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2012 Volvo S60 R-Design Review
Proof proper European sports sedans don't have to be German
By Mark Atkinson, Photography by Volvo, Feb. 23, 2012

Sexy’s on sale at Volvo. Remembering the boxy beauties the Swedish automaker used to produce? who would have thought that the company would now have one of the most dynamic styles around? The already curvaceous and sleek S60 sedan now gets a little dominatrix vibe with the new R-Design package aimed at attracting hearts – and wallets – away from the usual suspects at Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

FAST FACTS

1. R-Design models get a power increase of 25 hp and 29 lb-ft of torque for a total of 325 hp and 354 lb-ft.

2. Added performance improvements include a lower and stiffer suspension, plus tighter steering.

3. Styling updates include new front and rear bumpers, exhaust tips as well as a newly designed five-spoke wheel design.

4. Inside, R-Design models get a custom leather treatment, brushed metal accents, perforated leather on the shift knob and steering wheel and blue gauges.

4. R-Design models start at $42,950 a $4,500 increase over the S60 T6.

SLEEK R-DESIGN LOOK

The sheet-metal changes include wilder front and rear fascias, with reshaped lower air intakes, a faux air diffuser and dual exhaust. While the R-Design package limits exterior colors to mostly grey-scale shades, the exclusive Passion Red on our test car is a great choice. The wheel package hasn’t changed much, although the aggressively styled 18-inch design suits the car. Tires remain 235/40R18 in size, but are also offered in a stickier summer-friendly compound.

ADDED POWER AND TORQUE STEER

Volvo took the already potent turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six from the S60 T6 and cranked the boost a tad: up to 325 horsepower and a stonking 354 lb-ft of torque that peaks between 3000 and 3600 rpm. A six-speed automatic handles the transmission duties, while a standard all-wheel-drive system transmits the power to the road. Volvo says the R-Design hits 60 mph in the mid fives. Fast, yes, but it’s not a full-on ‘R’ – the nutso 850R/S60R sedans are legendary in their boxy sleeper performance.

One aspect the current car shares with its predecessors is torque steer. Not the wrist-wrenching violence of the front-wheel-drive originals, but there’s more than a small shimmy in the steering wheel when your foot hits the carpet. Even with the all-wheel drive. Volvo uses a Haldex system that normally apportions 90 percent of power to the front wheels, but capable of sending 100 percent to the rear axle if needed.  That transition isn’t as smooth as the Torsen-style “always-on” setups used by Audi and Mercedes-Benz, and leads to the aforementioned wheel wiggle.

2012 Volvo S60 R Design side driving

RACING-TUNED SUSPENSION

2012 Volvo S60 R Design driving back

Polestar Racing, one of Volvo’s long-time motorsport partners, was called on to make the S60 R-Design more exciting, and the results are pretty spectacular. The suspension has been lowered and stiffened and the steering sharpened. The ride verges on rough on broken pavement, but the payoff is worth it.

Our tester came with Michelin Pilot winter tires that offered plenty of hoon-ability in deeper snow and sub-zero conditions. You have to dig deep through sub-menus to find it, but Volvo does have a ‘sport’ setting for the stability control, which raises the traction control’s activation threshold, and turns off the electronic nannies that keep the R-Design pointed straight ahead. In a snow-covered parking lot, very little throttle is needed to keep the car drifting. Who knew donuts were a Swedish delicacy?

2012 Volvo S60 R Design driving

Even with the snow and slush, the R-Design managed to deliver 24.7 mpg in its week with us, although we did do more highway driving than usual. That’s still pretty impressive given Volvo’s mileage estimates of 18 city/26 hwy.

LUXURY AND TECHNOLOGY ADD UP

2012 Volvo S60 R Design steering wheel

When not sliding sideways, the Volvo S60 R-Design is one of the most comfortable luxury cars we’ve tested. Its sleek shape means little wind noise, the seats don’t require hours of fiddling to find a supportive position, although rear-seat space is a tad cramped for passengers who are long-of-leg. The R-Design package only allows for a double-black interior with unique leather covering the seats, subtle brushed metal inlays, perforated leather on the gear-shift knob and steering wheel, and restyled blue-lit gauges.

Starting at $43,000, the R-Design isn’t cheap; our tester came with a full load of optional packages, including an $800 Climate Package that adds seat heaters, headlight washers and more, and the $2,100 Technology Package with radar-based cruise control, lane-keep assist. Finally, the $2,700 Multimedia Package includes a seven-speaker stereo, navigation system, a rear-view camera and more. Standalone options included on ‘ours’ included blind-spot warning system with power-folding mirrors ($700), keyless ignition ($550) and parking sensors ($500). The only boxes left unchecked were the rear-seat entertainment system and a front-mounted parking assist camera.

2012 Volvo S60 R Design seats

Also included in the sticker price is a list of active and passive safety features on which Volvo built its reputation. Besides the usual anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, there are active xenon headlights, the City Safe system that detects pedestrians on the road and brakes the car before a collision, eight airbags, reinforced doors for side-impact protection, whiplash-reducing head restraints, pre-tensioning seatbelts and more.

THE VERDICT

So a tad over $50,000 all-in for a safe, stylish, torque-happy European sports sedan that’s not an Audi or BMW – and priced significantly below both. It’s far from a no-brainer decision, but one that our hearts can get behind.

2012 Volvo S60 R Design back fast

LOVE IT
  • Extra power and torque
  • Best seats ever
  • Sexy R-Design styling bits
LEAVE IT
  • Un-sexy torque steer
  • No shift-paddles for transmission
  • Potentially expensive repairs

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