Volvo's power play

Easily overlooked in a segment packed with heavy-hitters, the Volvo S60 has always presented itself as a cunning alternative to some rather familiar, and mostly German, faces.

For 2013, the US-spec S60 arrives in three turbocharged flavours. The front-wheel-drive T5 makes use of a 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine with 250 horsepower; the all-wheel-drive T6 AWD employs a 3-litre in-line six-cylinder engine with 300hp; and the T6 AWD R-Design, which pulls 325hp out of the same 3-litre six. This top-drawer S60 is the obvious foil to such sedans as the Audi S4 and BMW 335i xDrive – performance-minded but not punishing, and even when wearing Volvo’s uninhibited Rebel Blue paint, still exuding a uniquely Scandinavian practicality.

Peak torque in the R-Design – up 29 pound-feet from the standard engine, to 356lb-ft – crests at 3,000rpm, providing readily accessible passing grunt for highway overtaking. The sprint from zero to 60mph, meanwhile, happens in a fleet 5.5 seconds, Volvo claims, and the sedan will press on to an electronically limited top speed of 134mph. Despite the additional power, EPA fuel economy for the R-Design is said to be identical to that of the standard T6 – despite its extra 25hp – at 18mpg in the city and 25mpg on the open road.

The engine, which can only be matched to a six-speed automatic transmission, delivers plenty of kick off the line, though not without considerable turbo lag. Stab the throttle at 45mph and a driver will reach “two-Mississippi” before the engine gets the message. The T6’s R-Design specification adds a front strut brace, 15% stiffer springs and bushings, and quicker steering. The tightening, however, does not cancel out the T6’s inherited vague feedback – a shame, considering the car’s innate agility.

As with all Volvo products, the cabin is smartly styled and assembled with obvious care. Materials and ergonomics are superlative, although a few elements are showing their age — the gauge cluster, for one, which seems to have lived unmolested in the Volvo parts bin for a decade. And where most cars in this segment utilise crisp electro-chromatic instrumentation, the S60’s speedometer and tachometer are bathed in light from above. Dial down the brightness on a dark road only slightly, and the gauges all but fade to black.

For a starting price of $44,995, inclusive of $895 destination charge, the T6 AWD R-Design goes long on creature comforts and safety features, though perhaps not quite long enough. Standard kit includes off-black leather seats, a power moonroof and high-intensity discharge headlamps, but many of the de rigueur features of European executive sport sedans are extra-cost options, including a navigation system (part of the $2,700 Platinum Package) and heated front seats (part of the $700 Climate package). Moreover, several of Volvo’s safety-related features are optional, including the Blind-Spot Information System (a $700 standalone option) and Adaptive Cruise Control (part of the $2,100 Technology package). A fully loaded S60 AWD R-Design will crest the $56,000 mark, a not-inconsiderable figure, but still below that of a comparably equipped Audi S4.

A Volvo S60 is nowhere near as ubiquitous as its German counterparts, which might be considered an asset by the Swedes’ traditional, nonconforming customer. But that buyer was earned through decades of competitive pricing and solid engineering. Alluring as this car is, especially in R-Design guise, it seems that Volvo could stand to revisit its core principles.

Vital Stats: 2013 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design

  • Base price: $44,995, inclusive of $895 destination charge
  • As tested: $49,095
  • EPA fuel economy: 18mpg city, 25mpg highway
  • Drivetrain:  325hp, 3-litre turbocharged in-line 6 engine; six-speed automatic transmission
  • Major options:  Platinum package (navigation system, premium audio system; rear-view camera), $2,700; Climate package (heated front seats; heated windshield washer nozzles, Interior Air Quality System), $700; Blind-Spot Information System, $700