Thumbs Up: The sexiest Volvo ever, with performance to match.
Thumbs Down: No six-speed manual, busy center stack controls.
Buy This Car If: You’re looking for an Audi A4 or BMW 335iX alternative.
I’ve never been a Volvo guy. Maybe it was their conservative, boxy-but-safe styling, or their Swedish sensibility, or their focus on safety above all else. Even the legendary Volvo turbo wagons failed to impress me; sure, they were the fastest station wagons you could buy, but that was like saying the Big Mac is the most sophisticated culinary masterpiece on the McDonald’s menu. Volvos, at least in my eyes, were the cars you bought when you really wanted something else, but needed a safe family sedan or station wagon.
That was until I drove the 2012 S60 T6 R-Design, which has utterly changed my view of Volvo. I loved the car, and would go so far as to say that I’ve even consider buying one if my transportation needs and budget differed from their present state. The styling is drop-dead gorgeous, and in my eyes the S60 T6 R-Design is among the best looking cars on the market today. Yes, I said “cars,” and not “Volvos.” There simply isn’t a bad line on the car, nor does it have a ugly angle. Some would say the front end is a bit busy, but I think it works well on the car and serves to make the S60 T6 stand out from the rest of the luxury and sport sedan herd.
There are plenty of cars calling themselves “four door coupes” these days, but the Volvo manages to carry off the look without calling it out in their marketing. The sloping roofline and decreasing greenhouse, coupled with the large rear window, give the car a near sports-coupe appearance, and Volvo uses subtle hints (like the silver mirrors and titanium colored rear diffuser) to remind you that the S60 T6 R-Design isn’t your dad’s Volvo.
That’s not to say it’s perfect, and there are two glaring flaws in an otherwise superb sport sedan. First, the controls on the center stack are small and busy, making them a challenge to figure out and to use, especially on the road. There seems to be neither rhyme nor reason to their layout, and you’re never quite sure if you’re adjusting the temperature, changing the zoom on the nav system or turning up the audio volume. You get used to them over time, but don’t expect to jump in an S60 and figure out the nav / infotainment system on the fly.
The second flaw is the transmission. There’s nothing really wrong with the six-speed “Geartronic” auto transmission, but it’s out of place in a car with sporting intentions. There are no paddle shifters (although the gear selector can be used to sequentially select gears) and gear changes aren’t exactly sport-sedan quick. In an S60 T5, the gearbox would be just fine, but it does detract from an otherwise superb sport sedan. I know the market for manual transmissions is small (and declining), but with the right six-speed manual the Volvo S60 T6 R-Design could be completely transformed.
That’s not likely to happen, and the current Geartronic transmission is good enough to satisfy the vast majority of shoppers. The interior delivers what customers have come to expect from Volvo, including outlandishly comfortable front seats, with deep side bolsters for spirited driving, Contrasting stitching and sculpted seat panels make the front seats as beautiful to look at as the rest of the car.
That aesthetic theme is carried over onto the rear seats as well, which also get sculpted panels and contrasting stitching. To ensure that the driver has unobstructed rear visibility, the rear passenger headrests have a “power folding” feature that’s activated from a button on the center stack. That little touch gives you an idea of the amount of thought behind the Volvo S60’s interior design.
Instruments feature deep blue faces trimmed in silver, with LCD information displays in their centers. Volvo calls them “watch dial” instruments, and they do indeed look like the face of an expensive chronograph. They’re easy to read and add a unique style to the R-Design’s interior.
Complaints about the center stack controls aside, the dash does a good job of blending colors, textures and shapes. The bulk of the dash is covered in a coarse-grained, soft-touch vinyl that’s unlike anything else I’ve seen on the market. The steering wheel is perfectly sized and shaped, and earns a place on my “top ten steering wheels of all time” list. Overall, the interior has an upscale feel to it, and it’s distinctly different than luxury car interiors from Infiniti, BMW or Audi.
Under the S60 T6’s shapely hood lies a turbocharged inline six engine, which sends 325 horsepower and 354 lb.-ft. of torque to all four wheels. That’s enough to get you to sixty from a standstill in under six seconds, and the power is remarkably linear across the engine’s range. Off-idle acceleration can be a bit abrupt until you’re used to modulating the accelerator, but it won’t take the average driver long to get used to. Fuel economy depends on how enthusiastically you use the throttle; the EPA says you can expect 18 mpg city and 26 mpg on the highway, and I saw an indicated 19.3 in mostly-city driving.
Another nice feature of the S60 T6 R-Design is the adjustable steering feel, which lets drivers choose how heavy they want the steering to be. Even on the firmest setting, the steering never felt too heavy, and it never felt artificial, like you were driving a computer simulation of what steering effort should feel like. Despite the car’s AWD layout, the front wheels still manage to communicate quite well to the driver, and the overall feel of the S60 T6 is impressive. The suspension is firm without being harsh, and there’s very little body roll in corners. Even though the S60 T6 R-Design comes with all season tires, turn-in was immediate with manageable understeer when pushed hard. If you were to mount up a set of more performance-oriented tires, the S60 T6 R-Design would provide reasonable entertainment value on the the occasional track day or high-performance driving event.
If safety is a concern, rest assured that the S60 T6 R-Design stay’s true to Volvo’s roots. In addition to things like a high-strength steel safety cage, the car gets a full complement of airbags, traction control, stability control (with a “Sport Mode,” that allows a bit more wheel slip) and Volvo’s “City Safety” system, which will automatically brake the car at speeds below 19 miles per hour to reduce the chance of an impact.
Volvo bills the S60 as the “naughty Volvo,” and I’d discourage you from buying into that hype. As the fastest of the S60 offerings, I’d call the S60 T6 R-Design the “overachieving Volvo,” since it’s one of the few models in the product catalog capable of drawing in new buyers to Volvo showrooms. Better still, it’s got the performance potential to live up the car’s styling, and neither ride nor handling will disappoint the vast majority of those shopping for an AWD sport sedan. The S60 T6 R-Design isn’t perfect, but I’d put it near the top of my “most impressive cars of the year” list.
Volvo provided the press fleet tester for my review. My 2012 Volvo S60 T6 R-Design had a base sticker price of $43,375, including a destination charge of $875. Options on my tester included the $2,700 Multimedia Package (premium audio system, rear park assist camera, voice controlled navigation system) and the $800 Climate Package (heated front seats, heated windshield washer nozzles, headlight washers, rain-sensing wipers, interior air quality system) for a total sticker price of $46,875. For comparison, a similarly equipped BMW 335iX would sell for $56,600, while a comparable Audi A4 2.0T Prestige would list at $48,675.