The Volvo S60 R-Design feels something like a victory lap.
Flush with cash from its new owner, Geely, the now Sino-Swedish automaker is looking at a secure, and likely very bright future. Unlike its cross-country colleague Saab, which remains stuck in a state of suspended animation just a gallon or two away from empty, Volvo’s factories are humming away nicely and the company has been handed the keys to what will surely be the major automobile market of the 21st Century, China.
But even with that kind of near guaranteed growth in its back pocket, Volvo still clearly sees itself as a European automaker and is ready to expand upon its image as the literal safe bet by taking the fight to its German rivals on their turf: performance.
The S60 R-Design is much more than an appearance package with a cool name. To create it, Volvo enlisted the help of a racing and performance parts outfit called Polestar that specializes in Volvos. Yes, there are people that race Volvos other than the ones who campaign ancient 240s in the 24 Hours of Lemons.
Along with a body kit comprised of an aggressive front fascia, impressive rear diffuser and jaunty little spoiler that compliment its fluid wedge shape, Polestar reworked the suspension, making it lower and stiffer. And then there are the wheels, those beautiful twisted spoke wheels.
In the cabin, heavily-bolstered bucket seats speak to the R-Design’s new sporting intentions, as do a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift lever. Blue rings in the gauges are another signature, if oddly soothing touch to what is supposed to be a high-performance sedan. The motor on the other side of them them makes up for that.
Polestar cranked up the turbo boost on the S60’s 3.0-liter inline-6-cylinder engine and its output increases from an already more than adequate 300 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque to 325 hp and 354 lb-ft. The S60 R-design is now the most powerful Volvo in history (tied with the current V60 R-Design with which it shares the goods) and is right on the money with its most direct competitor, the Audi S4. Mercedes-Benz doesn’t make an AWD C-Class with nearly this much power, and even the BMW 335i xDrive comes up a bit short.
That’s not to say the S60 R-Design has joined their league. It’s fast, for sure, but is missing that tactility the Germans are so good at engineering into their cars. The steering is on the numb side, and so is the brake pedal and throttle. And while the suspension is certainly firmer than the standard S60, its still has the kind of suppleness that is better suited for winter-beaten roads than twisty mountain ones.
This familiarity will help keep Volvo loyalists who are looking for a bit more fun in the fold, but might not be as successful attracting the Bimmer and Merc crowd. However, its impressive list of safety features might help with that.
The S60 comes standard with a system called City Safety, which scans the road in front of the car and can slam on the brakes and bring it to a full stop if you are about to rear end someone, that is assuming you are traveling under 19 mph – even Volvo has lawyers. For $2,100 you can upgrade it to do the same for pedestrians, and get active cruise control in the not-so-bargain.
At higher speeds a stability control system with torque vectoring control uses the brakes to shift the power left to right and help direct the car. Floor it on an off-ramp and you can feel it working to a rat-tat-tat soundtrack played by the brake calipers. It’s effective to the point of being obtrusive, but the feedback acts a reminder that you’ve reached the car’s limits. In any case, it keeps you on the road.
Sometimes victory simply means finishing, and the S60 R-Design will help you do that.
Just a little quicker than usual.
2012 Volvo S60 R-Design
Base Price: $43,375
Type: 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
Engine: 3.0L turbocharged inline-6-cylinder
Power: 325 hp, 354 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
MPG: 18 city/26 hwy