Volvo has long been seen as the safe car. But no one wants to date the “safe” guy. And only billion dollar corporations afraid of lawsuits give out awards for completing something safely. Needless to say, “safe” isn’t a buzz word that lights up headlines. Armed with this cultural realization Volvo’s designers and engineers decided to start making cars that are beautiful, athletic and ahem, non-risky.
About a year ago Volvo invited us to the streets of Western Oregon to test the brand new, ground up design. The new S60’s sweeping side lines captivated us from the outset, each running from the nose across the doors and glide into each other on the trunk’s edge are a reveling sight. At the time there were only whispers of an R-Design in the works but we were hopeful.
And just like an online Ikea order, the Swedes delivered promptly and we were invited back to run the beefed up, tightened and taughter version of the S60 all over the Thunderhill Raceway Park just outside Northern California’s wine country. Hard life, we know.
Something important to note about R-Design. Unlike say a 3-Series is to an M3, the R-Design is a package level, not a radically different car. But this isn’t a mere trim level difference — underneath the hood you’ll find a lowered suspension, stiffer springs, sway bar, unique front fascia, rear spoiler and signature wheels. You’ll also find software modifications by the Swedish race group Polestar that delivers power to the people. The R-Design has a 25 horsepower/29 lb-ft torque increase without any sacrifice in the fuel economy. Tack så mycket.
So the question really is this: is the unique design and added performance of the R-Design worth the $5,000 jump in price from a standard $38K S60 T6? We say yes.
An 8% increase might not seem like heaps of additional power, but all you have to do is drop the rather docile 3.0 Liter 6-cylinder turbo into sport mode, as we did on the track, to experience the improved vigor.
The R-Design peeled back straight-aways like Moo-Town snackers cheese sticks and with a little creative driving (e.g. running over a few cones) we used the coiling corners to push the all-wheel drive and stiffened R-Design chassis to the edge. The car responded beautifully. It was, in fact, too good. Evidently no one told the brakes we were racing on the hilly, bucking racetrack of Thunderhill in 90 degree heat and after plowing through a hand full of hot laps we managed to completely lose all braking capabilities. Granted, our cars were showroom fresh and likely never to encounter such conditions in the real world.
It’s abundantly clear that Volvo understands the R-Design won’t compete with the M’s and AMG’s in its segment. Nor is it meant to. Look a little further though and you’ll notice the numbers run quite close with the Audi S4 (also a softer version of the meaner, RS4) and costs 4 grand less. Pretty-impressive we think. So the question really is this: is the unique design and added performance of the R-Design worth the $5,000 jump in price from a standard $38K S60 T6? We say yes.
Now, where can I get myself some carbon ceramic brakes?
Photos by Bradley Hasemeyer