By MALCOLM GUNN
Posted: Nov. 4, 2011 | 2:03 a.m.
It’s always an internal struggle when your heart screams “sports car,” but your head, along with the pleadings of significant others, requires something more practical. Fortunately, Volvo offers a pleasant way to satisfy both sides of the equation with the 2012 S60 R-Design.
The S60 demonstrated added style mixed with Swedish sensibility when it was launched for the 2011 model year. At that time, Volvo announced that a more basic S60 would follow. It has delivered on that promise, but in a surprise move, the automaker is also marketing a more aggressive looking — and acting — performance version.
The T6 AWD R-Design is an extension of the same car that has gone further than just about any previous Volvo model since the 1960s P1800 coupe at removing Volvo’s boxy stigma. For the R-Design, the front and rear end have been remodeled while leaving the surrounding sheetmetal mostly untouched.
Under the hood is an inline six-cylinder engine that delivers 325 horsepower and 345 pound-feet of torque. That’s up 25 horsepower over the S60’s standard six-cylinder turbo engine, which was the only engine available for the 2011 model year. Also joining the lineup for 2012 is a new T5 base model with a 250-horsepower 2.5-liter five-cylinder turbo engine. Unlike the 3.0, which is mated to an all-wheel-drive system, the 2.5 comes only as a front-wheel-driver.
According to Volvo, the R-Design will achieve a zero-to-60-mph time of 5.5 seconds, quicker by 0.3 than the now midrange S60 T6. By comparison, the 333-horsepower Audi S4 is about a half-second quicker still, if that helps put things in perspective.
A six-speed “Geartronic” automatic transmission directs the power to the front (T5) or all four wheels, which is the case with both T6 models.
The R-Design certainly steps up on the horsepower front, but it takes a lot more than that to create a challenger to other midsize high performers. Some of the special suspension/chassis mods include an under-hood brace attached to the strut towers to stiffen the body structure. Quicker-responding dampeners have been added and the stiffer and shorter front springs lower the vehicle by about 0.5 of an inch.
Similar stiffening efforts have been introduced at the opposite end to reduce unwanted bouncing and shaking of the rear wheels.
The R-Design’s interior has been similarly upgraded with added side bolsters for the leather-covered front seats. There’s also a thicker sport steering wheel, sport pedals and unique-look gear selector.
But the easiest way to tell the T6 AWD R-Design from the rest of the line is by its blacked-out grille, lower chin spoiler and rear lower-body diffuser that’s sandwiched between the twin exhaust pipes. A set of 18-inch “Ixion” alloy wheels make a unique fashion statement. The only R-Design logo you’ll find is located in the grille area, which is a very subtle and elegant touch.
The R-Design lists at $43,400, which is about $4,600 more than a T6 and more than $11,000 above the price of the base S60. That doesn’t include some of Volvo’s more impressive safety gear, such as Adaptive Cruise Control that maintains a safe distance from the car directly ahead, or Lane Departure Warning that issues an alert if the S60 begins to veer off course without signaling. The price does, however, include City Safety (standard on all S60s) that reacts at low (sub-20-mph) speeds to fully apply the brakes if contact with another vehicle appears imminent.
The R-Design adds a more muscular dimension to what is one of Volvo’s more popular models. It’s also one that can satisfy both the heart and the head of just about any driver.