Test Drive: Volvo S60 R-Design

Yountville, Calif. — Since we started reviewing cars more than 20 years ago, we?ve watched Volvo go through an interesting metamorphosis.? During that time, Volvo has continued to be the undisputed safety leader with a steady flow of innovations.?? Fortunately, for consumers, other manufacturers have embraced much of the new technology with their own applications in something of a ?follow-the-leader? response.?

Unfortunately, for Volvo, being the safest car on the lot doesn?t always trump sexy styling, performance and gadgetry for most people.? Volvo understands that, so during that same period we?ve seen an increased emphasis on styling, performance and innovation, in addition to still leading the safety parade.

Twenty years ago, Volvo was distinguished by its boxy styling, but today the bold lines and expressive design have put the brand closer to the cutting edge.

During that same time, there were performance enhancements, too, but the most significant improvement was last year when the new S60 sport sedan debuted. ?The car received critical acclaim from automotive journalists and buff magazines across the board for styling, handling and performance in addition to the safety.? This year Volvo took the S60 up a notch with the addition of the new S60 R-Design.

Under the R-Design hood, a little more turbo boost and tuning gave the T6 3.0-liter engine 25 more horsepower and 29 lb.ft. more torque.? At 325-hp and 354-lb.ft. of torque, the R-Design is three-tenths faster than the T6 version with a 5.5-second 0 to 60 mph time.? The changes are made with no impact on the fuel economy, which is rated by the EPA at 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. ?The same engine is being shared in an R-Design version of the cool XC60 crossover, too.

The power is directed to all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission with Geartronic manual shifting and a Sport mode that remaps the shift points for enhanced performance.? The manual shifting system requires moving the shifter to the right, which places it in a slightly awkward position — wheel-mounted shift paddles would be a welcome improvement.

The performance model gets R-Design bling including ground effects, shiny black grille, big exhaust tips, a rear spoiler and several subtle logos.? There?s also a standard glass moonroof, 18-inch ?Ixion? alloy wheels, an enhanced sports chassis and to light the way,?? ?active dual Xenon headlights.

In basic dress, the Volvo S60 T6 is an exciting drive, but the R-Design modifications bring it into a different strata that includes many of the benchmark European sedans.

Logging time behind the wheel, our initial drive route took us through familiar narrow winding roads in the northern section of the Napa Valley.? The R-Design ride is taunt without being uncomfortable, but part of that ride credit goes to the seats, which are some of the most comfortable in the business.? The steering feel is slightly muted but still precise.

Driving a performance car in conditions like this is often frustrating, because you want to push the car to see what it will really do, but common sense usually prevails.? For that very reason, we stopped for lunch at the Thunderhill Raceway Park, which is located just outside Willows, about midway between Redding and Sacramento just off Interstate 5.

Thunderhills?s track, which is used mostly for SCCA (Sports Car Club of America)? racing, is a challenging 3.0-mile track with 15 turns, some interesting elevation changes and a couple of long straight stretches.? It was a perfect place to see what the R-Design could really do.

he Volvo performance is impressive and very comparable to some of our favorites like the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class and Infiniti G37.

The Sport Chassis, which included shorter springs, stiffer bushings, a strut brace and some other modifications, produced flat cornering, minimal dive during hard braking and a light, controlled handling.? Acceleration was strong with the car running up to three digit numbers in a couple of the straight stretches.?? Overall, it?s as fun to drive as anything in this class.

With the addition of the R-Design, the S60 now comes in three trim levels: T5, T6 AWD and T6 AWD R-Design with base prices of $32,025, $38,775 and $43,375 respectively, including the destination charge.? The R-Design has three available option packages (Climate, Multimedia and Technology) which combined total $5,600, plus there are four stand-alone options.? We were surprised that the Blind Spot Information System, which Volvo pioneered, is a $700 option, rather than standard equipment or part of the Technology package.

The Technology Package ($2,100) adds a grouping of the most innovative safety features in the business: Adaptive Cruise Control, Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake, Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake, Distance Alert, Driver Alert Control and Lane Departure Warning.

With Volvo ownership moving from Ford to Chinese automaker Geely, recently, we were hoping the new owner wouldn?t come in and make a bunch of changes that might mess up one of our favorite brands.? It appears just the opposite is happening with Geely empowering and funding the company to move forward, and the new R-Design is a good example.? It shows that the company can still build the safest cars available, but they can also be very fun to drive, comfortable, good looking and high value.? We think the S60 R-Design is one of the best cars Volvo has ever produced.

By Bill and Barbara Schaffer

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