As a kid I remember rolling around in the wide back seat of my mum’s Volvo 164 as she made the ten-mile trek to school in 10 minutes every day. It was a barge but had a surprising turn of speed.
The car was bought for its dependability and safety, just as all older Volvos were. It was eventually totaled after finding a farm tractor across a country lane. And while shaken up, the occupants emerged from the head-on collision unscathed.
Yet ever since we started taking Volvo’s safety record for granted, the Swedes have been determined to also entice us with performance. All-time greats like the Volvo 850 T5R made people look at the Scandinavians in a different light, especially when the wagon variant lined up on the British Touring Car grid.
Every subsequent performance model has been leading up to this: the new S60 R-Design. With 325hp from its 3.0L straight-six turbo motor, it’s the most powerful Volvo ever: with more grunt than a BMW 335i. And it hits 0-60mph in 5.5sec!
In the past, R-Design involved cosmetic upgrades only, but this North American car is different. Unlike other markets, this R-Design has new ECU software from Polestar, the company runs Volvo’s European racing activities. They added 20% more boost over a regular S60 T6 AWD, giving the R-Design 1-bar of pressure, recalibrating the fuel and ignition to suit. However, official economy figures remain the same at 18/26mpg. It also gets larger twin 3.5" exhaust tips on a sportier muffler.
To visually differentiate the R-D, it gets new front and rear spoilers, a rear diffuser, black grille plus active Xenon lights as standard. The chassis sits 15mm lower and is 15% stiffer thanks to new springs. It also gets monotube rear dampers for faster response as well as stiffer rear bushes, a larger front sway bar and strut brace. Add its 18x8" Ixion wheels with 235/40 Conti CSC3 tires and it has the ingredients for a corner carver.
Inside you get sports seats with additional bolsters, textured panels, logos and stitching as well as new trim, blue instruments, a sportier steering wheel and shift knob. You also get City Safety as standard for low-speed accident avoidance, which IIHS found to reduce collisions by 30%.
These ingredients are what a tuner would typically add to their own car. As such, Volvo has created an impressive package, but how does it drive?