By on July 13, 2012

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.

Founded in 1996, Polestar is rapidly becoming Volvo’s “pet” tuning company. While they have been “on the scene” for a while in Europe, the fact that Volvo North American is willing to cover Polestar upgrades under the factory warranty shows how serious the marriage is. Because Polestar is primarily a tuning company, there is little to distinguish the more powerful XC60 from its lesser brethren on the outside. The same modern lines blend with the traditional Volvo “hips” to form one of the more attractive crossovers on our shores. While the look is instantly recognizable as a Volvo, it is also thoroughly modern. If you doubt me, just park an XC60 next to an XC90 and compare. For R-Design duty, Volvo tweaked the bumper covers, added some chrome bling and swapped out the stock 235-width tires for the biggest rubber Volvo has ever used: 255/45R20s. Sadly the ever-safe Swedes shod the R-Design with all-season tires, fortunately that is easy to fix.


Volvo has long had a tradition of extended model lifetimes sprinkled with mid-cycle refreshes and yearly tweaks. To that end, the majority of the interior looks the same as the XC60 we had in December 2010 but Volvo has made some improvements to keep the XC fresh. Starting in 2011, all XC60 models get a 7-inch infotainment display in the dash. (Previously base models had an awkward cubby if you didn’t get the lackluster navigation system.) Also new for 2011 is a redesigned leather steering wheel with a thick rim and new infotainment controls. While there are still a few “Volvoisims” to be found (like the storage area behind the center stack and the off-beat two-tone upholstery color palate), the XC60 is mainstream luxury crossover all the way. Fit and finish in our tester was excellent and the soft-touch materials and leather easily tie with the BMW X3 for the best in this class. After a week with the XC60, my only complaint about the interior is the location of the infotainment/navigation screen. Volvo ditched their trademark “pop-up” LCD that was positioned high on the dash for a more conventionally located display. The new location means taking your eyes further away from the road to look at the map. With 30.8 cu.ft. t of space behind the rear seats, 67.4 cu.ft. with the rear seats folded and a standard folding front passenger seat, the XC60 will swallow more cargo than any of the Euro competition including those bulky IKEA furniture packs.


Volvo’s new “Sensus” system is a welcome (and long overdue) improvement. It combines a high-resolution, standard aspect ratio LCD in the center of the dash. While I remain disappointed that Volvo missed the opportunity to use a larger screen, the size is competitive with Mercedes’ COMAND system, the Q5’s MMI and the base screen in the X3. (BMW’s optional 8.8-inch iDrive screen is much more attractive however.) Volvo’s new interface is easy to use, well laid out and controllable via the steering wheel or the buttons and knob on the center console. Voice commands work as well as any of the competition but Apple iDevice integration continues to be a weak point. Navigating your iDevice is fairly easy but not as responsive as many systems and there are no vehicle specific apps with the Volvo system like BMW offers. The new system will certainly make XC60 owners happy, but they may get a twinge of techo-jeallousy when they step into their buddy’s Bimmer.

Well tuned audio systems have long been a Volvo hallmark. The XC60’s base 160-watt, 8-speaker system comes with standard HD Radio, Bluetooth phone integration, USB/iPod/Aux connectors and XM Satellite Radio. An optional 650-watt, 12-speaker premium sound system is available and adds Dolby ProLogic II decoding to the mix. Despite having a lower speaker count than BMW’s sound systems, I found the balance and tone of both system to be more pleasing than the German wares.


When Volvo first launched “R-Design,” it was simply an appearance package, thankfully that’s changed. Instead of designing a unique engine for the R-Design vehicles as they did with the former S60R and V70R, they turned to Polestar to boost the power from the existing turbo engine. The result is a 3.0L inline 6-cylinder engine with a single twin-scroll turbo that cranks out 325HP and a stump-pulling 354 lb-ft of twist. Power is routed to all four wheels via a standard Aisin 6-speed automatic and Haldex AWD system. Polestar was also allowed to stiffen the springs by 10%, fiddle with the steering ratio and reprogram the transmission for sportier shifting. Perhaps in deference to the rural Swedes that live with miles of unpaved dirt roads, Volvo left the Jeep-like 9.1 inches of ground clearance intact.


You’d think a curb weight 4,264lbs and over 9-inches of ground clearance the XC60 would handle like a pig, but the only swine metaphor that’s applicable is: this thing takes off like a stuck pig. We clocked a solid 5.6 seconds to 60, just 1/10th behind the 2012 BMW X3 xDrive35i but more importantly a whopping 1.5 seconds faster than the first XC60 T6 we tested in 2010. The observant in the crowd will note this is 1/2 a second faster than the Q5 3.2 and nearly a full second faster than the GLK350. Suspicious? Indeed, but a trip to a local dealer with our testing equipment revealed identical times with the two R-Designs on the lot. When the going gets twisty the tall XC60 handles impressively despite the ride height and the all-season tires. The BMW is still the handling king of the luxury CUV class, but as unlikely as this sounds, the Volvo is a close second. The downside to this unexpected handling prowess is a harsh ride from the stiffer springs and low-profile tires.

No Volvo would be complete without a bevy of electronic safety systems to save your bacon. Unlike Infiniti however, Volvo takes a different approach to electronic nannies. Infiniti’s systems act obtrusively, intervening well before the point of no return while Volvo’s systems only act after the vehicle decides it is too late for you to do anything. For 2012 Volvo has updated their City Safety system to recognize pedestrians as well as vehicles in your way. As long as you are driving under 19MPH the system will intervene and stop you completely if it thinks an accident is unavoidable. Thankfully Volvo realized that 19MPH is a bit slow for American traffic and has announced that starting with the 2013 model year the system will act at speeds up to 31MPH. (No word if existing Volvos can be upgraded.) On the luxury feature front, the optional radar cruise control has been tweaked to handle stop-and-go traffic taking you to a complete stop and accelerating again when the traffic moves. The system behaves smoothly and ties with the latest Mercedes system for the best dynamic cruise control system available.

I think the XC60 R-Design might just be the best kept secret in the luxury market. While the X3 xDrive35i is the obvious sporty choice to quench your sporty CUV thirst, the XC60 R-Design delivers 99% of the performance and 95% of the technology for around $3,000 less. The XC60 R-Design proves that Volvo can make a dirt road-capable CUV with styling flair, BMW competitive performance, and enough electronic nannies to satisfy the risk-adverse in the crowd (not to mention your insurance broker). The real question is if buyers will actually cross-shop the Volvo with its German competition.

Volvo has long had a reputation for building cars that are safe and durable, but less than sexy. With a reputation like that, and a distinct lack of advertising to the contrary, the XC60 R-Design is likely to remain a niche product. Seriously, when was the last time you even saw a Volvo commercial on TV? Me either. Pity because the XC60 R-Design’s performance to cost ratio make it quite simply the best all-around luxury crossover.


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Volvo provided the vehicle, one tank of gas, and insurance for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.21 Seconds

0-60: 5.6 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.3 Seconds @ 99.5 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 20.1  MPG over 825 miles


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32 Comments on “Review: 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design Polestar Take Two...”

  • avatar

    What was the avg. MPG figure? The field is blank.

  • avatar
    Alex L. Dykes

    gmrn, our average was 20.1. We have fixed the missing number. Thanks for catching that.

  • avatar

    My next door neighbor has a non-polestar equipped T6. I was actually talking with him about 6 months ago and he says he is getting about 24mpg after 10,000 miles on the odometer.

    Also said he has been running regular grade fuel for the entire time (maybe not the initial fillup when he bought it).

    It’s a pretty sharp machine.

  • avatar

    This makes my inner Volvo-fanboy so happy. Volvo may have partially sacrificed their wagons for the CUV, but when they do one, they do it right.

    • 0 avatar

      Totally agree. It’s a great looking CUV. My wife really loves the SRX which I’m just a little lukewarm on. This appeals to me so much more even in non-R guise.

  • avatar

    Kudos to Volvo for not settling for an “appearance” package and put some go behind the show.

  • avatar

    Don’t want to beat this dead horse too hard, but wouldn’t it make more sense to put this level of performance into a V70, rather than a vehicle with a stratospheric nine inches of ground clearance? I understand that crossover sales have crushed wagons in North America, but that ride height just seems like an unnecessary suspension performance hurdle to overcome with all that power. And those 20-inch wheels required to get down to a performance-oriented 45% aspect ratio in the tire are ridiculously huge. Most of the offroad pretense has been designed back out of the vehicle at that point. Give us an offroader or give us a street performer, but doing both seems like some kind of Frankensteinian nightmare. See also: Audi Allroad.

    • 0 avatar

      My parents cross-shopped the XC60 and the XC70, both with the T6, and as all know, I have (had) a V70. Just because a car is a wagon doesn’t make it a magic recipe for superior performance over a crossover. The XC60, despite the ground clearance, handles just fine and will please most people who don’t drive at 11/10ths. The car my parents purchased has the Volvo 4C chassis with adjustable shocks. With Sport or Advanced mode on, I have few complaints. It never feels like it’s going to tip over. The steering is nice and firm. It’s not an E46 M3, but neither is it a CR-V.

      Bashing CUVs is getting tiresome. If they are a symbol of some kind of suburban bourgeois lifestyle, or the antithesis of some sports-cars-and-driving-gloves narrative cooked up in your head then you’re just missing out. Some of them aren’t bad to drive at all. I’d even say that a Mazda CX-5 is better to drive than a fair number of cars. My V70, and other V70s I’ve driven, aren’t thrilling at all.

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        + one billion kind Sir. I drive a CUV and traded a raised truck on it. I bought my CUV with my own money and drive it the real world. I’m getting real tired of the station wagons are better/that thing is just unsafe/not Eco-friendly snarks. Mild rant there.

      • 0 avatar

        But given the same level of tech and tuning, the car that is 4-5″ lower to the ground is going to ride better to get the same level of handling, and probably just plain handle AND ride better. An X3 is a GREAT handling CUV, but my 3-series wagon will leave one for dead on a windy road while delivering a ride that is not snapping your head back and forth due to the ridiculous roll stiffness riquired due to the jacked up ride hieght.

        There is simply no repealing the laws of physics, TANSTAAFL always applies.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree. I speak directly of the post a few weeks ago regarding which class of car shouldn’t exist. About 75% of the answers were CUVs, well then, WHY DO PEOPLE BUY THEM? There is a failure to recognize that by not being exceedingly good at any one thing they are as good as people need them to be at everything. That is worth a lot, and that is why I have more issue with buying a sedan than I do a CUV. Plus, since they are so popular it is one of the most competitive market segments going right now, with multiple really strong contenders (heck, even Volvo got a great one in).

        @krhodes: Yes, but performance-car handling isn’t what most people want or need. Heck, look at the number of sedans that people buy that handle like bathtubs. What this argument fails to consider is a number of common sense arguments that have to do with owning a car. For example, curbs. We have a lot of them, they ruin our bumpers, they make us bottom out, etc. etc. CUVs often alleviate this annoyance. Another is ride height. Another is ease of entry and exit. So, when you end up looking at these two genres, people take these serious considerations along with decent handling and comfortable rides, and buy the CUV instead.

      • 0 avatar

        I get the allure of the do-it-all utility. We’re all in favor of five-doors here. What I can do without is skewing the design budget to accommodate all terrain use, and the sore lack of five-door alternatives to that in North America. Sure, some people really do use the all-terrain capability, but I’ll assert most really don’t, any more than they need track-level performance. Is the sports-cars-and-driving-gloves narrative in a wagon really any worse than a conquer-any-terrain-while-towing narrative in a CUV when they’re both used primarily for commuting and grocery getting on clear roads (and heavy traffic)?

    • 0 avatar

      I enjoyed driving the XC60 more than I did the S60 (which though technically superior handled less fluidly–the electronics work hard to counteract the natural tendencies of the chassis) and much more than I did the V70 (which simply felt large and soft). I can’t explain it either, other than that this car seems a more natural fit for what Volvo does best.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s less about bashing crossovers and more about questioning the logic of putting your highest performance kit into a form factor that’s biased against it. Put another way, don’t you think the performance would be easier to achieve with a lower center of gravity? Why create that hurdle for yourself?

      Part of the answer here is that Volvo is putting its best stuff into its best selling vehicle, which is indeed logical. There’s nothing wrong with making a fine CUV. It just gets odd with OEM-endorsed third-party super-perormance tuning, which just seems a better fit in a more suitable form factor.

      Odd to hear that CUV bashing is getting tiresome, since clearly the category has prevailed, at least in North America. You only hear about wagons in the wise guy niches of automotive sites. I would have thought the wagon the underdog here.

      • 0 avatar
        Alex L. Dykes

        The T6 AWD Polestar engine tune is standard in the S60 R-Design and available in the S80 and XC70.

      • 0 avatar

        I might reasonably look for the Polestar in the S60 and S80, and a different venue entirely to play out a sports-cars-and-driving-gloves narrative. In Volvo five door category, just seems kind of upside-down to find Polestar in the XCs, but not the V, which was relegated to softness in its most recent iteration in North America before being pulled entirely.

  • avatar

    GarbageMotorsCo. I´m sorry to say that having owned a T6 XC-60 for 3 years there is NO WAY your neighbor is seeing 24mpg. My driving was all on flat, Ohio highways. Even driven gently, I was never able to do any better than 21mpg. With winter tires it was about 20.

    I had a love/hate relationship with the car. I loved the looks and the engine and the size was perfect for my young family. Unfortunately the thing rattled terribly from day 1. Drove me crazy. I sold the car and I really don´t miss it do to the rattles. Hope that Volvo has that settled in the newer XC60´s. Mine was likely one of the first off the line.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s surprising to hear about all the rattles. The only experiences I have had with modern volvos have been in their cars, but they have been very solid well put-together machines.

      I’m hoping these things start to depreciate a bit and I can convince the wife to replace the Jeep with one when the time comes.

    • 0 avatar

      I believe the 24 mpg. I have a T6 equipped xc70 and live on top of a large hill. Mileage in the summer is 21 mpg, but drops to 17 in the winter :(. On the highway though I’ve gotten as high as 27-28 mpg. Hypermiling it down a mountain for 30 miles yielded 36mpg!

      These power-trains seem very sensitive to driving styles.

      Mine has been perfect since we bought and have had no annoying rattles the bug us.

  • avatar

    Recently tested the non polestar version, but chose the wagon. The XC60 wasn’t as quiet or comfortable as the XC70 but it handled better, in spite of th height, was more responsive, and compared pretty well overall with our BMW X3. For a small crossover, I would choose the X3 which is marginally better in too many ways. The XC60 wins only in exterior appeal over the BMW, IMO.

  • avatar

    Wow, first Volvo I have ever said I would actually own. Very nice… Has me thinking trade in…

  • avatar

    Very nice indeed, but the sheer weight of the thing at 2+ tons? WHY? There goes your MPG.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Ingress/Egress is another factor for SUVs. I’ve never had car seats/boosters in my trucklet. However, small children are easy to load and buckle in. On the other end of the age spectrum, there’s less bending and moving for senior citizens.

    • 0 avatar

      I do find ingress/egress a more credible day-to-day benefit of high CUV ride height than all terrain capability. But you’re still stuck with the downsides of the higher center of gravity, and you can get similar ingress/egress benefit in a minivan, perhaps more favorably so. Although, aesthetics aside, a minivan is harder to justify unless you really need that seven-passenger-plus payload, and of course it ain’t gonna be sporty. So a smaller CUV like the XC60 does fit that bill.

      With regard to wagon envy of the V60, there’s plenty of outrage about its lack of availability here in North America over on the Volvo discussion boards. Thanks for rubbing it in, pal! Interesting to note no Polestar available in it, though.

      • 0 avatar

        CoG is so important that all manufacturers strive to lower it. True or False?

        Seriously though, if it’s not too high whays the problem? Sure, my VX70 is theoretically better cornering due to lower CG, but is it really? And besides that, does adding acceleration necessitate improving cornering? US drivers do more interstate speeding that back road racing.

        How about we put this whole thing to bed with an agreement that the CG issue is classic argument fodder that just doesn’t matter? I suspect they think the 60 buyers are more interested in Polestar than the 70 buyers. I have no interest, so, anecdotally, they would be correct.

      • 0 avatar

        Manufacturers deliver high ride height vehicles because that is what people want, not because ride height doesn’t affect performance. Manufacturers of premium CUVs overcome the problems with heightened center of gravity by upgrading the suspension and vehicle dynamics. So the XC60 handles better than the XC70 because the XC60 suspension exceeds the performance the XC70’s by a margin even greater than the XC70’s inherent advantage of lower ride height. It would be a lot easier to achieve the XC60’s admirable performance in a V60, so the extra design budget could be put into enhancing other vehicle attributes or into a lower price.

        If you want high ride height, the XC60 is a great vehicle. If you don’t, then the price/performance ratio is compromised, which is not a trivial matter in a $50k vehicle. Trying to defend that notion as something other than a pointless anachronism is a bizarre thing to be doing a vehicle enthusiast blog. As for whether or not increasing power and torque necessitates a requisite increase in handling performance, I’ll just say, yes, of course it does.

  • avatar

    Those of you in the US and Canada with wagon/estate/shooting brake envy should note that (parts of) the rest of the world can buy the estate version of the S60 as the V60. Where I live, the T5 is an available engine choice, but no sign of a Polestar-tweaked R-design.

  • avatar

    I have owned a ’10 XC60 T6 with almost 36k for nearly two and half years. This is my 7th Volvo, beginning with a 1970 144S. It is the best of all our Volvos and all others of the past 40 years. 3rd European delivery, always great. As for mileage, we get consistently 23 – 25 mpg on the interstates and 18 – 20 mpg in suburban type driving, conservative style driving. No squeaks ever and other than a prematurely dead battery no issues. Ease of entry/exit fantastic. Would love another T6 or one with a diesel with start/stop, otherwise this our dream car realized.

  • avatar

    As an owner of seven Volvos, beginning in 1970 and ending with the current 2010 T6, I can tell you each successive model we have bought is better assembled (detailing in the interior, tighter tolerances / panel fit inside and out, more refinement). In none of the models from 1995 – 2010 have we had any serious mechanical issues whatever. Several minor DOT recall notices, that is all. Other than about 140 – 150,000 miles on the 1970, which was well past its prime, the next highest number was about 56,000 on the 2004 V70R. I especially appreciate that Volvo eschews aping the mighty fine German brands point by point, which are over the top in complexity and too many gizmos. For too long Volvo was too Amish spartan, but from the days when Ford purchased Volvo, the American ownership introduced needed freedom of expression outside the Swedish envelope. Steve Mattin, the British stylist hired by Volvo, who was responsible for the XC60, did a magnificent, IMO. And if you consider the Safe and Secure warranty / maintenance program (5 yrs., 50,000 mile currently; the 2010 has 5 yrs., 60,000 miles) an incentive from both a customer and manufacturer’s point of view, then Volvo clearly bests Audi’s plan and in some aspects is better than BMW or Mercedes Benz. One more point: the new IIHS slight offset crash test illustrates Volvo’s DNA since its beginning. As much as I admire the Germans, I very much doubt I would ever pick their CUVs over the XC60.

    P.S. The original GPS interface was (is in our case) the pits. But I also have a Garmin.–:)

  • avatar
    volvo dude

    So I have read many reviews and comments on the XC60 R-design, and well everything I have read seems to be positive. Other than some minor dislikings due to personal taste, I haven’t read anything negative. I just purchased a 2012 XC60 R-design with the platinum package, climate package, & BLIS in electric silver metallic paint for $38K brand new through Military Sales here at Naval Station Rota, Spain. I was originally looking at the BMW X3 through military pentagon sales. My wife and I were not impressed, it is way too busy in that vehicle electronically and not appealing to the eye up close and personal. My wife commented to me, let’s look at Volvo next door, glad I listened to her. Our money went way further and it was one that was in stock and they were trying to get rid of their inventory to make room for the 2013 models. I received numerous discounts on top of my tax free military benefit. I take delivery of it in a week. I was able to test drive it and fell in love with it instantly. It fits our needs, we are a young family of four. This machine has enough ponies to safely over take a slow moving car that might present a safety issue. I was definately impressed with our new Volvo during the test drive. We upgraded from our 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee Rocky Moutain, which had less space all around, less power, and the same fuel economy as our new Volvo. Let’s face it, this is a smart, safe, fun to drive CUV without having to circum to a minivan or station wagon, and lose any manhood you might have left after becoming a family man. I’m not complaining about my lifestyle, but I feel good being a husband and father driving this CUV when my wife isn’t!

  • avatar
    Polestar R Design

    Looking forward to enhancing our ’12 XC 60 Polestar tomorrow by installing color-matching aftermarket German Quad exhaust tips. The chrome tips were quite superior to those offered in the past, however, for a twin turbo of the 0-60 in 5.6 secs, hiding performance for almost a year is really starting to piss me off (know what I speak of when flying past A4’s and AMG’s).
    Also I anticipate very carefully painting the four brake calipers and shoes in two coats of dark cobalt blue lacquer brake paint. Something realized weeks after purchasing this Swedish triumph, the brake pads all look lackluster after driving in the rain (you recognize this after being parked an hour or so). Simply buy a good spray paint to match the gunpowder silver color and give it three coats. It will match the German quality seen in BMW’s and Audi and thus locks in the good looks of the R Design while eliminating the rusty “drippage” often seen at new car dealerships … and on our own CUV’s.

  • avatar

    Can anyone confirm if R-Design equals Polestar? Or is Polestar an addition over and above R-Design. This article is unclear. Thanks!

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