From stem to stern it represents the pinnacle of everything Volvo is well-known for (advanced safety and refined luxury) combined with a couple of things it’s not (slick design and performance), and it all works together beautifully.
While it may not look much different from a garden variety S60 on the surface, the R Design is definitely a S60 of another colour, especially under the hood where it is the beneficiary of a little Polestar Tuning magic dust.
Polestar, a racing outfit formed in 1996 to campaign Volvo’s various factory motorsports efforts in Europe, applies its technical know-how to great effect on the ECU in the R Design’s 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six.
By forcing more air and fuel into the combustion chamber, increasing boost pressure, advancing spark timing and recalibrating throttle mapping, Polestar squeezes an extra 25 hp and 29 lb-ft. of torque out the engine to push the R Design’s final numbers to an impressive 325 and 354 respectively (the regular S60 T6 produces 300 and 325).
With more power on tap the R Design is one quick beast, boasting a 0-100 km/h time of just 5.5 seconds. Although I didn’t have an opportunity to independently verify these numbers (unfortunately), the car does indeed seem quite fast. Power delivery is quite linear and with torque being readily accessible (peaking at just 3,000 rpm), the driver’s seat in the R Design yields plenty of quality performance driving, particularly with the gear selector in manual mode.
Speaking of the transmission, the R Design employs a six-speed automatic (no manual available, sadly) with the aforementioned manual mode, but there are no steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters available. The omission is a bit of a surprise, but they aren’t greatly missed as the console shifter works splendidly.
Underpinning the R Design is a familiar set-up with Macpherson struts up front and an independent multi-link package in the rear with stiffer Sport Chassis settings. To complement the sportier ride, Volvo is giving the R Design better stopping power (13.2-inch front brake rotors) and performance wheels and tires (18-inch Ixion alloys wrapped in 235/40/R18 Continental ContiSportContact3 summers). Speed-sensitive steering with adjustable settings also comes standard.
All of these performance enhancements add up to a pleasing driving experience, albeit on public roads at posted speed limits. The R Design is very capable – it handles well, accelerates enthusiastically, stops securely and provides a decent amount of road feedback considering it employs an electric-powered steering set-up that tends to feel a little on the numb side under the best of circumstances.
From an appearance perspective, the R Design is a real looker. My Rebel Blue tester flatters the car’s shapely exterior styling that, thankfully, hasn’t been creased to excess. There are still plenty of nice round edges, particularly in the front end in the grille and head lamp area. Combined with a slippery roofline, slightly flared fenders and more aggressive wheels and tires, the R Design cuts a handsome, athletic look that appeals from all angles.
Inside, the R Design is well-appointed and nicely-finished, albeit in conservative Swedish fashion. The leather seats are nicely shaped and comfortable, and held this writer firmly in place. For a car loaded with so much technology (navi, satellite radio, USB iPod connectivity, etc.) the R Design thankfully doesn’t confront its occupants with an overabundance of buttons and knobs. Understated, modern luxury has long been Volvo’s game and it’s definitely in evidence here.
While the R Design could be considered an unconventional Volvo with regard to appearance and dynamic performance, it’s typical of the automaker’s offerings with regard to safety. It comes chock full of active and passive safety features, from front and side airbags and whiplash protection to lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring.
More noteworthy perhaps is the optional pedestrian detection system, first introduced on the 2011 S60, which utilizes grille-mounted radar and a camera placed high on the windshield to pick out pedestrians and other vehicles. When the system detects a pending collision, it will fire off visual and audible warnings and, if the driver doesn’t take any corrective action, the brakes will be applied to bring the car to a stop. Initially, it only worked up to 35 km/h, but improvements have been made and it will now work at speeds up to 50 km/h.
Overall, the S60 R Design is a well-engineered and packaged car with ample amounts of luxury, performance, style and safety. The only real reservation I have with it is its Canadian pricing structure, which places it a range occupied by better-known German sport sedans like the Audi S4 and BMW 335i.
I’m not sure how many buyers would choose the R Design – as good as it is – if they can purchase one of these other machines for the same price (or a bit less). My tester starts north of $54,000, and tops out at more than $56,000 before taxes with an optional technology package, which feels a bit rich for a car that’s a bit lacking in performance pedigree. Lightening the price tag could help separate the R Design from the sport sedan pack.
2013 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R Design Platinum
Base Price: $54,650
Price as Tested (before taxes): $58,565
Engine: 3.0L turbocharged inline six-cylinder
Horsepower / Torque: 325 hp / 354 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Fuel Economy Ratings (L/100 km): 11.7 / 8 / 10 (city / hwy. / comb.)
Basic Warranty: 48 months / 80,000 km
Options on Test Vehicle
Technology Package ($2,100) – Adaptive cruise control with queue assist, collision warning with full auto brake, pedestrian detection with full auto brake, distance alert, driver alert control, lane departure warning, active high beam, road sign information.