In the near-luxury car corral, it has become an article of faith that you cannot simply ride with the herd; you need a spirited showoff to rope in the customers.
Thus it is that BMW has its high-performance M versions of the 3-Series and 1-series. Similarly, there is an AMG version of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and an S version of the Audi A4. Acura chips in with its SH-AWD sibling of the TL and Cadillac tacks a V designation onto its CTS models.
The newest mount in this select group is the 2012 Volvo with the mouth-filling name of S60 T6 AWD R-Design. Like the others, it is a high-zoot modification of an existing car, the already successful S60, first introduced as a 2011 model.
All of the elements in the S60′s moniker actually mean something. The T6 refers to the turbo six-cylinder engine, the AWD to the all-wheel drive and the R-Design to the performance enhancements.
They are considerable. The horsepower, with help from a race-car tuning outfit, has been bumped to 325, or 25 more than in the standard T-6 AWD model, making it the most powerful production Volvo ever, according to Frank Vacca, the S60 brand manager.
The extra horsepower means that the R-Design can accelerate to 60 miles an hour in 5.5 seconds while still delivering 18/26 miles to the gallon on the EPA’s city/highway test cycle, Vacca said.
The modifications did not stop there. Volvo’s tuners re-engineered the R-Design’s suspension system with shorter and stiffer springs, tighter performance shock absorbers, stiffer bushings and a fatter front sway bar.
Styling cues distinguish the R-Design from other S60s: a new front face and a distinctive air diffuser in back that incorporates the dual exhaust pipes.
Unfortunately, if you blast by somebody on the highway, the black and chrome diffuser is the only clue that you’re driving the R-Design. There is no identifying badge on the trunk, although there is a small one in the grille up front. So unless your victim is knowledgeable about new Volvos, he’ll likely guess he’s been bested by an ordinary S60 T6.
With its all-wheel drive, the R-Design is tenacious taking curves. Handling is nearly neutral and, if you go into a corner too fast, it’s easy to recover by working the throttle to straighten things out, a characteristic borne out by laps on a race track.
The R-Design was capable on the track, even using standard street tires that emitted screeching protests around some tight corners. It would have done better with racing tires, but this is more of a luxury runabout than a track car.
However, the R-Design is so responsive to steering inputs that you have to pay constant attention in straight-line highway driving. If you merely twitch the steering wheel, the R-Design reacts instantly. This is not a car for a lazy driver with one hand on the bottom of the steering wheel.
But if you are paying attention, it rewards you with a communicative and tactile steering feel and a surprisingly comfortable ride given the stiff suspension system.
Like its S60 siblings, the R-Design is a tidy package, mid-pack in the compact class size. Interior space is biased toward the front, with plenty of room even for taller drivers. But the back seat is suitable for just two average-sized adults, as long as they’re not too porky. As in most cars these days, the center-rear position is impossibly cramped.
The interior is attractively designed, with exclusive R-Design contrasting stitching in the leather-covered seats. Substantial bolsters on the front seats hug the driver and passenger during aggressive driving on twisting roads.
R-Design-specific instruments are surprisingly minimal looking. There are two silver-on-blue analog gauges–speedometer and tachometer. All of the other information is digital, inside the circles. The gauges are surrounded by empty space.
The unique steering wheel tilts and telescopes manually but the seat adjustments are power except for the lumbar support. Sun visors do not slide on their support rods, which compromises their capability to block sun from the side.
The R-Design has a base sticker price of $43,375, which is $4,600 more than the standard T6 all-wheel drive. With options that included navigation and a premium audio system, the bottom-line suggested price came to $46,875.
Standard equipment includes all the modern safety requirements: antilock brakes with brake assist, traction and stability control, tire-pressure monitoring and, most importantly, Volvo’s so-called city safety system.
Using sensors, this state-of-the-art system detects jaywalking pedestrians. If you are driving at a modest speed in an urban area and someone crosses into your path, the city safety detects it and slams on the brakes before you make contact.
Other safety systems, which are optional, warn if you wander from your traffic lane, check your so-called blind spot and maintain your cruise control distance from the car ahead, right down to a stop. When traffic starts moving again, a touch of the throttle re-engages the cruise control and the interval.
The only unnecessary one is the blind-spot warning system. All cars already have it. It’s called side-view mirrors. You simply must adjust them properly.
- Model: Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design four-door sedan.
- Engine: 3-liter six-cylinder, turbocharged, 325 horsepower.
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
- Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
- EPA passenger/trunk volume: 93/12 cubic feet.
- Weight: 3,835 pounds.
- EPA city /highway fuel consumption: 18/26 miles to the gallon.
- Base price, including destination charge: $43,375.
- Price as tested: $46,875.