Safety. Reliability. Swedish stolidity. That’s what you think of when you think of Volvo. For the most part, that’s what the Swedish automaker wants you to think. The Swedes have a philosophy that permeates their society, called lagom. It describes a state of being just good enough to evoke a sense of comfortable satisfaction. Not too good, so as to be extravagant or showy, and not too bad, as to be obviously flawed or defective.
Still, Volvo actually has a long and storied rally racing history. And, if you look at the Volvo product line carefully enough, you’ll see the hand of Polestar Racing is still involved in the brand.Case in point, the T6 R-spec version of Volvo’s otherwise dreary S60 base sedan. The base S60, despite having 250 HP engine, is all wrong. It has an odd 5-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive. Polestar, Volvo’s in-house racing division, has corrected all of that with the R-Design T6 model. The 3l, turbocharged, 6-cylinder powerplant puts out 325 HP and 354 lb-ft of torque, which is more than you’ll ever need on public roads.
How it looks
It’s clearly a Volvo. It has a Volvo nose. It has a Volvo rear. It’s not…ugly. Nor is it beautiful. Or even distinctive. And not only on the outside.
It must be said that the S60 is more utilitarian than elegant. There’s nothing at all actually wrong with it, and it’s nice enough inside, but even sitting on the well-bolstered leather seats, you don’t actually think you’re sitting in a luxury car. The metal trim bits are actually metal, and the dash is covered with soft-touch materials, so it certainly doesn’t look or feel cheap. But, when you sit in even a base-trim Jaguar XF, there’s no no doubt whatsoever that you’re sitting in a European luxury sedan. When you sit in the top-of-the-line S60…there is.
Still, it has all the bells and whistles you’d expect. It has all the technology a modern luxury car should have. The steering wheel adjusts in every direction, and is festooned with all the requisite thumb controls. It has bluetooth and voice control, as well as sat-nav and USB connectivity.
But, look at that center console. The sat-nav screen is an adequate 6 inches, but that’s actually on the small side. Even the Dodge Challenger has a 8-inch touch screen. The center console is brushed aluminum instead of plastic, but all of the buttons are claustrophobically clustered in a tiny area in the middle. It has keyless entry and start, but with a big hole in the dashboard to insert your electronic key fob, though there is no reason for you to do so. It’s like the luxury car pieces are all there—sat-nav, aluminum instead of plastic, keyless start—but they’re all clunkily and inelegantly designed.
So,the S60's looks and luxury aren’t great. Great wouldn’t be lagom. Which I suppose makes the S60 quintessentially Swedish. Everything about the way it looks—inside and out—is just good enough to be satisfactory.
But, in a car that’s supposed to be the Swedish equivalent of the BMW 335i, being good enough…isn’t. As a non-Swede, it leaves you with the vague feeling that it should be better, in precisely the same way that a BMW does not.
It should be noted, though, that the leather seats are comfortable, and there is plenty of head and leg room, both front and back. The trunk is big, too.
How it drives
The R-Design S60 will hit 60 MPH from a standing start in about 5.5 seconds, which is properly quick for a mid-sized sedan. The AWD system offers fantastic grip, and the S60 is perfectly happy to strafe the curves.
The steering is precise and well-weighted at speed. The suspension is compliant, but stiffens up nicely in sport mode, when it becomes clear that the suspension and chassis are stiffer than your usual family sedan. At nearly 3900 lbs., the S60 is a bit on the porky side, which is inevitable with the added weight of an AWD system. The extra weight induces some noticeable body roll in the corners, but it doesn’t really detract from the S60's willingness.
Sadly, what does detract from the willingness is turbo lag. In the S60, you brake into a corner, tromp on the accelerator at the apex and…wait. In the fullness of time, the S60 decides you really want to accelerate, and vroom, you’re off. The acceleration can be neck-snappingly fast, but it cuts in a second or two later than you wanted it to.
All of the above, however, is with the traction control off. With the traction control on, the S60 is a nightmare. It constantly stops you from having any fun whatsoever. Tromp on the accelerator at any speed, and the traction control steps in immediately. It’s worse than a nanny. It’s like having your mother in control of the accelerator. It could not accelerate out of a paper bag. You’ll want to turn the traction control off immediately. And you have to do that every time you start the car. It’s also inconvenient to turn off, requiring that you do it through the center screen, rather than pressing a button on the console.
Braking, on the other hand, is fantastic. The brakes have terrific feel, with smooth, straight stops and a well-modulated ABS system that exhibits no irritating juddering.
What’s good about it
The S60 has a wonderfully powerful engine, great grip, chassis, steering and suspension. The leather seats are comfortable and well-bolstered. The price is wonderfully attractive as well, which, at around $47,000, comes in at least $5,000 below the price of a Cadillac CTS, BMW 3-series, or Mercedes C-Class. You can get a much more powerful V-8 American sedan, such as the Dodge Charger/Chrysler 300, but they aren’t much cheaper, and aren’t as nice inside, though the 300 is close. It is a Volvo, however, which means it will be reliable, it will last forever, and it has every safety feature imaginable. They’re bears for safety, the Swedes.
What’s bad about it
The turbo lag is irritating, and the traction control is horrifically intrusive. It could also be faster, but the 6-speed automatic transmission hinders both acceleration and fuel economy. Both Audi’s S4 and the BMW 3-series have less powerful engines, but their 8-speed gearboxes make them noticeably quicker to accelerate to speed, and produce better gas mileage. As mentioned previously, for the price, it should just be nicer inside. It’s Ford Focus nice, but not Jaguar XF nice.
The R-Design S60 T6 is attractive. It’s comfortable inside. It’s fast and powerful. Sadly, every other competitor’s car is a bit nicer, a bit faster, and bit more attractive. So, it’s good enough to be considered a competent and well-handling sports sedan. But, in the Swedish spirit of lagom, it can’t be considered a great one. Still, when you consider the significantly cheaper price of the S60,”good enough” might just be good enough to buy one.