Curb weight: 3,835
Turning circle: 39 feet
Luggage capacity: 12 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 17.8 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 26 mpg highway, 18 mpg city
0-60: 5.5 seconds (Volvo)
Also consider: Acura TL SH-AWD, BMW 3-Series, Infiniti G37,
The Good:
• Well-appointed cabin
• Excellent all-wheel drive system
• Top-level safety
The Bad:
• Blind Spot warning not standard
The Ugly:
• Long Distance comfort