If you had to pick a Q-Car, the vehicle you see above would be nobody’s first choice. Something like a Camry V6, a Pentastar Avenger, or perhaps even a Verano Turbo with a Trifecta tune would be a more suitably anonymous roller skate with enough power to pummel most “civilian” cars on the street. Or perhaps a Regal GS. In grey or some other nodescript color. I am thinking about this as I wander aimlessly within my lane on Lakeshore Boulevard, the Polestar-tuned I6 humming along at a sedate 1800 rpm in 6th gear. CBC Radio is broadcasting yet another nebulous documentary extolling Canada’s secular state religion of diversity, as my Costco grocery list scrolls through my head. How banal and bourgeois.
And then I hear the staccato vocalization of a small block Chevy V8 breathing through a set of big pipes. A glance in the mirror reveals a 4th generation Camaro convertible coming up fast behind me in my mirrors. In a flash, he’s past me by a few car lengths, and I can just make out the “SS” badge on the decklid. If I were in another T6-powered Volvo, say, my parents XC60 T6, I’d step on the gas, wait a brief second for the turbo to spool up, and hope that I’d be in the powerband long enough to catch him. With a standard T6, peak power (295 hp) comes in at 5600 rpm while peak torque (325 lb-ft) arrives at 2100-4200 rpm In this car though; 354 lb-ft comes in from 3000-3600 rpm, while all 325 horsepower are available from 5400 all the way to redline. From a roll, this car is a monster.
It doesn’t take long after nailing the throttle for the gap to close between us, and while the Camaro is droning out its V8 song, there’s just a muted hum from the Volvo’s blocky hood, while barely audible diverter valve noises can be heard through the open windows. A red light conspires to bring us next to one another, and I can see him regarding me with the faux-menacing glare typical to most underemployed 20-somethings brimming with insecurities. He’s much more handsome than I am, and his girlfriend is in the passenger seat. I smile and give him the thumbs up.
“You think you can beat me?” No change in demeanor from him.
“Actually, I do.” I respond.
There’s no revving, no theatrics, no Fast and Furious Limp Bizkit sound track despite the corny but spontaneous exchange. But when the light goes green, he disappears behind me. And I didn’t even get a good look at his girlfriend.
When Volvo introduced the S60 in 2011, the Swedes advertised their mid-sized sedan as the naughtiest Volvo ever thanks to a 300HP turbocharged engine. While I’m sure former “R owners” would disagree, the S60 has met with sales success with over 18,000 units sold so far this year, a 14% increase over last year. In 2012 Volvo added a less powerful FWD model to the mix to cut the price of entry. For 2013 Volvo has further expanded the S60 line by adding a torque vectoring AWD system to the lightest S60. Volvo also tells us they have completely refreshed their T5 engine for 2013 and tweaked the transmission for the naughty Volvo’s first retouch ahead of the rumored 2014 refresh. Huh? Yep, Volvo’s gettin’ down with the yearly refresh. Does that make the T5 AWD the naughtiest Volvo ever? Let’s find out.
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?