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Volvo S60 R-Design: Balanced, tasteful & completely enjoyable

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Volvo S60 R-Design: Balanced, tasteful & completely enjoyable

The performance-tuned S60 R-Design has a starting price of $43,375 and will run about $47,000 with a couple option packages.

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POSTED December 29, 2011 1:36 a.m.

The Volvo S60 R-Design wears the halo in the midsize sedan lineup, but this car is no angel.

It gets more power and suspension finesse than the standard S60 T6, but it still runs on regular unleaded, you could still tow 3,300 pounds if you wanted to, and it costs less than $50,000 with nearly all the factory options.

The all-wheel-drive R-Design models, including the XC60, are the next stage in Volvo’s public awareness campaign that it not only builds safe cars, but these Swedes know how to have fun, too.

Pricing for the S60 R-Design starts at $43,375 and will run about $47,000 with a couple option packages. (The standard T6 AWD starts at $38,775.)

The S60 R-Design is testament to the good engineering of the standard T6. To push some limits, Volvo’s motor-sports partner, Polestar Racing, took the same basic, turbocharged, 3.0-liter, in-line, six-cylinder engine in the S60 T6 and used a computer to add more boost, recalibrate the throttle, advance the spark and make a few other simple software adjustments. They coaxed 325 horsepower at 5,600 rpm, or 25 hp more than in the T6. And torque went up 29 foot-pounds to 354 from 3,000 to 3,600 rpm.

The rest of the magic was applied to the sport-chassis suspension: shorter and stiffer springs; monotube rear shock absorbers; stiffer rear bushings and rear trailing arms that are four times stiffer than stock; a larger front sway bar; and strut-tower brace under the hood.

The exterior gets a new, soft nose; piano-black grille; rear baffle and diffuser at the dual exhaust tips; 18-inch diamond-cut wheels; and active dual-xenon headlights.

The interior is upgraded with sport seats that offer more bolstering; special cut-and-sewn leather with contrasting stitching; textured aluminum trim; sport steering wheel; and blue lighting on the gauges.

The whole package is balanced, tasteful and completely enjoyable.

And to hammer home the point, Volvo provided track time at Thunderhill Raceway Park, in Willows, Calif., just off of Interstate 5 between Sacramento and San Francisco. Journalists drove the 130 miles to the track and back, so we had the full experience of winding roads, interstate and the menacing corners of Thunderhill.

It was 94 degrees the day we drove, and a half-dozen cars were used continually for several hours on the three-mile track. To my surprise, the brakes held up without fade or catching fire. And these are the same four-wheel discs as on the T6, with 12.4-inch front rotors and 11.9-inch rear.

Hearing of the even stiffer springs caused some concern because the T6 is plenty stiff already. But the suspension work has made the S60R a smoother, more comfortable ride, particularly on concrete interstates.

On the track, the car dipped a shoulder predictably as it made transitions from right to left. It was very controllable for throttle steering and to catch rotation before it got ugly. The experience seemed more rear-drive than AWD.

Volvo isn’t trying to compete on the level of an Audi S4, BMW M, Mercedes-Benz AMG or Cadillac’s V-series. The point is to attract enthusiasts and add desirability, said S60 brand manager Frank Vacca at the media preview in Napa., Calif. “The R-Design adds visual intensity with performance upgrades.”

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