If you buy a Volvo, you should feel safe. After all, that’s the dominant trait in Volvo’s DNA.
What then is one to make of the R-Design, a sports sedan version of Volvo’s near-luxury, mid-size S60 sedan?
Our take is that if you buy the S60 R-Design, you should be having a lot of fun while feeling safe.
Folks who know their Volvos take one look at the R-Design and ask, “Is it as much fun as the commercials say?”
The car has the appearance of a factory car that’s been sent out to be upgraded by a high-end custom shop, starting with a lowered (15 mm) look.
There’s lots of black: a wider matte black grille, high-gloss black trim, black-accented 19-inch Ixion wheels that are worth a photo of their own, and an eye-catching rear diffuser that is flanked by round, R-Design tailpipes. They give the Volvo a squatter and meaner—if a Volvo can be called mean or intimidating—appearance.
Our test car started with $43,615 MSRP (including destination). The Platinum package ($3,000) added navigation with real-time traffic, premium sound system, accent lighting, auto dimming and folding mirrors, and a rear park assist camera. You hate to be coerced into paying that much for a package in which only the rear view camera is a must.
Other options were 19-inch Ixion wheels with performance tires ($750), a Blind Spot Package ($900) with blind spot information, cross traffic alert, lane change merge aid, and front and rear park assist.
A metallic paint job ($550) helped to complete the R-Design’s look, and heated front seats ($500) are welcome in New England. The additions brought the bottom line to $49,315. It’s a hefty price, but there also are a lot of Volvo-quality safety systems to go with the performance.
Under the hood Volvo has the S60’s T6 3.0-liter turbocharged engine producing 325 horsepower and 354 lb.-ft. of torque.
The six-speed automatic transmission has a quick shift feature that activates when the car is in Sport mode or the driver is using the paddle shifters. In Sport mode, the change between first and second gear is up to 50 percent quicker, and shifts from second through sixth gear are up to 30 percent faster.
All-wheel-drive is enhanced by corner traction control, part of the stability and traction control package. That system also features an engine drag control to prevent rapid downshifts from causing the wheels to lose grip on slippery surfaces.
In addition to lowering the chassis 15 millimeters (19/32 of an inch) Volvo increased spring stiffness 15 percent over the standard S60. Combine that with the low-profile tires and you’d expect a bumpy driving experience. Instead, the ride is responsive yet supple enough for passengers to enjoy the trip.
Wheels are a matter of personal taste, but I was impressed by the 19-inch Ixion alloys.
Inside the cabin, the upgraded S60 sport seats have an R-Design embroidered with a blue ‘R.’ Sit in them and you realize that they’re bolstered more for the average American than a small size world rally driver. The seats blend black nubuck textile and perforated leather. Heated versions offer three levels of intensity and also warm your lower back.
The gauge package is a digital display that can be set to three themes, Elegance, Eco, and Sport, each of which can show different configurations at the turn of a dial. The default Elegance theme gives the gauge package a rich blue tone, while Eco is a light green, and Sport a bright red.
Up front, besides the supportive seats, visibility is good with the rear view camera taking care of the back blind spots. Rear legroom is on the snug side; I realized this when getting into the back to take photos of the dashboard. That was reinforced by seeing my six-year-old grandson’s footprints on the back of the passenger seat, left there while he was belted into a booster seat.
The center stack, with audio, nav, and climate controls, retains the Scandinavian look Volvo has had for the past decade. It’s familiar but still looks classy, and we’ve never grown tired of the storage tray behind that’s hidden from outside eyes.
Fuel economy ratings are 18 city, 25 highway, and 21 combined. We surprised ourselves by achieving a 23.7 mpg average on two tanks of gas. Despite being a turbo, the R-Design runs on regular unleaded fuel.
City Safety, Volvo’s low-speed collision avoidance system, is standard. Optional is an advanced pedestrian and cyclist safety system.
We found the active bending headlights effective both on curving country roads and in making turns in city driving. We’d have liked to try the optional permanent high beam system that lowers beams when appropriate.
If the R-Design doesn’t sound like your average Volvo, that’s the intent. “More than half the volume will be snapped up by buyers who drive other car makes today,” says Doug Speck, senior vice president of marketing and sales. “These cars also will play a vital role in lowering the age of our customer base.”Bill Griffith can be reached at WGriffith@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MrAutoWriter.