Road Test

2012 Volvo S60 T6 R-Design

A fun-to-drive sport sedan that belies Volvo’s safety-first image

AT A GLANCE
PRICE
$50,325 base.
FUEL CONSUMPTION
NR Canada (L/100 km): 11.0 city. 8.0 highway. 10.0 combined.

Willows, CA – Volvo is, in many minds, a nameplate synonymous with safety. And that’s a focus the company’s not about to change.

For the brand to become more of a player in the import luxury sedan market,  however, it recognizes the need to step up its performance image. Enter the 2012 Volvo S60 T6 R-Design – which takes an important step in that direction. It’s a dynamic, fun-to-drive sport sedan that will surprise with its performance capabilities.

To help mould its image, Volvo turned to Swedish racing and performance company Polestar to work its magic on the S60 T6, resulting in the hottest production sedan the company has ever built.

The heart of the R-Design is the same 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engine that powers the all-wheel-drive S60 T6, but tuning tweaks, including more boost, advanced spark timing and throttle recalibration, result in 325 hp between 5,600 and 6,500 rpm, and 354 lb-ft of torque that kicks in at 3,000 rpm. That’s an increase of 8% in the power department and 9% more grunt. On the track, the stepped-up response chips 0.3 seconds off the standard S60 T6 acceleration time, making the sprint to 100 km/h in just 5.5 seconds.

If you’re concerned that there’s a price to be paid at the pumps for this added performance, no need to worry. Fuel consumption rates for R-Design are the same as the standard S60 T6 – 11.3 litres per 100 km in city driving, 7.7 litres/100 km on the highway.

The enhancements don’t stop in the engine bay. The transmission is a second-generation, quicker-shifting, six-speed Geartronic automatic that includes a Sport mode. Nudge the shifter lever to the right and the driver has the choice of choosing gears manually or letting the tranny make the selection. The Sport mode remaps the shift points, holding the gear longer and deeper into the torque curve.

This engine/tranny package works well together, although the availability of a manual gearbox would boost the car’s sporting appeal. During a drive with the automatic box through some wonderful, twisty roads in the Napa region, I found myself reaching behind the steering wheel for paddle shifters, which don’t exist. Pity!.

A portion of this media preview was spent doing laps at Thunderhill Raceway Park, a challenging 4.8-km, 15-turn road course that served as an ideal venue for demonstrating the car’s dynamic prowess.

The R-Design’s chassis has been stiffened 15% with a strut brace between the front shock towers and the standard twin-tube shocks have been replaced with monotube units that have a different compression and return dampening system that speeds up fluid flow, generating quicker response.

Springs, both front and rear, have been shortened 15 millimetres, lowering the car and giving it a more aggressive stance. The spring rate is also 15% stiffer, though the ride over rough patches remains compliant – firm but pleasingly forgiving. Stiffer rear bushings have been added, including the front tie-blade unit, which is 400% stiffer. These modifications counteract wheel hop and shaking.

Standard equipment includes all-wheel drive with Corner Traction Control, a technology that further refines dynamic stability- and traction-control systems by adding torque vectoring to make cornering smoother. Simply stated, it uses braking on the inner wheels plus torque transfer to the outer driven wheels to help the car negotiate turns more tightly while minimizing understeer.

On the track, the system worked flawlessly, particularly on some fast but tight-radius corners. The car felt well planted and sliced through apexes without a fuss, allowing a quicker exit. In other words, it made me feel quite confident to push harder than I’d normally do and come out the other side intact.

Several visual cues set this car apart from its standard siblings. It has a fresh face, with a new lower fascia finished in glossy black, while the rear has a special baffler diffuser and decklid spoiler. A pair of 90-mm chromed exhaust tips poke out under the diffuser. The 18-inch alloy wheels have a unique spoke design.

Inside, the sport seats have additional bolstering, although I wish the fit was snugger – I found myself sliding from side to side as I tossed the car around the track. On the highway, however, the seats were fine. The R-Design also includes special leather upholstery and contrasting stitching, as well as unique brushed aluminum inlays on the instrument panel and centre console. The leather-wrapped steering wheel has a meaty feel that’s well suited to the car’s capabilities.

As always, Volvo puts a big focus on safety. The R-Design is equipped with City Safety technology, which is a low-speed collision avoidance system first introduced on the XC60 crossover. At speeds up to 35 km/h it senses a potential collision and pre-charges the brakes. If the driver fails to respond promptly, it will apply the brakes fully on its own.

A blind spot information system is available as a stand-alone option ($750), or as part of the Driver Support Package ($4,500) that also includes adaptive cruise control, pedestrian detection technology, driver alert, lane departure warning and more.

A navigation system ($2,625), rear camera ($600) and premium sound system ($1,200) are also offered.

The base price for this well-balanced sport sedan is $50,325, which puts it below such competitive models as the 212-hp Audi A4 Premium Plus S-Line ($50,900),  the 333-hp Audi S4 ($53,000) and the BMW 335i xDrive with the M Sport Package ($55,200), which is rated at 300 hp.

R-Design models are now being shipped to Volvo dealers.

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