To the pro audio crowd, boom and sizzle is a descriptive insult. The extreme overemphasis of low and high frequencies makes a strong first impression that often wows the uninformed. The 2014 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design is a boom and sizzle kind of car.
Let’s review for a minute what an S60 is underneath all the Norse mythology. A Ford Mondeo. Other EUCD platform-mates include luminaries such as the Land Rover LR2 and Ford Galaxy. All are fine enough, but only Audi has been able to transform similarly modest front-drive roots into a credible premium European luxury brand.
The Volvo S60’s basic engineering is good stuff. Compared to the original S60 the structural rigidity is up overall, the suspension’s springs, bushings, dampers and mounting points are stiffer, and Volvo says it paid particular attention to removing flex from the steering column. This information is old news; the second generation of the S60 debuted at the Geneva Motor Show in 2010. Since then, Volvo has been tweaking and tweezing a little bit every year. The tinkering has culminated in a new front end for 2014, which makes the newest S60s easy to spot on the road. “There goes a Volvo fan,” you’ll say.
The S60 T6 R-Design AWD is the ultimate Volvo fan’s Volvo. The new front end sheetmetal wraps around the big-honker 3.0 liter turbocharged inline six cylinder. This is the engine that lets Volvo brag about kicking BMW’s ass. By the numbers, it’s a solid upper-cut. The transverse six peaks at 325 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque, enough that you can show the small blue Polestar emblem on the trunklid to just about anyone. It’s a powerful, responsive engine, with a lot of midrange guts thanks to the turbine-fed lungs. The engine is the boom, a piston-powered subharmonic synthesizer to shake the room, if you will.
The sizzle is delivered by the styling. More specifically, the R-Design gingerbread. The standard S60 tries its best to be distinctive, which mostly means it’s got front- and rear-end treatments evolved from the now-seminal 1998 S80. In between are slabby doors with as much sculpting as Volvo could muster. The new-for-2014 front end is made up of larger headlights, a bigger, re-shaped grille, new quarter panels and a hood that’s got more figuring stamped into it. It helps the S60 banish the occasional whiff of anteater you’d glance in the 2011-2013 models. It’s the sharp end of bland styling.
To make it look more special, Volvo gives the R-Design the Euro-equivalent of a 1950’s chrome bonanza. That means metallized accents like the mirror caps, a chrome accent around the windows, a special R-Design grille with a badge denoting its specialness, diffuser-ish looking trim on the rear bumper and dual exhaust tips that are more better-er than other S60s. I was also treated to the upgraded 19” Ixion wheels. This made the Haldex all-wheel drive system work extra-hard in the winter, thanks to the ridiculous aspect ratio and tires without a snowflake on the sidewall.
The only option for shifting is a pity of a six-speed automatic. You do get the obligatory manual gate so you can pretend you’re in control, but shift paddles or no, the transmission is in charge and response is slow. Leave it in Drive and don’t expect too much and you’ll be fine. The all-wheel drive tames the Scandinavian wrestling match that used to happen in the feisty T-square days. One thing I was surprised to learn: The S60 will hang its tail out in the right conditions. You have to tell the stability control to stand down first, but it’s a bit of behavior that lends credibility to the performance overtures Volvo is making here.
The turbo six is very responsive, and it’s maybe too much engine for the rest of this car. The power is all-in quickly, with a torque response plot that looks like a line drawing of a sofa table. I never wanted for power, and the R-Design trim comes with a sportier chassis tune and a strut tower brace to work in tandem with the stiff structure. The spec sheet looks good, but it doesn’t gel as well as the numbers might suggest. Remember, the competition is Audi, BMW and Mercedes, along with Cadillac, Lexus, Acura, and Infiniti, too. Tough room.
The S60s competes on its wits and value more than its capabilities as a sedan that can hang with the high-performing competition. In other words, it’s like a wheeled pop song with smiley-face EQ. The numbers are one thing, but you have to endure a stiff-kneed ride and dull steering. The sporty all-seasons on the S60 I drove probably didn’t help steering feedback during a deep winter cold snap, either. The big wheels clop about tangibly, even if the S60 stays stuck pretty well to the road. There’s head-toss, and my admittedly overabundant supply of body fat took to jiggling uncomfortably thanks to the suspension tuning. For all the turgidity, there’s still more body roll than I expected. The back seat is tight, so is the trunk, and the joie de conduissez isn’t as deep or accessible in the Volvo, even as competition like the 3 Series is getting knocked for going soft. The S60 T6 AWD is a hell of a drag racer, though.
The interior is done with Volvo flair. That means great basic ergonomics, though there are a lot of small buttons on the center stack. Platinum-package outfitting in my test car means I got to experience all the options, from a great-sounding 12-speaker premium audio system to power-retracting side mirrors to navigation. I also spent the first few hours figuring out how everything works – Volvos remain quirky that way. I never did warm up to the navigation and infotainment interface. It’s laggy, slow and cumbersome. Redundant controls on the steering wheel spokes help. Otherwise, you’re left adjusting stuff with a rotary dial and multi-layered menus.
The instrument cluster is driver-oriented. A large central speedometer and left and right LCDs display information clearly. You can select between display themes, which will also change the information displayed. The choice of information display is a nice touch, and I was most amused by the “Power” modulometer. My test car had all sorts of stuff, driving the price up. It had the Climate Package, Technology Package, Volvo Sensus Connected Touch with Navigation, Blind Spot Information System with Front and Rear Park Assist, and those 19″ wheels with summer tires. The result of all that up-fitting is a price tag around $54,500.
Materials in the R-Design are top-notch for the class. This is where some of that Volvo value proposition comes shining through. You get leather seating, classy textured metal and tasteful satin-finish trim rings. The seats are generally very comfortable, but the overly-aggressive head restraints force weird posture and they’re non-adjustable. This has been an unfortunate Volvo trait for a while. In the R-Design, the seats get handsome contrast stitching and R-Design logos embossed in the seatbacks.
In practical matters, the S60 T6 R-Design is solid for the class. The 12 cubic foot trunk is small, but so is everyone elses’, and the rear seatbacks do fold down. Good luck with that tiny trunk opening, though. Fuel economy was 22 mpg during my time with the car, or what you’ve been able to expect from turbo Volvos since forever. You could crest 30 mpg on the highway pretty easily, especially if you keep your boot out of the power and let the adaptive cruise control handle things. The self-regulating cruise control is admirably well-tuned, though it’s still more herky-jerky than an attentive driver. It’ll bug you if you abhor the use of brakes as a speed-control technique on the highway, as I do.
You’ll have a hard time getting a BMW 3 Series, Audi S4, or Mercedes C Class as well-equipped and muscled-up as the S60 T6 R-Design for the Volvo’s price tag of $43,000 to start. Even though my test car was loaded, it’s still price-competitive when you compare the competition with all those features piled on. It’s easy to appreciate the high-quality interior, the distinctive styling, and solid value.
The S60 is a well-built car, my flip comments about its platform origins aside. Most people will be easily wowed by the impressive engine and wouldn’t know what to do with a competent chassis, anyway. For those that know, however, the S60 T6 R-Design is a 7/10ths execution on performance measures. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just not as satisfying as the excellence available for similar money in this class. Volvo earns a 9/10ths on the luxury car side of things, though, which is where you’ll sacrifice in other brands for a better driving experience. It’s a valid tradeoff, and for the public at large, the S60 T6 R-Design has got it where it counts. A four-on-the-floor disco track is never going to impress a Jazz Cat who wants nimbly-executed changes in 11/4 time.