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U.S.:Volvo S60R AWD

Car & Driver
From the land of ABBA comes some heavy metal.
August 2003

Volvo S60R AWD
Highs: Three hundred horses and a chassis able to rein them in, precise shifter, Swedish good looks.
Lows: An engine searching for refinement, spring-loaded clutch with an Everest engagement, steering lacks feel.
The Verdict: Makes the S60 T5 obsolete, the S60 AWD mundane, and the Audi S4 take notice.

Whenever our friends at Volvo stop by the office to lend us their latest and greatest, odds are good we'll hear more about airbags and Boron steel than horsepower and handling. Volvo's first and foremost selling point is that its cars are dedicated to the issue of safety. Like contraceptives, they prevent unplanned things from happening, but they're not much fun. Nonetheless, it's a rep that has kept the Swedish brand afloat through economic dips and competitive tidal waves, although it couldn't prevent the Norwegian car carrier Tricolor from establishing residency at the bottom of the English Channel last December with 350 XC90s aboard. If only those 2100 airbags had deployed.

We were pleasantly surprised, then, when Volvo product communications manager Dan Johnston and R-car line manager Hans Nilsson arrived in our parking lot with a Passion Red 2004 S60R AWD and we heard the word "safe" right before "good-bye."

"Oh, and of course it's really safe," said Johnston as he drove off. That's it? That's all the safety talk we get? Damn, this really is a different kind of Volvo.

According to Nilsson, Volvo forked out 10 times as much money on the S60R compared with any previous R model, the last being the 240-hp 850 T-5R wagon of 1995. That's probably why the S60R features 300 horsepower, all-wheel drive, a fancy adjustable suspension, and Brembo brakes. Volvo must be prepared for diminished returns because the R starts at a blue-light-special price of $37,510—$14,610 less than a rear-drive, 349-hp Mercedes C32 AMG sedan but $4025 more than a front-drive, 247-hp S60 T5 and $4675 above a 208-hp S60 2.5T AWD. Lest you think that's too much premium, consider that our optioned-up, long-term 2001 T5 stickered at $39,275 and a 2002 AWD we reviewed last May came in at $37,800. Our well-equipped tester, with heated seats, an in-dash four-CD changer, and 18-inch alloys, rang up the register at $41,550.

The S60R is powered by a thoroughly modified version of the 208-hp, 2.5-liter turbocharged in-line five that powers the base XC90 and the S60 AWD. "Thoroughly modified" translates to a low-restriction intake, two intercoolers, reground camshafts, reinforced pistons, continuously variable valve timing on both inlet and exhaust sides, and a new cylinder head and exhaust manifold. It also means bye-bye to the low-pressure Mitsubishi turbo and hello to a larger KKK unit that more than doubles peak boost to 14.7 psi. The result is 300 ponies peaking at 5500 rpm and 295 pound-feet of torque from 1950 to 5250 rpm.

Although refined isn't its middle name—remember this 2.5 is a transversely mounted in-line five, an inherently uncivilized layout—the turbocharged engine exhibits minimal turbo lag and revs willingly to its 6500-rpm redline. It feels coarse doing so, as if the engine were grating a big wedge of Parmesan, and the sound is strained and raucous, causing involuntary teeth clenching when shifting at redline. But the results are all smiles.

Zero to 60 mph comes at just 5.5 seconds, which is a full second quicker than the S60 T5, nearly two seconds faster than the S60 AWD, and most notably, only 0.3 and 0.5 second slower, respectively, than the Mercedes C32 AMG and the 340-hp Audi S4. Reaching the quarter-mile marker takes another 8.5 seconds, to 14 flat at 101 mph, trailing the two Germans by 0.4 but dusting the T5 by 0.9 and the AWD by 1.8.

The engine is paired with a new six-speed manual that's a huge improvement over the five-speed gearbox we experienced in the T5, which had a vague, rather sloppy unit unbefitting a so-called sports sedan. Conversely, the six-speed offers short throws, precise action, and narrowed gates, making quick shifts a satisfying snap. At least one editor thought the gates too narrow, forcing him to constantly ponder which gear was engaged. Praise cannot be heaped on the clutch, however, which engages way too high and feels as if it were hiding a coil-over. This is not a car that one jumps into and instantly drives smoothly. The hyper clutch and the turbo boost require some acclimation time, but once mastered, the R presents few difficulties.

Driven on a mix of roads, it is apparent that engineers gave diligent attention to the R's chassis, creating a sports sedan suitable for both highway and hairpin. The suspension features stiffer springs, revised rear geometry, larger anti-roll bars, and a trick, three-way-adjustable shock system developed jointly by Monroe and Öhlins, a Swedish racing-shock supplier. Each shock features one valve for rebound and compression and is instantaneously adjusted based on input from seven accelerometers placed throughout the car. Volvo calls this technology Four-C, or Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept.

Via three buttons in the center of the dash, the dampers can be set to comfort, sport, or advanced, the last suitable for racetracks or twisty roads only and preferably if they're ultra-smooth. It could also have been labeled aquavit, because it's about as stiff. As long as the roads are buttery, the advanced mode is tolerable, rewarding the driver with the buttoned-down sensation of a GT car. Otherwise, sport mode offers the ideal compromise over most surfaces and is the setting we used regularly. It serves up plenty of bumps and ripples, similar to the ride in an S4 or M3, but it's an acceptable harshness. Comfort is the option of choice on the interstate, but that's the only place we'd recommend using it. It may be a comfortable selection for the highway, but it's not comforting on curvy roads, especially if they're rough or grooved. On our 10Best handling loop, we experienced a lot of body movement, with the tail hopping around and wiggling like an excited pit bull. Spooky.

The tail would feel more planted if the Haldex all-wheel-drive system were set up for more rear torque bias. As it is—90/10 front to rear—the system performs very much like a front-drive car. Only under acceleration or when slippage occurs does the system transfer up to 50 percent of torque to the rear. Aggressive cornering results in typical front-drive push, but feather the throttle to send more torque to the rear axle, and the rear 40-series Pirelli P Zero Rossos buckle down, rocketing the car through exits with more steam than you thought possible. It's easier to rotate the car by hitting a button once to reduce Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC), which leaves the stability control on but retards brake intervention for some sideways fun. That button must be hit five times to completely deactivate the system. Why five times? Nilsson said, "We wanted the driver to be really sure."

Through tight turns and long sweepers, the car does an excellent job of staying flat, exhibiting but a smidge of body roll. On the skidpad, the S60R registered 0.88 g of lateral grip, which is more adhesion than the S4 (0.85), the C32 (0.81), and even the M3 (0.87). Exploiting that grip would be more fun if the steering didn't feel so artificial. The quick-ratio (2.5 turns lock-to-lock) rack responds to input linearly, but communication from the road is lacking, resulting in a numb, isolating feel.

The brakes, on the other hand, offer good feedback and perform flawlessly. With 12.9-inch vented rotors pinched by four-piston Brembo aluminum calipers, the S60R halts from 70 mph in 168 feet, same distance as the S4 and six feet shorter than the C32. Suitable for the track, the Brembos don't know the word fade, making short work of dozens (and dozens) of turns.

There are plenty of visual cues to differentiate the R from lesser S60s, all of which transform the R into quite a looker. Tasteful 18-inch alloy wheels (17s are standard) do justice to the gaping wheel arches, a new front bumper feeds more air to the engine and reduces lift by 25 percent, and a subtle deck spoiler adds an M5 touch to the trunklid while reducing lift by 20 percent. Inside, the dash, the steering wheel, the shift knob, and the door handles feature blue stitching, which looks good if you notice it against the black leather. The sport seats, contrasted in tan hides, are comfortable and offer plenty of lateral support. Blue gauges with polished metal surrounds decorate the instrument panel, turning the S60's mortuary kiosk into something that actually looks fashionable.

Should you buy a T5 or AWD instead of an R AWD, we suggest you cancel your subscription. For the money, the R is a no-brainer. If you choose to spend another 10 or so grand on one of the German hot rods, well, we understand. They're faster, more prestigious, and deliver that oneness between man and machine that the R has yet to achieve. But the R's performance numbers are right on the heels of the Germans', which speaks volumes about how far Volvo has come with the R, not to mention the leap from the T5 and AWD. And keep in mind that for the R's money the only other sedans in the same league are the Audi A4 3.0 Quattro, the BMW 330i Performance Package, the Cadillac CTS, and the Infiniti G35, all of which would become well acquainted with the R's taillights.

Roughly 5000 Rs are heading to the U.S.—70-percent sedans and 30-percent V70R wagons—and they're arriving now. Don't wait too long, or you may be stuck with a salesperson trying to unload a T5.


M3, S4, S60R. These alphanumerics can now be spoken in the same breath with a straight face and no eye rolls. Volvo has gotten serious and spent big in the braking, handling, and horsepower departments and added Haldex all-wheel drive to send excess torque to the rear axle instead of up the steering column. The shifter feels accurate, and each of the three suspension settings is useful (some less so in Michigan). The car even looks cool, especially its blue gauges. Yes, it's a second slower than an M3. It's also about 11 grand cheaper, less extreme, and easier to drive smoothly, while still providing 90 percent of the visceral thrill. Thumbs up. —Frank Markus

There's a lot of bang for the buck here. I'm impressed by the combination of speed and comfort. Although I might prefer the Audi S4, it's more expensive. Same goes for the less comfy but quicker BMW M3. For the same dough, I'd pop for the four-wheel-drive BMW 330xi. True, it's slower than the S60R, but it has much better steering feel and handling, it's more fun to drive, and the gearbox feels slicker than the Volvo's. I like road feel and communication in a sporty car, and that's what the Volvo lacks. The S60R is a good car among a group of great ones, but it needs something to differentiate itself. —Larry Webster

Not a huge fan of Volvos? Don't expect the R to fill your head with sweaty Swedish dreams. Volvo spent plenty to make the R distinct. Blue-faced gauges, the clever slip-control software, the unique rear toe-in control arms, and the g-emoting thrust delivered to four computer-controlled tires. The brakes are mighty clamps more appropriate to a Porsche. But some of the old boxmaker is still there in the clunk of the shifter, the remote steering, and the BMW-with-bronchitis exhaust note from the syncopated five-cylinder. The R is extra-hot sauce to Volvo's conservative constituency but still on the mild side for the heretofore unconvinced. —Aaron Robinson


Zero to 30 mph: 1.9
40 mph: 2.8
50 mph: 4.3
60 mph: 5.5
70 mph: 7.4
80 mph: 9.0
90 mph: 11.0
100 mph: 13.9
110 mph: 16.7
120 mph: 20.2
130 mph: 25.6
140 mph: 31.4
Street start, 5-60 mph: 6.5
Top-gear acceleration, 30-50 mph: 13.2
50-70 mph: 8.7
Standing 1/4-mile: 14.0 sec @ 101 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 148 mph

70-0 mph @ impending lockup: 168 ft
Fade: none light moderate heavy

Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.88 g
Understeer: minimal moderate excessive

EPA city driving: 18 mpg
EPA highway driving: 25 mpg
C/D-observed: 20 mpg

Idle: 45 dBA
Full-throttle acceleration: 76 dBA
70-mph cruising: 70 dBA

Vehicle type: front-engine, 4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger,4-door sedan

Price as tested: $41,550
Price and option breakdown: base Volvo S60R (includes $685 freight), $37,510; leather seats, $1495; in-dash 4-CD changer, $1200; 18-inch wheels and tires, $995; Climate package (consists of heated front seats and rain-sensing wipers), $350

Major standard accessories: power steering, windows, seats, and locks; A/C; cruise control; tilting and telescoping steering wheel; rear defroster

Sound system: Volvo AM/FM-stereo radio/CD changer, 10 speakers

Type: turbocharged and intercooled 5-in-line, aluminum block and head
Bore x stroke: 3.27 x 3.66 in, 83.0 x 93.2mm
Displacement: 154 cu in, 2521cc
Compression ratio: 8.5:1
Engine-control system: Bosch Motronic ME7.01 with port fuel injection
Emissions controls: 3-way catalytic converter, feedback air-fuel-ratio control
Turbocharger: KKK
Waste gate: integral
Maximum boost pressure: 14.7 psi
Valve gear: belt-driven double overhead cams, 4 valves per cylinder, hydraulic lifters, continuously variable intake- and exhaust-valve timing
Power (SAE net): 300 bhp @ 5500 rpm
Torque (SAE net): 295 lb-ft @ 1950 rpm
Redline: 6500 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed manual
Final-drive ratio: 3.77:1, electronic limited slip
Gear ... Ratio ... Mph/1000 rpm ... Max. test speed
I ... 3.38 ... 5.5 ... 36 mph (6500 rpm)
II ... 2.05 ... 9.1 ... 59 mph (6500 rpm)
III ... 1.43 ... 13.1 ... 85 mph (6500 rpm)
IV ... 1.09 ... 17.1 ... 111 mph (6500 rpm)
V ... 0.87 ... 21.5 ... 140 mph (6500 rpm)
VI ... 0.70 ... 26.7 ... 148 mph (5550 rpm)

Wheelbase: 107.0 in
Track, F/R: 61.3/60.7 in
Length: 181.3 in
Width: 71.0 in
Height: 55.0 in
Ground clearance: 5.2 in
Curb weight: 3717 lb
Weight distribution, F/R: 56.9/43.1%
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gal
Oil capacity: 6.0 qt
Water capacity: 8.4 qt

Type: unit construction
Body material: welded steel stampings

SAE volume, front seat: 54 cu ft
rear seat: 41 cu ft
luggage space: 14 cu ft
Front seats: bucket
Seat adjustments: fore and aft, seatback angle, front height, rear height, lumbar support
Restraint systems, front: manual 3-point belts; driver and passenger front, side, and curtain airbags
rear: manual 3-point belts, outboard curtain airbags
General comfort: poor fair good excellent
Fore-and-aft support: poor fair good excellent
Lateral support: poor fair good excellent

F: ind, strut located by a control arm, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: ind; 1 lower control arm, 1 trailing link, 1 lateral link, and 1 toe-control link per side; coil springs; anti-roll bar

Type: rack-and-pinion, power-assisted
Turns lock-to-lock: 2.5
Turning circle curb-to-curb: 42.7 ft

F: 12.9 x 1.3-in vented disc
R: 12.9 x 1.1-in vented disc
Power assist: vacuum with anti-lock control

Wheel size: 8.0 x 18 in
Wheel type: cast aluminum
Tires: Pirelli P Zero Rosso, 235/40ZR-18 95Y
Test inflation pressures, F/R: 33/34 psi

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My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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