We really like Volvo"s new S60, one of the best cars to ever come from the folks in Gothenburg. It"s certainly the best in recent memory. And for 2012, it got even better, thanks to the addition of the sporty Volvo S60 R-Design - the heir to the first-generation S60 R and the 850 R of the 1990s, not to mention the various sporty turbobricks of the "80s and early "90s.
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The first R-Design model was the C30 a couple of years ago, though the compact hatch received a purely cosmetic package. In contrast, the S60 gets performance enhancements as well. Output increases from the standard T-6 engine"s 300 horses and 325 lb-ft to 325 horsepower and 354 pound-feet thanks to an increase in boost to 14.5 psi and advanced spark timing. Volvo engineers also recalibrated the throttle, resulting in more aggressive tip-in. Displaying ingenuity, the plucky Swedes managed to accomplish this without drawing the full ire of the EPA or affecting the T-6"s 18/26 mpg city/highway fuel economy, resulting in a shorter certification process and reduced costs. Displaying humility, they didn"t make too much fuss about this being the most powerful production Volvo ever.
On the suspension side, the S60 R-Design is fitted with springs that are 15-percent stiffer and reduce ride height by 0.6 inch, a 10-percent stiffer front anti-roll bar, front strut brace under the hood, monotube rear shocks, 20-percent stiffer rear bushings, and trailing arm bushings that are four times stiffer.
Visually differentiating the R-Design from other S60s on the outside are a new lower front fascia, flat-black grille, rear spoiler, and unique five-spoke 18-inch wheels. Like the T-6, it can be had with all-season or summer Continental tires at no cost, though Volvo expects the take rate on the summer tires to be miniscule. Inside are new seats - spectacularly comfortable, but not pillow-like as Volvo seats often are -- with extra bolstering and contrasting stitching, plus a unique steering wheel, shift lever, and blue-accented gauges.
Trying out Volvo"s new creation meant showing up in northern California"s Napa Valley in the middle of August, an arduous undertaking that requires the enjoyment of nearly perfect weather, spectacular roads, and beautiful scenery. The car proved quick off the line and also quick to pass. The turbocharged inline-six is smooth and quiet, even with all that power on tap. The six-speed automatic -- the only transmission offered -- is not optimal, but it is programmed to hold gears to redline and shift when commanded. Unfortunately, shift paddles remain absent due to a lack of space on the steering column. Volvo"s product people did hint at another transmission offering coming soon, but didn"t specify if it would be a traditional three-pedal or something fancier.
Without instruments handy, it"s hard to tell just how improved the handling is, but the R-Design never did anything we didn"t want it to do on the backroads of Napa Valley or around the three miles of Thunderhill Raceway that we were fortunate enough to sample. Despite its front-heavy nature, understeer in this all-wheel-drive sedan is controlled and reasonable. The steering has a good weight to it, but you won"t feel anything from the front tires, which is unfortunate. You won"t feel anything from the brake pedal either, except the sensation of stepping on a sponge, which is a bit unsettling when going into a blind corner on a racetrack. On the street, however, the performance of the brakes is perfectly adequate once familiarity is acquired. Overall, it"s a fun car to drive, but it doesn"t demand to be driven through the hills and canyons regularly like some other offerings in this class do.
On the freeway, wind noise is minimal and the ride is smooth even on bad pavement. Noise from the summer tires fitted onto the test car definitely qualified as excessive when the asphalt got rough, which may be part of the reason why Volvo doesn"t expect many buyers to choose the optional rubber.
Another thing the Volvo has going for it is value. The R-Design"s price starts at $43,475 with destination, but it comes standard with the $1500 Premium Package, which includes HID headlamps, power front passenger seat, and power moonroof. As a result, its 25 extra horsepower and upgraded suspension cost just $3100. The $46,875 car we drove also had the $2500 multimedia package (navigation, premium audio, rear park assist camera) and $800 climate package (heated seats, heated windshield washer nozzles, headlight washers), lacking only the $2100 technology package (adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, collision warning). For comparison, the BMW 335i xDrive starts at $45,475 and the Audi S4 at $48,175.
Is this S60 a true sports sedan? No, not quite. But it is a sporty, comfortable, and stylish sedan. There"s also some exclusivity here -- Volvo expects the R-Design to comprise about 5-10 percent of the S60"s total sales, which would amount to a mere 1000-1200 cars sold per year in the U.S.
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|2012 Volvo S60 R-Design|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||3.0L/325-hp/354-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 24-valve I-6|
|CURB WEIGHT||3850 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||182.2 x 73.4 x 58.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.3 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||18/26 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||187/130 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.93 lb/mile|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Currently|