Volvo has long been the “safe choice” in more ways than one. The brand’s reputation is steeped in safety, but for the past 30 years “luxury with a hint of performance” has been a secondary focus. Even still, arriving at the country club in a Volvo won’t bring out the green-eyed-monster. Your fellow socialites will just think you were being safe and practical. Volvo may be the Birkenstock of the automotive world, but that doesn’t prevent them from creating the occasional irrational vehicle. While Volvo isn’t ready commit to build the insane 508HP S60R, they will sell you the most powerful small crossover in America: the 2012 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD R-Design with Polestar. (If you don’t count the bat-s**t-crazy (in a good way) Nissan Juke R. Michael Karesh was able to wrangle an XC60 R-Design out of a local dealer for a quick take in December, but what’s the Polestar tweaked XC like to live with for a week? Click through the jump to find out.
Manufacturers rarely realize where their best opportunities lie.
Case in point, Think about the overload of SUV’s that were offered in North America by 2005. Everyone had one. Even sports car companies were getting in on the act.
Likewise, the $50,000 mid-level convertible market now has more manufacturers competing in it than the minivan market. Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, Infiniti, Nissan, Porsche and Volvo all have at least one player in this market segment.
Do all these competitors translate into strong sales and profits for all? As we say in the redneck locales of Georgia, “Hell No!”. All of these models generate about 50,000 units a year altogether, and that total is spread between 12 models. Most of them are cookie cut from a more mainstream model.
Overall, sales translate into a bit less than two months worth of Chrysler minivan sales in the USA & Canada. Mid-level convertibles have never been a big market over the last 30 years and to be frank, if half these competitors ceased to exist, few would miss them.
With that said, should the Volvo C70 become one of the dodo’s?
While Volvo has had the occasional flirtation with performance (the 850R and S60R/V70R twins spring immediately to mind) the Swedish brand is most know for a dedication to safety. It was safety that attracted me to buy my first Volvo, a 1998 S70 T5 (5-speed manual of course), but it was performance that resulted in my second Volvo purchase, a 2006 V70R (6-speed manual). Unlike my Swedespeed.com brothers, however I had no delusions about the future of the R brand as Volvo doubled-down on their core. The R-Design models are a concession to speed freaks with a Swedish soft spot. Let’s see if they can fill the void.
With Saab’s death dragging on month after month, fans of Sweden’s plucky little auto industry haven’t had much to celebrate recently. Volvo launched the most powerful car in its history, the 325-horspower Volvo S60 T6 R-Design, and hardly anyone bothered to notice. When one of the buff books got around to testing the compact all-wheel-drive sport sedan, they compared it to a four-pot front-wheel-drive Buick, and concluded that the Buick is better. Against the Audi S4 I found the S60 a clear second. Those seeking a segment-leading Swede need not despair, though. Just do what I did right after driving the S60 in Charleston, WV, and check out a different, less mature segment: compact premium SUVs. The XC60 T6 R-Design, with a couple of power bumps since it was introduced two years ago, might just be the best of the bunch. Read More >
Although it might not be evident from my review of the T5, I really, really want to like the Volvo S60. Why? Because unlike the Audi and BMW with which it’s intended to compete, it’s not the obvious choice. We cognoscenti live to unearth hidden gems, great cars of which the general public is unaware. Volvo used to be on the general public’s car map, but fell off during Ford’s ownership. For driving enthusiasts, the 325-horsepower 2012 S60 T6 R-Design is the most promising Volvo in quite some time, perhaps forever. Its specs suggest it can go toe-to-toe with the Audi S4. And? Read More >
Quite a few of you balked at the idea of a $47,610 not-quite-midsize Volvo sedan. Well, for 2012 a T5 joins the S60 range. While the T6 might venture a bit deep into Audi and BMW territory, with a $31,850 base price the T5 is within striking distance of the similarly semi-premium front-drive Acura TSX and Buick Regal. But how much of the T6’s self-proclaimed naughtiness must one do without? Is the more affordable T5 a match for the Acura and Buick, much less the Germans?
Judge me if you must, but when I think of “naughty Swede,” NSFW images of a blonde au pair in a slutty French maid outfit flash in my head. It therefore struck me as a bit odd that Volvo, long known for being the Birkenstock of the auto, would start running TV and internet ads calling the new S60 “naughty.” What exactly is a naughty Volvo? As the former owner of a V70R, I had to hit Volvo up for one to find out.
Remember the 240? Volvo clearly wishes you didn’t. Instead, they’d rather you think of the thoroughly redesigned 2011 S60 T6 as “naughty” despite a bevy of new safety features. Just a tease—again—or does this Volvo actually put out?
Not so long ago Volvo attempted to poach some customers from BMW by offering high-performance R variants of the S60 sedan and V70 wagon. Then it decided these weren’t selling well enough to justify the expense of developing them. So now we’re offered “R-Design” variants instead. These involve larger wheels, a mildly stiffened suspension, and a slew of styling tweaks. Not part of the recipe: additional horsepower. Halfway through the 2010 model year the XC60 gained such a variant. All sizzle, or is there some steak here as well?
Over the bridge and through the woods till mödrars hus vi gor. When Volvo first started their love affair with jacked up wagons equipped with AWD and some extra ride height, they had two groups in mind: The Swedes that live in rural Sweden with miles of unpaved dirt roads in the forest which turn to mud in the long dark winter, and the American soccer mom who thinks she needs an SUV like vehicle to cross the puddle in the Neiman Marcus parking lot. Thanks to our recently departed leader Robert Farago, we know how the XC60 does on pavement, but since Volvo offered to give us an XC60 for a week, I decided to take a different approach and review the XC60 in the dirt back-roads of coastal northern California and the icy roads of the Sierra Nevada to see if you can actually combine living off the grid and “Scandinavian luxury.”