Can ultimate safety and performance co-exist?

The Volvo S60 turned 15 years old this year, and the Swedish maker’s R-Design continues to bring new tech and styling to the sports sedan line.

Rewinding the clock to 2004, the S60 R brought a most flavoursome 2.5 litre five-cylinder turbocharged engine that was a continuation, of sorts, from the 850 T5 R. The S60 R, with its haldex all-wheel drive system and Brembo brakes as standard from factory, was and still is an interesting purchase for the performance driver who doesn’t like to follow trends.

Volvo-S60-R-DesignFront-2

The R-Design on offer today from Volvo adorns the same T5 badging, however it now fits a 2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine, built from the Volvo Engine Architecture modular system. Like all except for the line topping Polestar, the R-Design lacks AWD, and the Brembo brakes are gone.

It’s certainly now a creation of R by design, without some of the componentry associated with the badge.

Of course, 15 years is a long time for the engineering boffins to tinker with the finer points of the second-generation S60. The smaller engine is capable of 180kW at 5500rpm and 350Nm from 1500-4800rpm, which propels the 1602kg vehicle to 100km/h in 6.3sec. The sole transmission option is a smooth eight-speed automatic, driving the front wheels.

The updated engine here is an improvement over the previous 177kW/320Nm T5 four-cylinder, wiping 1.2 seconds off the sprint to 100km/h.

On road, the four-cylinder’s power translates well for everyday practicalities. The torque is generous enough to never feel a lack of ‘overtaking’ power, while providing a smooth and quiet drive around town.

Volvo-S60-R-Design-sid-motion

If anything, the engine is a little too quiet. There’s not much to be had on or off throttle unless you’re really punching it, and moving the automatic selector across to Sport mode doesn’t promote the engine’s aural attitude as much as you’d like. It’s something addressed by the Volvo S60 Polestar (review here), but the S60 R-Design experience could be more enticing if it made a better noise.

As the roads tighten up and the bitumen bends out of sight behind tall gums on a piece of smooth Victorian tarmac, there’s an annoying little bite of resistance from the wheel as the tyres approach the white line. It’s the lane departure warning, available as part of Volvo’s $5000 Driver Support Pack.

Brilliant as it is, with automatic high beam switching, emergency auto brake and the invaluable Road Sign Information that keep keeps you up-to-date with the current signed speed limit (and your licence in wallet), it seems somewhat counter-intuitive that it remains activated while sport mode is engaged. It’s easy enough to disengage (by simply pushing a button on the floating centre console), however that thought easily jumps the mind when moving from the highway to the twisty bits and wanting to have some fun.

Volvo-S60-R-Design-driving

Coming into a corner, the heft of the Volvo S60’s plush interior, electronic assistants and safety-laden chassis is felt against the brakes. Stopping power is good, however, and it provides honest feedback when adjusting momentum to get the nose tucked in, despite the pedal’s softness after its initial bite. Bigger brakes would be welcomed, but they’re not really required within the natural ability of the R-Design’s handling.

Through the twisty bits, the torque steer is not immediately obvious, and up to a point the chassis is able to negotiate itself through a couple of opposing bends at spirited pace. It’s when the throttle is planted further that the suspension shows signs of giving up.

Because of the car’s ability to behave so well for reasonably spirited driving, it begs the question: What if you to try harder? But it’s around this point that the dampers can’t keep up and the ride gets a little spongy and less inspiring.

Better control of the Volvo S60 T5 R-Design’s weight would require some tweaking; perhaps the Polestar’s adjustable Ohlins could be added to the options list for those looking for ‘sweat of the palms’ driving.

That said, there’s plenty of fun to be created, and the eight-speed automatic provides good response through the steering wheel-mounted polished metal shifters. The soft touch backing is… a nice touch.

Volvo-S60-R-Design-engine

The gears don’t always hold and they will flick up a gear without user input if you’re on the rev-limit in manual mode. Especially annoying when mid-corner or modulating throttle, it’s something tends to happen when you most want to exploit the Volvo S60 T5 R-Design’s ability.

Sitting inside and watching the trees whir by is a pleasant experience. The Belgian-made luxury sedan features restrained styling that works well. Leg room is ample and the cabin feels spacious, although the seat sits a little high and doesn’t provide much negotiation when trying to get the perfect seating position.

Volvo-S60-R-Design-interior

The controls are where they need to be without making you fuss to fidget with them. The seats are tightly upholstered in black leather and the support is not overly aggressive, but still provides stability when cornering.

Volvo-S60-R-Design-Rear

The digital display dash can be changed from speedo to tachometer, with the Road Sign Information (RSI) sitting in centre to keep you from creeping over the speed limit.

The sum of the car’s parts create a competent luxury sports sedan. It’s great for the daily commute, sitting in a well-equipped interior with enough space for the kids to fade into the rear seats. It’s also a solid performer on more exciting roads, with the engine providing good power, but is hampered by its suspension and lack of a firmer road handling manner.

The R-Design isn’t a flat out performance variant of the Volvo S60; for that you’ll need to fork out more for the Polestar. However, at $63,990, excluding on-road costs, it’s a worthy opponent to its German rivals, and choosing between them, the main difference will come down to personal preference.

Volvo-S60-R-Design-Front-Hero

Specs  2015 Volvo S60 R-Design
Price  $63,990 (plus on-road costs)
Engine  1969cc four-cylinder turbo
Gearbox  Eight-speed automatic
Power  180kW at 5500rpm
Torque  350Nm at 1500-4800rpm
Weight  1602kg
Power to weight  8.90kg/kW
Wheels  18-inch alloy
Tyres  235/40/18
Drive Front
Fuel 6.4L/100km

 

2015 Volvo S60 R-Design Review
Volvo's luxury sports sedan performs well, while leaving room for dynamic improvement.
Performance70%
Features80%
Handling65%
Comfort81%
Highlights
  • Responsive engine
  • Cabin is a good place to be
  • Sporty styling
Needs Improving
  • Suspension needs tweaking
  • Engaging sports mode is little underwhelming
  • Where's the noise?
74%Comfortable performer
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)
80%

About The Author

Editor

Sometimes known to whisper to gravel, Alex crafted his early childhood driving skills in an old 260z on the back roads of country Australia. Having spent over a decade as an automotive photographer and freelance journalist he combines his wisdom to produce the unique content that is Trailing Throttle. t: @alexsrae