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Volvo S60 R Test

The high-performance S60 R will change the way you think about Volvos!

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar and Volvo

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At a glance...

  • Sensational, accessible performance
  • Excellent handling balance and grip
  • The next generation of AWD sophistication
  • Huge brakes
  • Extremely comfortable
  • Well built and safe
  • Poor rear space
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Wow - this is our kind of car!

Forget any hang-ups you might have about Volvos. The new S60 R offers breathtaking turbo power, wonderful drivability, AWD grip, balanced handling and monster brakes all in a very well built and comfortable package. Heck, it even looks kinda cool!

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One of the knockout features of the S60 R is its 2.5 litre five-cylinder engine – it’s everything a modern turbo engine should be. Throttle response and flexibility are excellent and there’s immense acceleration from very low revs. Consider the S60 R’s factory quoted torque output for a moment – there’s 400Nm from just 1950 rpm...

Few vehicles can match the low-down slog of the S60 R – big-cube V8s included!

That 400Nm torque peak is held all the way to 5250 rpm – and that’s where you’ll find the S60 R’s full 220kW hit. There’s not much point revving the long-stroke engine past peak power because it runs out of puff as it approaches the 6500 redline.

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Displacing 2.5 litres, the all-alloy, in-line five employs a DOHC head with 4 valves per cylinder. The R receives strengthened internals, an 8.5:1 static compression ratio, continuously variable inlet and exhaust valve timing and a turbocharger that’s 20 percent larger than found on low-pressure Volvo turbo engines. Charge-air temperature is reduced by dual air-to-air intercoolers and maximum claimed boost pressure is 1.05 Bar (about 15 psi). A stainless high-flow exhaust is also fitted.

In 6 speed manual form (as tested), the S60 R is an absolute doddle to drive thanks to its tremendous spread of torque – you can realistically use second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth gear in almost any urban situation...

But the manual gearbox is far from perfect.

It’s all too easy to push the selector across to the reverse gear gate when you’re looking for fifth or sixth gear. This, much to the alarm of following motorists, causes the reversing lights come on while driving! To make matters worse, once you’ve lost your slot in the gearbox, it’s very difficult to get back on track.

This is the biggest criticism of the S60 R’s entire driveline.

The Auto Option

The Volvo S60 R can be purchased with a 5 speed sequential-shift automatic transmission at no extra cost. Be aware, however, the peak torque output of the auto version is limited to ‘just’ 350Nm.Peak power remains at 220kW. Of course, the automatic S60 R is slower than the 6 speed manual version – not that 7.5 second 0 – 100 km/h performance is slow!

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All of the grunt from the S60 R’s turbocharged five-pot is effectively put to use by an electronically-controlled Haldex AWD system (as used throughout the rest of the Volvo AWD range). No primitive viscous or Torsen-type centre couplings here!

Give it a relatively gentle clutch dump and the S60 R will spin its front tyres for a moment before you’re flung down the road. This is amongst the easiest of AWD turbo cars to get off the line swiftly – and that pays dividends in real-world conditions. We recorded mid 6 second 0 – 100 km/h performance without needing to torture the clutch. Volvo claims 5.7 second 0 – 100s together with a 250 km/h (governed) top speed...

Yes folks, this is the perfect machine to go Subaru WRX or STi hunting!

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Fuel consumption is said to be 10.7 litres per 100 km (combined cycle). On the open road, however, we regularly saw the medium-term trip computer average dipping into the 9s. That means you get a 700-odd kilometre touring range from the 68 litre tank. Note that 98 RON fuel is recommended – given the amount of performance on tap, no surprise .

Throw some roundabouts, hairpins and off-camber corners in front of the S60 R and it’ll gobble them up with ease. The electronically-controlled AWD system means total, confidence-inspiring traction and the 235/40 Pirelli P-Zero Rosso tyres give excellent grip. And don’t think the S60 R is all about grip and no balance. The DSTC (Dynamic Stability and Traction Control) system lets you bring the tail out when you lift off the accelerator sharply before it applies the brakes at the appropriate wheel and brings you back into line.

Great stuff.

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The S60 R also employs Volvo’s so-called Four-C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) technology. The Four-C system incorporates three dashboard buttons that allow you to chose from Comfort, Sport and Advanced chassis modes. Volvo points out that this is not merely a passive three-stage damper arrangement but that the system monitors the action of each wheel (as often as 500 times per second) and adjusts damping force to suit your selected chassis mode. The system also takes into account yaw rate, vertical motion, road speed, engine rpm, throttle request, position and rate of steering movement and more.

So how well does it work?

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Very well. In comfort mode, the S60 R provides a relaxed yet controlled ride with minimal impact harshness. This is the mode we used for the vast majority of our test. But when you want to up the pace, the Sport chassis mode provides firmer damping for flatter cornering and reduced fore-aft pitching. Finally, the Advanced chassis mode is recommended for use only on very smooth bitumen – it gives even firmer damping, which is a bit too severe for use on B-grade roads. Interestingly, Advanced mode also brings extra ignition advance at idle (apparently to promote better launching) as well as a more aggressive electronic throttle control strategy.

And the S60 R isn’t finished yet!

The DSTC can be partially or fully disabled by the driver – in other words, you can select how much handling attitude you want! Press the DSTC button once and the system allows up to around 10 degrees more oversteer before the stability control system intervenes. To fully disable the DSTC, the car must be stationary and the DSTC button pressed five times at a specific frequency. This completely disables the system.

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The S60 R allows handbrake tuns when travelling below 90 km/h and at 10 percent throttle. The AWD system is temporarily disengaged to let you spin it ‘round (not that we tried this!). Note that the electronic AWD system is multiplexed together with the DSTC and Four-C damping system to ensure each system works in harmony.

This really is the next generation of AWD and chassis technology.

Criticisms? We don’t have any except the annoying gearshift gate and a prolonged throttle opening after you’ve backed off. Oh, and there’s also a slight hop from the rear-end over sharp bumps.

The S60 R comes with ZF’s Servotronic speed-sensitive power steering as standard. With high performance use in mind, the R also gets a power steering fluid cooler and a more direct (2.5 turns lock-to-lock) rack and pinion ratio. The steering is fine but the S60 R’s turning circle is, quite frankly, stupidly large. We were often forced to make a 3-point turn where a U-turn should have been possible. Oh, and the front left tyre also rubs when executing a full-lock right turn.

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The brakes on the S60 R are monsters. At the front there are 330 x 32mm ventilated discs and the rear uses 330 x 28mm ventilated discs. And the callipers? Aluminium four-pot Brembos no less. ABS, EBD and EBA (electronic brake assist) ensure consistent, fuss-free stopping. Note, however, the S60 R weighs 1637kg – quite a lot for a medium size sedan.

So how big is the S60 R?

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Well, its external dimensions are difficult to judge by eye – from many angles, the S60 looks bigger than it really is. But there can be no question that interior space is limited. In particular, rear knee and foot space is very poor – believe us when we say a current Mazda2 hatch has more overall rear space...

Some of the points lost for rear passenger space are regained by the S60’s boot, which is simply huge. Capable of swallowing a 424 litres cargo volume (more with the rear backrest folded forward) the S60 has a boot comparable to many larger cars. A space saver spare can be found beneath the false floor and there’s an easy-to-access emergency triangle mounted on the underside of the boot lid.

But back to the lush cabin.

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The R is fitted with heavily contoured leather seats that are amongst the most comfortable and supportive on the market. The driver and front passenger seats also feature memory settings, manual lumbar adjustment and two-stage heating. We have no complaints about the S60’s driving position except for the awkward placement of the handbrake lever and limited foot-well space - don’t expect to drive the S60 wearing a pair of size 14 clogs.

The S60 R comes with a beautifully integrated phone system, intuitive climate control, well-sorted cruise control and rear headrests that fold forward at the touch of a button – great for maximising rear visibility. Once folded forward, however, the headrests must be manually folded back to their usual position.

The R’s also gets exclusive blue gauges with aluminium highlights. These are ultra-trendy but aren’t as clear as a conventional gauge cluster. The R’s leather steering wheel is also very thick-rimmed – some people will have trouble wrapping their hands around it.

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The Dolby Surround Sound audio system – with eleven speakers - is prodigiously powerful. The volume can be turned up to unbearable levels without distortion, but sound quality on FM radio is quite poor. The in-dash 4-disc capacity is also limited – a remote stacker unit would be a welcome addition. More noticeable, however, is the lack of satellite navigation – where is it?

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Safety is, of course, a Volvo forte and the S60 R continues this with front, curtain, front head and chest airbags. There’s also a whiplash protection system, electronically operated child locks and self-dimming centre mirror - these in addition to an extensively crash tested body.

Volvo has got the styling job just right for a Q-ship.

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The S60 is already a fairly eye-catching design, but the R version receives a new nose that extends 30mm further forward than the normal S60 – this gives space for an upgraded cooling system and twin intercoolers. The headlights are wonderfully effective Bi-Xenon jobs and the new front bumper/spoiler assembly reduces aero lift by 25 percent. There’s also a small rear spoiler, which is said to reduce rear aero lift by 20 percent. Engineers have kept the S60 R’s Cd down to 0.29 – only slightly higher than the base S60.

But a lowered stance and big wheels are the most obvious hints that this is no ordinary Volvo. The R’s 5 spoke 18 x 8s wearing big 235/40 Pirellis aren’t exactly garden variety... Also be on the lookout for the R lettering on the boot lid and grille.

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At AUD$98,950, the Volvo S60 R is not a vehicle everyone can afford to buy but it is certainly worth the money. There isn’t another car in this price range we’d rather own – and that includes the 30 percent more expensive Audi S4 V8...

Take a l-o-n-g look at these photos and make damned sure you remember the Volvo S60 R!

The S60 R was provided for this test by Volvo Australia.

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