Volvo could have stood pat with the S60 and no one would have blinked an eye. A year ago, the Swedish company introduced the long-awaited redesign of its mid-level sedan, which exhibited such impressive handling characteristics and refined styling that we named it to our 2011 All-Stars roster. The success of the S60 has been the primary factor driving increased sales for Volvo, which are up 28 percent over a year ago.
The automaker is not going to rest on its laurels, however, as it looks to further expand its market by appealing to enthusiast buyers. So for 2012, Volvo is introducing the S60 T6 AWD R-Design.
What makes it different
Visually, the exterior of the R-Design is differentiated from the S60 T5 and T6 by its redesigned lower front fascia, black grille, rear trunk spoiler, and five-spoke diamond-cut eighteen-inch wheels. In the cabin are special sport seats upholstered in off-black leather with contrasting stitching and an embossed R-Design logo, a sport steering wheel, sport pedals, and blue-rimmed tachometer and speedometer gauges.
The most important changes to the S60 R-Design are under the hood, however.
Starting with the turbocharged in-line six from the S60 T6, Volvo engineers -- in partnership with Polestar, a Swedish racing and performance parts company -- modified the engine control module to optimize output, adding boost, advancing the spark timing, and recalibrating the throttle to enhance performance. The result is an eight percent increase in horsepower (from 300 to 325 hp) and a nine percent increase in torque (from 325 to 354 lb-ft), making the S60 R-Design the most powerful production Volvo ever built. Volvo engineers also went to work on the chassis to enhance the S60's ride and handling. Changes include stiffer springs , monotube rear dampers, a front strut brace, and a larger-diameter front antiroll bar.
Ride and handling
At moderate speeds, the S60 R-Design is a refined cruiser, with a comfortable ride despite its firmer suspension. Push it a little on curvy mountain roads, however, and the tweaked in-line six, whose power is delivered via a six-speed automatic with an available Sport mode, responds immediately to throttle inputs even as the car's body motions remain well balanced.
We were able to put in some laps at Thunderhill Raceway Park in Willows, California, where the R-Design's chassis performed admirably on the 3.0-mile track, which features several elevation changes and some tricky, off-camber corners. All-wheel drive and the Corner Traction Control torque vectoring system, in which the inner wheel is braked as more power is fed to the outer wheel, quells understeer while allowing the driver to take corners more aggressively.
What is its mission?
While the S60 R-Design performed admirably at the track, Volvo admits that it isn't really a track car. For one thing, the brakes, which are unchanged from those on the regular S60, become quite soft as they heat up under hard braking. You'll never mistake the S60 R-Design for a BMW M3, but then again, Volvo doesn't expect you to. Instead, they liken it to a BMW 335i xDrive with the M sport package or an Audi S4, both of which are exceptionally capable cars but not necessarily track-day toys.
Volvo is a brand that has largely appealed to female buyers, due in large part to its reputation for safety. But the S60 has seen that change, with 59 percent of its current buyers being male. Volvo hopes to skew its sales to men even further with the pumped-up S60 R-Design. Volvo is looking to sell between 1000 and 1200 R-Design S60s per year, about 5 percent of the overall S60 sales mix.
The 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design is on sale at dealerships now and comes equipped with the City Safety crash avoidance system and a stellar five-year maintenance plan that includes everything from roadside assistance to wear and tear items such as brakes and battery. Pricing starts at a reasonable $43,375, including destination.
2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design
Base price: $43,475
On sale: Now
Engine: Turbocharged 3.0-liter DOHC I-6
Horsepower: 325 hp @ 5400 rpm
Torque: 354 lb-ft @ 3000-3600 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
L x W x H: 182.2 x 73.4 x 58.4 in
Legroom f/r: 41.9/33.5 in
Headroom f/r: 37.6/37.4
Cargo capacity: 12.0 cu ft
Curb weight: 3835 lb
EPA rating (city/highway/combined): 18/26/21 mpg