If the [just about to be] recently departed SAAB automobile line was "Born of Jets" (as a former ad campaign proclaimed) we at "Drive...Said" thought it was safe to claim the progeny of the single major surviving Swedish car maker, Volvo, are, "Parked Near Jets". We tested our theory with Volvo's new for 2012 S60 T6 R-Design sport sedan right under a landing path at a major international airport (can you guess which one?) until security arrived to shoo us away.
So the new mid-size Volvo S60 T6 R has the swoopy silhouette to match aircraft, even if it is the aerospace division of SAAB that still builds military jets.
But does this in-house tuner special have the "go to go with the show?" Just as importantly, will consumers continue to find in the new Volvo S60 T6 R, the quintessential "Scandinavian bauhaus" design where function can dictate form, with a bit of quirkiness, and where the tundra's "Moose Collision Avoidance" test sets safety benchmarks followed industry-wide?
When it comes to the "Go" in the 2012 S60 T6-R, Volvo brought in tuner Polestar Racing to work its magic. Polestar started with an already healthy 3.o liter turbocharged inline 6 cylinder DOHC engine mounted sideways, mated to a 6-speed manumatic transmission, which is rather relaxed in shifting. In normal conditions the front wheels receive power as much as 95% power. The rest of the power passes first through a Haldex viscous center differential en route to an electronic rear differential to get to the rear wheels. As traction needs dictate up to 100% of power can be diverted to the rear wheels. To cut slippage at individual wheels braking and traction control work in concert. Hence traction control is not fully defeatable - only stability control is. Despite more than 60% of the S60s mass sitting over the front wheels, we noticed only the barest understeer either hurtling into or out of sweeps at near triple digits speeds.
Polestar remapped the on-board P-ROM unit to increase turbo boost upping the horsepower ante to 326. The bumped up torque of 354 lb-ft beckons at just 3000 rpm. Both of which combine to launch the 3800 lb. S60 T6-R from null to 60 mph in about 5.5 seconds. At full throttle the engine makes a pleasing muted growl. Miraculously, fuel economy doesn't suffer from the enhanced engine tune. In our week filled with several sudden acceleration bursts to just above the century mark, we managed nearly 22 mpg.
But going fast is meaningless unless the driver feels greater precision in control of the vehicle. Here the fancy-pants optional "4-C" electronically adjustable suspension damper set-up of the standard S60 T6 model is eschewed in favor of faster reacting monotube shocks. Springs and bushings are replaced by stiffer units, which also results in a slight "vehicle drop." An ingot-like shock tower brace fitted in the engine compartment is meant to reduce chassis flex. Tires are softer compound W speed rated Continental ContiPro 3s - mounted on shapely blade-spoked 18" smoked alloys, not too huge to make the ride anywhere near harsh. It takes impacts over the Midwest's worst crater-sized pot holes to produce a pounding.
Electrically boosted variable rate steering is driver-adjustable. In the standard setting we found the steering slow to respond and somewhat numb at low speeds. As road speed picks up the steering is far more linear with plenty of feedback.
Another R-Design bonus: brakes receive an upgrade in the form of rotor size and multi-piston calipers. Teamed with the grippy Conti rubber, and fitted with fairly soft brake pads, the S60 T6 R sheds speed the way Chicagoans shed winter coats at the first sign of spring. Good thing the alloy wheels have a "smoked" finish, better to disguise the copious amounts of brake dust. The sticky, aggressive tire tread comes at a price, though: noise.
When it comes to vehicle interiors Volvo can take many other premium marques to school. In the S60 T6 R the instrument cluster, with its blue dials surrounded by brushed aluminum, illuminated by bright white LEDs, would befit a display case at Tiffany's. Turned aluminum inlays, which span the length of the dash, the center stack and the center console, say this is a precise surgical instrument. The center stack is perfectly canted towards the driver so not to be distracting to the front passenger. The climate control buttons, which follow the shape of the seated human anatomy, are so intuitive. Perhaps those who acquire a right-hand drive S60 will find the rotary sub-systems menu controller located on the far right of the center stack convenient. In the left-hand drive S60 T6-R it is not. Overall, fit and finish are top notch.
Speaking of the human anatomy the front seats, covered in glove-like leather with contrasting French stitching, fit the body the way a mitt (not the Presidential candidate) holds a baseball. The need for excessive seat adjustments, though, is a malady adjustable thigh support could cure. Outboard rear seat occupants will find nearly as good bucket seating, canted deeper to provide some a fair amount of legroom in this compact executive sedan. Any rear seat occupant unlucky enough to be banished to the middle will not fare much better than Prometheus tied to the rock. Where the trunk will barely swallow two full sized suit cases, the rear seat backs split 60/40 and fold to carry that larger flat panel TV.
The $46,800 as tested price of our well-kitted 2012 Volvo S60 T6 R, included a mere $3000 in options. Missing in our tester was the optional Pedestrian Detection system. Part of the $2100 Technology package - this feature lets drivers neglect jaywalking pedestrians, while under 22 mph as the car brakes for you. Alas we made do with the standard driver defeatable City Safety system which uses LIDAR to detect slowing or stopped vehicles in your path and apply the brakes. Whether shaving or applying mascara, City Safety will prevent infliction of so much as an iota of whiplash on the occupants of vehicles in your path.
The Audyssey Labs tuned audio system, has more depth and punch than some of the mobile Mark Levinson systems out there, yet not quite as much transparency. It comes as part of the $2700 Media Package which includes navigation. However, the 7.5" navigation screen is small by comparison to the 10" displays offered in some competitors' models. Bluetooth devices in cars costing half as much can be paired with greater ease. Those hoping to use voice commands for the multitude of tasks and settings in the S60 T6 R may come away slightly disappointed with its limitations. Volvo could learn from former parent Ford / Microsoft's Sync My Touch system.
With the 2012 S60 T6 R, Volvo has taken an already competent entry premium sports sedan and made it more focused. Enthusiasts who desire the pro-athletes of the sport sedan world will still need to march over to the BMW Ms, the Mercedes AMGs or the Audi RSs, or Lexus Fs along with at least an extra $20,000. Those in-house tuned beasts will make quicker work of it than the S60 T6 R on track days. But for the daily grind do enthusiast drivers really want super touchy brakes, a droning exhaust, a less than forgiving ride and miserable fuel economy? As a European alternative to the Infiniti G37x and having a $5000 price advantage over a comparably equipped BMW 335i sport or Audi S4, a real argument can be made for this alluring, athletic Swede.