2012 Volvo S60 T6 R-Design: Naughty By Nature

What’s not to like about a Scandinavian designed ride? Volvo’s are savvy, unique, multi-talented, and of course safe as a bank (in theory). Volvo, known for its unit of family wagons and SUVs is also a purveyor of sporty sedans and convertibles. And now it seems that they’ve caught onto the wonders and benefits of what having an elite performance vehicle in the lineup can do for the rest of the roster. So it is my pleasure to introduce the Swedish brand’s most powerful production vehicle in its history!

If you’re a fan of Volvo’s S60 luxury sport sedan then you will enjoy their latest rendition dubbed the S60 R-Design. There’s still an S60 T5 FWD, with a 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine that generates 250 horsepower and the S60 T6 AWD with an upgraded 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder that now delivers 300 horses. The top-of-the-line S60 T6 R-Design now gives the S60 its third model in the lineup while creating 325 horsepower and 354 pound feet of torque.

The traditional S60 has already helped Volvo to increase overall sales numbers and stake in its respective category, which battles the likes of the Acura TL, Audi A4, Lexus IS, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3 Series and Infiniti G in the marketplace. That’s a tough division to be in, especially when some of those characters have higher-end performance variants designed to satisfy enthusiasts. So Volvo chose not to sit around ho-hum about the exciting opportunity to compete in the performance arena. With that in mind, they re-invigorated what used to be “R” cars and labeled this new generation of S60 vehicles by the moniker R-Design.

R-Design is good for Volvo. The label is artistic yet sophisticated, and invokes inquisitive thought from spectators and competitors alike. Each Volvo S60 T6 R-Design features the same 3-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine, but with 325 horsepower at 5,400 RPM and 345 lb-ft torque in a range from 3,000 to 3,600 RPM thanks to engine tuning enhanced by Polestar, a Swedish racing and performance products company that partnered with Volvo; a 6-speed automatic transmission with “Geartronic” manual shift capability and driver adaptive mapping; all-wheel-drive; and a sporty chassis. With the additional stock features, the R-Design is now able to tend to the needs of performance addicts with happy feet.

We recently drove the vehicles throughout California’s Napa Valley region and up to Thunderhill Raceway Park near Willows, CA for a few hours of praiseworthy road-course on-track entertainment. Upon approach the vehicle is fit and well defined. Instantly you see that the S60 has been hitting the weights and circuit training. The R-Design improves the vehicle’s sculpture with 5-spoke 18” Alloy “Diamond Cut” wheels; a lower front spoiler and intake; a rear diffuser which encases dual polished exhaust tips; a rear spoiler, and a new unique grille, all thoughtfully blended. It’s definitely tough to compete against the German athletes of the same caliber, but Volvo surely has not backed down.

Mechanically, the R-Design’s Haldex AWD system operates as front-wheel-drive with a 95% to 5% front to rear split. This means the vehicle basically drives like a traditional FWD vehicle and then sends traction to the rear axle when slippage is detected. The benefit to Volvo is the fuel savings. This vehicle has the same MPG ratings as the base S60 AWD with the T6 engine with 300 horsepower. Both see 18 city mpg and 26-highway mpg. This is great from both a company and EPA perspective, but the target Volvo is aiming consists of traditionalists by nature. This means they normally opt for rear-wheel drive performance vehicles and don’t mind spending the extra dough at the pump. However, a key point to note is that the Haldex system will actually launch the R-Design as a true AWD vehicle before the FWD bias takes over. I attempted this several times while adding a sharp turn to my acceleration from standstill. The vehicle stayed planted, didn’t torque steer, and remained in one line – the direction where I pointed the wheel.

Another pleasing surprise was the R-Design Sport Chassis which replaces Volvo’s adaptive 4C Chassis with multiple driver input modes. In this case, the vehicle only operates in a sporty, stiffer mode. Don’t expect an air suspension type ride on backcountry roads. This vehicle is naughty by nature and explains why Volvo sent us to the raceway for a day. For extra safety measures (remember this is still Volvo), advanced stability control is always on and cannot be turned off. Of course this takes away the fun factor of power sliding around corners, but also keeps daredevils from testing their motor sports glory days on busy roads. I was amazed to see the vehicle self-adjust a fast turn I took, in which I thought I overshot, while retaining speed and stability. The R-Design’s chassis also adds Corner Traction Control with Torque Vectoring. No wonder! Sadly though, the car does not have paddle shifters like all of its opposition, nor is it equipped with a traditionally adaptive transmission. The most adaptation you’ll receive is Sport mode, which holds the gears up until redline. You can downshift when power is needed using the shift lever, but since the torque kicks in at higher rpms than I would like, your acceleration from already high speeds is only so so. The speed-sensitive steering wheel self-adjusts to light, medium or heavy feedback.

Inside, the R-Design cabin is comfortable and fitting. Aluminum mesh inlays cover the slim center stack, the vents are chrome, the sporty pedals are aluminum, the sporty leather seats feature contrast stitching, and an iconic blue watch-dial instrument cluster spices things up. And of course, you receive typical Volvo accouterments, like an advanced audio system; rear park assist camera; Bluetooth; Interior Air Quality System; sunroof; Side Impact Protection System; and Volvo Whiplash Protection System. My personal favorite, City Safety which helps reduce the impact of a crash or avoid a rear end collision entirely is available as part of an optional Technology Package.

Representing 5% to 10% of the aggregate S60 volume, the 2012 Volvo S60 T6 R-Design will start at $42,500. Volvo said it has the ability and capacity to make more if the requests come in; and based on what we experienced in Northern California that is highly likely.

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