Review: 2012 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design
By Kevin Miller
The letter R used to carry a lot of weight at Volvo. The designator for Volvo’s highest performance cars, the R line reached its apogee in model years 2004-2007, when the S60R and V70R were 300 HP, AWD Volvos with Volvo’s first electronically-damped 4C suspension, available manual transmissions, large Brembo brakes, blue-faced instruments, full-leather upholstered seats in custom-colored interiors. Envisioned as halo cars, the R series were the most powerful Volvos ever produced, but they never sold in large numbers, and the erstwhile performance moniker was quietly shelved when the vehicles on which they were based ceased production.
Shortly after Volvo’s R series cars were discontinued, the R-Design trim level came out on various models. With no mechanical modifications, the R-Design essentially consisted of bigger wheels, fancier, bolstered seats, a body kit, and blue-faced gauges. R-Design versions of the XC90, XC60, and C30 sported more aggressive looks, but no mechanical differentiation from the models on which they were based. Volvo enthusiasts derided the R-Design trim as a heretical misuse of the legendary letter R.
For 2012, a little bit of the performance has returned to R. Though still badged R-Design, the US-market S60 T6 AWD R-Design gets a horsepower bump over its host vehicle, from 300 HP (in the S60 T6 AWD) to 325 HP. The S60 R-Design also gets a different sport suspension, body kit, and unique interior upholstery, though it makes do with the standard brakes from the S60 T6 AWD and is not offered with a manual transmission.
The power bump is accomplished by ECU tuning, which was designed by Polestar, Volvo’s performance and tuning partner. It is interesting to note that North American R-Design S60 and XC60 models get this power bump for the 2012 model year, whereas the same models in some countries are not treated to this power upgrade. The EPA ratings remain the same as the non R-Design S60 T6 AWD at 18/26 MPG city/hwy (21 combined); over 206 miles of stop-and-go and backroad fun my average was a dismal 16.1 MPG.
Having driven the standard Volvo S60 T6 AWD last year (follow the link for my general S60 impressions), I was impressed by what the 25 HP bump does for the R-Design, and equally impressed by the handling gains provided by sport suspension. The car actually seemed to enjoy being hustled quickly around my favorite, winding country roads, and felt light on its feet, with plenty of grip and traction thanks to 18” rubber and all wheel drive. As with many cars with sporting intent, the S60 really comes alive when charging from apex to apex on a fast, curving backroad. Unfortunately, even with its standard Sport mode, Volvo doesn’t provide rev-matched downshifts on the standard six-speed Geartronic automatic, and that gearbox sometimes seemed confused during aggressive driving, with shifts executed very clumsily as the unit dropped in to gear.
On the exterior, bespoke R-Design front and rear fascias give a more aggressive look to the S60’s stylish body, and do so without resorting to the tacked-on gray/silver Sport Body Kit available on lesser S60 models. Inside the car, features specific to the R-Design include black leather seats with textured R-Design inserts and contrasting stitching, a ripple-effect trim on the “waterfall” center stack, and the aforementioned blue-faced gauges. I felt the interior was somwhat somber in its all-black appearance, especially when compared to the expressive natural-hue leather available in the standard S60 T6 AWD. Overall, the interior had nice materials and fit/finish, one complaint is that the passenger seatbelt buckle rattled against the B-pillar trim when it wasn’t in use.
The S60 R-Design I drove was relatively lightly optioned, which allowed me to focus on the enhanced driving experience. Options included the $2700 Multimedia package (Premium Sound System and Navigation System with Voice Control and Map Care), and the $800 Climate Package (Heated Front Seats, Headlight Washers, Heated Washer Nozzles, Rain Sensor, and IAQS Interior Air Quality System). It is worth noting that the navigation system has a very clear, high-resolution screen in the dash which is shared with the audio and climate control systems; voice comands work as I would expect, though the controls for the non-touchscreen unit take a little bit of getting used to. Adding those options to the R-Design’s $42,500 MSRP and its $875 Destination Charge brings the total charge to an as-tested price of $46,875.
That price puts the S60 T6 AWD R-Design in the same power and size categories as Audi S4, and BMW 335i. The Volvo has a feature-adjusted price difference of $13350 compared to the Audi (and a 8 HP deficit), $6610 difference compared to the (2011) BMW 335i xDrive sedan (with 25 extra HP) according to values at TrueDelta.com. Volvo actually considers Audi’s pedestrian A4 to be the S60 T6 AWD R-Design’s main competition from that marque, but the Volvo’s performance numbers beg compaison to the higher-output models from competing European brands. In either case, the current S60 seems far more rare on US roads than either of the aforementioned competitors, making the highest-performance Volvo unique choice and a comparatively good value.
Volvo provided the vehicle, insurance, and one tank of gas for this review.