The Curious Case Of The Volvo S60 R-DesignS

I like what Volvo is doing. After a long period of curious choices and mostly uninspired cars, Volvo has made a few nods towards vehicles that are simultaneously competitive and unique (as opposed to neither). The Volvo S60 R-Design may be the best example of this.

The base S60 is already a good car. It's safe. It handles reasonably well. I think it's attractive in the same way Kate Winslet is attractive; it has an unassuming sort of beauty that gets more obvious under closer scrutiny.

In R-Design trim, it looks even better, with a screaming Rebel Blue (which is French Racing Blue to most people) paint job and comely skewed five-spoke wheels. The interior has all the right go-fast tweaks, although it's a little sterile.

Mechanically, the 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six produces a reported 325 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque, although there's reason to believe Volvo might be sandbagging. These were, formerly, AMG numbers, and makes it more powerful than any other car Volvo has ever sold here.

Other evidence this car might have more grunt than advertised? The thing will hit 60 mph in the low 5-second range and a quarter-mile in the 13s at over 100 mph. That's fast. For the purposes of acceleration, the AWD system is well-tuned and the six-speed auto manages quick shifts.

Driven around town in DSCC Sport mode it manages a nice compromise between fast and comfortable, erring towards comfort. Get on some easy back roads and the stiffer-than-stock suspension makes for fun driving. It stays nicely flat and there's enough power going to the axle behind you that it darts out of turns.

The Curious Case Of The Volvo S60 R-DesignS

Drive it hard and it folds like it's holding a pair of deuces. Assuming you can get into DSCC Sport mode (there's no button, you have to go into a menu in the infotainment), the system attempts to use electronic nannies to balance out the tendency for understeer. This means that, when pushed hard, it randomly induces oversteer.

Not fun.

Also, the automatic transmission in this vehicle is not of the we-forgive-you-for-not-adding-a-manual-because-the-automatic-is-so-good variety. A manual transmission or a different automatic gearbox would make things much better.

So what you end up with is a car that's delightfully quick but not exactly competitive with the M, S, or AMG cars from the rest of Europe (or the V from America), but on par with an IS F-Sport, or Audi S-line. It's also, counterintuitively for a European car, faster in a straight line than it is in the twisty bits. A muscle car. A Swedish meatball. A compromise that, unlike the batty S60 Polestar, is meant to be enjoyed but not punished.

I'm actually ok with this. I want badly for Volvo to bring the S60 Polestar here in larger quantities, but the now Chinese-owned company is basically starting over at zero and I look at this as a gateway drug to bigger, badder, faster things I hope will come.

It also looks great in blue, and if Ashton Kutcher's career is any indication, we'll forgive a lot if we like the way something looks.