Volvo S60 R-Design: Seeing the Unexpected

Gary S. Vasilash

The in-line six in the Volvo S60 R-Design is placed parallel to the axle to provide protection in case of a collision. The turbocharged engine also provides a 0 to 60 time of 5.5 seconds. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

Several years ago one of my former colleagues was on a trip to Sweden as the guest of the Swedish Trade Commission or some such organization. He was taken to a variety of industrial sites, ranging from shipyards to machine tool manufacturers. On the first morning of his trip he was in Stockholm. He went to the lobby of the hotel—early, being chronologically disoriented—and saw a tired, cranky James Brown. Yes, that James Brown. Miami or Memphis, maybe. But Stockholm?*

I’ve never had a similar experience. But in August, on a commuter jet from L.A. to San Francisco as the guest of Volvo—a sort-of Swedish company, given that it was previously owned by Ford, an American company, and is now owned by Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, of China, but which is headquartered in Göteborg, Sweden—I sat near film writer/director/actor John Waters. He didn’t appear to be tired. Nor did he manifest any evident crankiness, not even when the flight attendant had him power down his Blackberry.
The point of this is not that somehow Swedish things seem to attract celebrity sightings. Rather, it is that there are things that you don’t necessarily expect. (James Brown in Stockholm; John Travolta starring as a fat woman in a film Waters originally wrote.)
Or like Volvo coming out with a car like the 2012 S60 T6 R-Design. It is a car built in . . . Belgium. (The Volvo Gent plant.) It is fitted with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six manufactured by . . . Ford . . . in . . . Wales (Bridgend Engine Plant).
That’s somewhat unexpected. But what is more unexpected is the fact that this is a car that is designed and engineered to go fast.
Volvo and safety, yes. Expected. And the S60 T6 R-Design has Volvoesque safety tech, like City Safety, a lowspeed collision avoidance/mitigation system (at speeds up to 19 mph, the vehicle will automatically brake if the car ahead suddenly stops; if the speed difference between the two vehicles is less than 9 mph, it is possible to avoid the crash altogether). There is the optional Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake, which deploys a radar unit in the grille and a camera attached to the inside of the rear-view mirror. The radar detects the object and the camera is used to provide data necessary to sort out if it is a person. If so, then the system works to mitigate the impact or possibly avoid it.
Volvo and speed, yes. Unexpected. And the S60 T6 R-Design is a quick car. The engine is the same, essentially, as the engine found in the S60 T6 AWD ( Yet thanks to the use of an engine control module (ECM) that was developed by people at Polestar ( in collaboration with Volvo powertrain engineers, the R-Design is more performance-capable than its non-R brethren: it produces 325 hp @5,400 to 6,500 rpm, or 8% more, and 354 lb-ft of torque @ 3,000 to 3,600 rpm, or 9% more. It gets from 0 to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds, or 0.3 seconds faster. The ECM assures that more air and fuel get to the combustion chamber faster and advances the spark timing. The performance gains are thereby achieved.
There is a six-speed automatic transmission with Geartronic (you can manually shift it) and Sport mode (it remaps the shift points to hold them deeper into the torque curve). The car has all-wheel drive. And while the R-Design isn’t meant to be a poster child for environmental performance (according to Frank Vacca, the S60 brand manager, the competitive set includes the likes of the Audi A4 S-line and the BMW 335i xDrive with M sport package—the goal here is conquest of buyers who may not think—no surprise—“Volvo” and “driving hard”) it provides 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.
Because the R-Design is built for performance driving, the chassis has been modified compared with the standard model. For example, there is a strut brace connecting the two strut towers under the hood. There are monotube dampers in the back, which, by using a single valve per damper, means there is quicker response. The front and rear springs are shorter by 15 mm, and the spring stiffness is 15% higher than those in the S60 T6, and the rear suspension bushings are 20% stiffer than their counterparts. And the front tie-blade bushing is 400% stiffer than the one in the S60.
Design details like a new front fascia with a glossy piano-black grille, rear trunk spoiler, 90-mm twin exhaust tailpipes, and 18-in. alloy wheels set the car apart from its progenitor. Inside, there are highly bolstered leather seats, a sport steering wheel, sport pedals and other R-oriented cues.
Then there’s this: Volvo is Latin for “I roll.” Bet you didn’t expect that, either.
*The Hardest Working Man in Show Business died in 2006, so he isn’t seen anywhere anymore.