By on May 7, 2010

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?

Proportioned more like an SUV than the wagon-based XC70 but lower and more car-like than the larger XC90, the XC60 seeks out a happy medium between the two vehicle types. A diagonally bisected trapezoidal grille, sizable shoulders, and tall twisty tail lamps mark it as a Volvo. In standard form the XC60 looks interesting but also a bit odd, with a pinched midsection and overly long nose. Volvo clearly tried to break further out of its traditional box with this one, and the results seem mixed…until you see the R-Design. Add body color, silver-accented rockers and attractive 20-inch five-spoke alloys, and suddenly the crossover’s curves and proportions work. So transformed, the XC60 T6 R-Design looks tight and athletic, and more distinctive than the competitor Audi touts as distinctive. I hadn’t realized that the regular XC60’s black lower body cladding and smaller wheels were doing the underlying form such a disservice.

The interior undergoes less of a transformation. The instruments have blue faces, the leather seats have contrasting inlays, and textured aluminum replaces brushed aluminum on the center stack. Tastefully restrained Scandinavian design, floating center stack, semi-premium materials with no untoward glitz—you’re in a Volvo. If you want outright luxury, go elsewhere.

Another sign you’re in a Volvo: the front seats. Neither too hard nor too soft and shaped for long-distance comfort, these seats probably trail only safety among the reasons to buy a Volvo. This said, those in the last true R cars were larger, even more comfortable, and provided more lateral support. There’s not a lot of room in the front seat, but the driving position is about perfect, and the A-pillars are thinner than most these days despite Volvo’s safety emphasis. The back seat is high enough off the floor and smartly contoured to provide adults with lumbar and thigh support, but knee room is in short supply. The XC60 is truly a compact crossover. You might find large-car quantities of rear legroom in mainstream cute utes like the CR-V and RAV4, but not here. The Audi doesn’t offer much more, but only the EX35 offers less. Cargo room is similarly just adequate. If you want more, there’s always the XC90.

In the U.S. the XC60 is offered with a 235-horsepower 3.2-liter naturally aspirated inline six and a 281-horsepower turbocharged 3.0-liter variant of the same. The R-Design is offered only with the latter— though bereft of a bespoke engine, performance does remain part of the R equation. It seems odd, a transversely-mounted inline six. But the turbo 3.0 feels so smooth and sounds so delightful, you wonder why anyone bothers with a V. Or with an inline five for that matter. Some premium car buyers might wish the engine were a bit less vocal, and more in line with the low levels of wind and road noise, but anyone who loves driving will dip deeper into the throttle just to make it sing. If only Ford’s 3.5-liter “EcoBoost” V6 sounded or felt nearly this good. Thrust with the Volvo turbo six isn’t at EcoBoost levels, but there’s more than enough for all but the most enthusiastic drivers. It makes a great case for quality of power delivery over quantity.

Not that the quantity of power delivered is bad—the T6 powerplant is only 19 horsepower short of the last R engine, a more aggressively boosted 2.5-liter five-cylinder. Paired exclusively with a manually-shiftable six-speed automatic, it’ll get you to sixty in about seven seconds. And yet, 281 horsepower isn’t much for a turbocharged 3.0-liter. Would it be that hard to dial up the boost a bit, if only to make the R-Design a little more special?

Elsewhere, boost could stand to be taken down a notch, or at least finessed. Steering effort isn’t overly light, and weighting is decent, but there’s an omnipresent syrupy numbness that has characterized Volvo steering for as far back as I can remember. Even the R cars were similarly afflicted. On the other hand, even with the XC60 T6 R-Design’s huge low-profile tires the suspension strikes a very good balance between handling and ride comfort. The R-Design certainly has none of the feel of a sports car, but it doesn’t feel large or bulky and takes curves with commendable balance and poise. There’s no plow, no float, no rocking, and no harshness. So why bother with the standard suspension that underpins other XC60s? Relative to the competition, this is Volvo’s best handling vehicle. But not the best-handling vehicle in the segment—that continues to be the BMW X3, followed by the Audi Q5. Note to Volvo: fix the steering.

With a base price of $42,400, the XC60 T6 R-Design starts $3,750 higher than the regular T6. But the R-Design’s standard xenons and sunroof account for two grand of that. $1,750 seems a more than reasonable amount to pay for the R-Design’s larger wheels, massaged suspension, and styling tweaks. With options, you’re in the mid-to-high forties. Seem high? Well, run the XC60 T6 R-Design and the Audi Q5 through TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, which similarly configures both vehicles then adjusts for remaining feature differences, and you’ll find that the Teutonic crossover runs a significant four-to-five grand higher.

It’s always disappointing to see a marque’s ambitions scaled back, and this disappointment could easily have rubbed off on the R-Design cars. The XC60 T6 R-Design isn’t quite an R inside the engine compartment, and this is a bit of a shame since true R status is only a few pounds of boost away. But it’s quick regardless, the R-Design tweaks do dramatically improve the exterior styling and finesse the ride-handling compromise, and the price is competitive. So, while the T6 R-Design isn’t a home run without further tweaks to the engine and steering, it’s a strong contender and clearly the one to get if you’re getting a Volvo XC60.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online provider of auto reliability and pricing data

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28 Comments on “Review: Volvo XC60 T6 R-Design...”

  • avatar

    A shame about the steering, as to my eyes, this is Volvo’s most attractive vehicle. I’ve heard mileage on the XC60 leaves much to be desired, but then it’s hauling around a lot of weight and wind resistance.

  • avatar

    I didn’t have a chance to measure fuel economy, but I’ve heard the same as you have–an MPG or two below the class averaage. Curb weight at about 4,200 pounds is average for the class, and there are taller compact SUVs. So I’m thinking the engine is to blame.

    I dislike the appearance of the regular XC60, so I was actually quite surprised to like the look of the R-Design so much.

    One potential weakness: Volvo’s spotty record for reliability. The XC60 has been about average so far, based on a limited number of responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey. Will it get worse as the cars age? Too soon to tell.

    Not yet involved in the survey? Details here:

    • 0 avatar

      Saw it at the local car show and it’s really a nice vehicle. We are comparing it to the Q5 and while the Q is a bit more refined in the interior, I prefer the XC for overall style and because it will hold more sutff. That said, the mileage with the T6 is awful. We have an XC90 T6 and that’s the only thing we really dislike about the vehicle. Ok, it’s not a dynamic driver, but it’s a mommymobile. It’s otherwise terrific and has been very reliable.

  • avatar

    In Europe an update to 300HP (as in the new S60) was already announced for the XC60 T6.

  • avatar

    “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.”

    Won’t happen until Volvo learns how to build RWD manual transmission cars again.


    • 0 avatar

      “Won’t happen until Volvo learns how to build RWD cars again.”

      Won´t happen.

      The lack of more hp doesn´t really matter in a turbo car.
      If you need it, there are many manufacturers of tuning boxes.

    • 0 avatar

      BMW is selling more AWD with automatics, so, sadly, they are moving towards Volvo, not the other way around.

    • 0 avatar

      Even when they did sell rear-drive cars with manuals, they weren’t sporty in the way that, say BMW was. Back when Volvo was making those cars, Saab was making front-drivers and the Saabs were definitely more sporting.

      An R-trim Volvo should be somewhat more sporty: faster, a little more solid, perhaps. But chasing BMW is a recipe for brand suicide: a similar effort by Saab (a real effort, not GM’s limp-wristed Vectra-based attempt) would be more credible.

    • 0 avatar


      Unfortunately, everything Volvo did turned out to be suicide. Go lux wrong. Go sport wrong. Don’t know what they should’ve done, but maybe downmarket and selling themselves to those less fortunate could’ve been something.

      Now we have a Geely-Volvo. Not exactly holding my breath.

  • avatar

    Looks like a swagger wagon

  • avatar

    I’ve had the same problems with the standard XC60’s looks, but agree it looks much better in R-guise. I prefer the Q5’s shorter, bolder nose to the Volvo’s, but in the rear and in profile, they’re about equally attractive.

  • avatar

    I think my Mini Clubman has more rear leg room. 4200 pounds seems pretty portly for a 2+2 wagon.

  • avatar

    That manufacturers produce cars of this size that cannot fit a 6 foot human being in the rear seat is pathetic.

  • avatar

    Use the XC60’s NAV and other electronics for 5 minutes and you’ll be running to the Audi dealer. Volvo electronics are THE WORST in the entire auto industry. There’s no excuse for it. Anything from former parent Ford with Sync makes the Volvo look like it was designed in the 1800s.

    I wouldn’t describe what the X3 does as good handling. The steering is surprisingly numb for a BMW. The infamous transmission and throttle response are atrocious, and it rides like the springs have been replaced with cement blocks. Easily the worst car in BMW’s lineup.

  • avatar

    The T6 engine is definitely an under-appreciated motor. I wish Volvo could figure out a way to fit it inside the C70. Although managing torque steer might be a tall order.

    I wonder why Volvo even bothers selling the naturally-aspirated version of the I6 in North America. The EPA gives both engines the same mileage numbers, and these vehicles aren’t exactly cheap to begin with. In fact, I think that the newer 300hp version of the T6 is going to get better fuel economy than the NA 3.2L.

    Also, one thing I don’t like about the R-Design package is that you can’t get the matte wood interior inlays I think are so attractive.

  • avatar

    @Mr. Karesh: A six-footer would fit, but not comfortably.

    Dunno but I suspect in the 3rd world they’d feel privileged and not mind at all.

    Also, Mr. Karesh: the A-pillars are thinner than most these days despite Volvo’s safety emphasis

    No pillars these days need to be thcker than way back then. This is just another stupid styling thing that pleases the buyer, who thibnks its either “safer” or just “cooler” ’cause of perceived toughness and penalizes the driver, who can’t see through them. Kudos to Volvo for bucking this ugly trend.

    • 0 avatar

      Good point about the A pillars, they do look rather svelte. You can almost hide a Suburban behind the pillars in our Element, it’s ridiculous.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m waiting for the day the whole “shoulder-height cowl and gun bunker greenhouse” fad passes, and companies start building cars you can see out of again. This thing is an egregious violator. Looks like a hot-rodder from the fifties got ahold of it and chopped 4-5″ out of the pillars.

  • avatar
    blue adidas

    I love the design of this! Just won’t ever buy a vehicle from a Chinese owned company. I give them enough money as it is.

  • avatar

    I test drove one of these last Friday as the lease on my 2007 XC90 V8 Sport is almost up. I really liked the way it drove and the way the engine sounded. The interior was nice but I don’t really prefer the contrasting inserts on the seats, they are made of a weird, rubbery material.

    All in all though, I find it too small for the price point (kinda like the C30). I’m also not a huge fan of this recent high beltline phase. It seems as though the XC60 is selling well as I see them all over town. As for me, it looks like we are going to have our XC90 certified and keep it post-lease.

    Mr. Karesh, I participate in True Delta and the assessment of our XC90 is spot-on. Not Honda reliable but not at all unreliable either. All concerns have been swiftly addressed by my local Volvo store as well. I would buy another, just not this model. I would probably rather have an XC70 T6 but my dealer didn’t have any to test drive, go figure.

  • avatar

    The 3.2L normally aspirated engine strikes me as kind of pointless — 235 hp is not a lot for a modern 3.2-liter engine, and it’s not that much more economical than the turbo engine (I think it takes premium, too). I suppose it’ll probably be easier to maintain and fix, but it doesn’t make a strong case for itself.

  • avatar

    Maybe its just me, but mid to high $40s for a compact CUV is insane. I honestly can’t see one reason to pay that much money for something that is no more practical than any number of sedans or wagons that look and drive better

  • avatar

    Can they just bring us the damn V60 station wagon? Please? But no — like Infiniti, they instead give us a freaking CUV with less space, sloppier handling, worse MPG and a higher price than the station wagon version of the sedan would have.

    Speaking of which, Volvo is giving up the only category in which they excel and dominate, the premium wagon category. That’s right: the V70, the car which has defined the category for years, will no longer be exported to the States. Granted, maybe they screwed the pooch when they traded the powerful-yet-economical 5cyl turbos for a tepid-yet-thirsty six, but that shouldn’t have been enough to kill off a legendary line. More a failure of marketing, methinks, and self-fulfilling prophecies about “customers prefer crossovers” preventing dealers from ordering any…

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