In the Volvo family of cars, the S60 T6 R-Design sits at the top of the performance food chain-in other words, this is as hot as it gets. Even today, most people rarely think of Volvo’s as quick or entertaining cars, with safety being the first thing that comes to mind when Volvo is mentioned. But the truth is, Volvo has been dabbling with hot rod versions of their cars for years. As an awkward fifteen year old, I have fond memories of being catapulted down the scenic Merritt Parkway by my neighbor, and boss on our way to work in mega-wealthy Old Greenwich, Connecticut in his 1984 Volvo 240 Turbo wagon. Well, I’m 40 now, not quite as awkward, and I do the driving now, thank you. So it was time to sample Volvo’s current hot rod.
Not that The Garage is any stranger to the Volvo S60. Last fall we reviewed the base T5 AWD, and came away very impressed. The S60 is arguably one of the most handsome luxury sedans on the market, and without a doubt the sexiest Volvo ever built. It will, however, take a true Volvo fanatic to recognize you are piloting the R-Design. Unique 18″ wheels, front and rear spoilers, rear diffuser and polished exhaust pipes. In other words, the changes are very subtle. Not so subtle was our test car finished in Rebel Blue, a color nearly every person I asked disliked. Color is a personal choice, but since the R-Design is so subtle against its less powerful S60 siblings, a milder color would make this the ultimate Q-Ship.
If the changes to the exterior are subtle, then the interior is even more so. Special sport seats, steering wheel, shift knob, blue watch dial gauges and aluminum pedals are all that differentiate the R-Design from other S60’s. And that is not a bad thing, as the S60 has an open, airy cabin that is exceptionally comfortable, especially over long distances. As before, most controls are fairly intuitive, but the S60 seems to be a step behind the competition with its infotainment interface. Even so, the S60 R-Design sports some of the best seats in the business.
So while we all agree the R-Design does not do a lot to distinguish itself from outside/inside, the biggest difference is what lies in the engine bay, where you will find a 3.0L turbocharged inline six rated at 325hp, paired to a six-speed automatic. All R-Design S60’s are all-wheel drive. Sadly, no manual transmission is offered. The R has 75 more horsepower than the five cylinder T5, and Volvo claims a 0-60mph of 5.5 seconds, which is over a second quicker. Suspension and steering have also been tightened up for the R-Design. Yes, it is quick and tight, but as I drove the R-Design, I kept thinking back to the sublime Audi S4. Boasting only eight more horsepower, the S4 will toast the S60 1.1 seconds to 60. While the S4 is intense and engaging, the R-Design has the goods but the speed is delivered in a far smoother, relaxed manner.
But where the R-Design trumps its competitors is price. And not because it is lacks features or suffers from inferior build quality and materials-far from it. The Volvo S60 easily matches its Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz rivals. This top-spec S60 has a starting MSRP of $43,900. Our test car included the Platinum package (navigation, premium sound, rear view camera), and Climate package (heated front seats, interior air quality system, heated windshield washer nozzles). Including delivery, our S60 T6 R-Design had a cost of $48,195, which is about $12,000 less than the Audi S4 we tested with similar content. If you don’t demand a manual tranny, and for normal daily driving, the R-Design is by far the better buy.
If you view Volvo owners as New England types working at prestigious universities, well, you would not be far off. Owning a Volvo is not to show off your car to brag to your friends about, that’s what BMW’s are for. And despite Volvo’s heritage in turbocharging cars, public perception still perceives Volvo has a brand that places safety above all else, and that is true. What most do not know is that you can be enveloped in an extremely safe Volvo, and have some fun as well. If your perception of Volvo owners is the college professor, then the S60 T6 R-Design is the cool college professor you had that played in a blues band on weekends. Fun, passionate, yet mellow. In other words, a long term friend, for which Volvo’s have a strong reputation for.