2013 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design First Test
We're standing at the corner of Draper and Marion Streets in Kingsburg, California, watching a parade. Spectators -- most of them happy families wearing blue -- line the streets, cheering as marching bands, Kingsburg High School alumni, miniature horses, and vintage tractors trundle through. The procession has "small town USA" written all over it.
Kingsburg, with a population of 11,382 in the 2010 U.S. Census, is hailed as "Central California's Swedish Village" according to the town website, because of its rich Swedish heritage. The local water tower is shaped like a coffee pot and painted with traditional Swedish kurbits art. Our Rebel Blue Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design parked down on Marion seems to be the only vehicular Swede on the block. We came to the annual Kingsburg Swedish Festival out of cultural curiosity. We learned about the S60 all along the way.
The CarWe first made friends with the engine, a 3.0-liter straight-six mounted across the width of the automobile and endowed with a 14.5-psi, twin-scroll turbocharger. The 325-hp/354-lb-ft I-6 has an old-school, peaky personality. When the boost is on, your reflexes instinctively sharpen and your hands get ready for steering correction as the car's character changes. The engine pulls strongly once it's settled in. Interestingly, the Volvo-supplied dyno graph reveals a dramatically shorter peak torque plateau compared to the non-R-Design I-6. Not only does the standard T6 have 25 fewer hp and 29 fewer lb-ft -- a $1495, factory-warrantied Polestar software tune will make up the deficit -- but the powerband signatures are quite different as well.
With Haldex all-wheel drive and a decently responsive six-speed automatic, the R-Design bolts from 0-60 mph in 5.3 seconds, 0.4 second quicker than an ordinary S60 T6 AWD. Frankly, that's more than nippy enough for our roughly 450-mile Southern California-Central California roundtrip. The flip side to an engine that feels like it's working a big turbo is that it hums happily on the freeway at low to medium load. The EPA ratings are 18/25 mpg city/highway, but we attained 27.3 mpg with the cruise control set to a range of 65-80 mph.
Consumers buy cars for numerous reasons, but you're obliged to explore the pleasure of driving when natural competition includes Audi S4, BMW 335i xDrive, and their ilk. To that end, the S60 relies on its R-Design sport chassis and a $700 set of 18-inch Ixion (the name of a tragic Greek mythology figure, if you're wondering) wheels with 235/40 Continental ContiSportContact 3 summer tires. The springs are 15 percent stiffer than the normal T6's. Faster-reacting monotube shocks replace the twin-tubers underneath the rear fenders, and a variety of changes to suspension compliance promise greater chassis control. The front brake rotors widen from 12.4 to 13.2 inches and a petite front strut bar was installed.
All of those modifications look great on paper, yet the S60 T6 R-Design has a bit of an identity problem. The prototypical small, sporty luxury sedan has always attempted to balance agile, engaging handling with a refined, often firm but controlled ride. We've been impressed with the less aggressive setup fitted on the S60 T5 and T6. The R-Design wades into sportier water but would have benefitted from more swimming lessons first. Road surface imperfections aren't filtered as well as we hoped, and low-amplitude inputs are more obvious. Sure, these qualities would have likely been forgiven if the Volvo were an absolute dream to drive on canyon roads.
But powering our way through canyons only amplified the frustration. The starchier suspension leads to pretty good body motion control -- the car rides bumps without tossing the driver; your butt is able to read and predict roll progression; and torque vectoring means you can pick up the throttle early in the corner. Those are wonderful characteristics. Unfortunately, the driver is distracted by the steering wheel and accelerator and brake pedals. The gas pedal is overly jumpy and demands the finest delicacy to ascertain the right amount of modulation. The brake pedal has a reasonable bite, but the depression action is soft. Weirdly, both pedals pulse intermittently for no apparent reason, and feel and sound as if there's an attached unnatural return spring trying to force them back into their resting states.
Steering effort and response are encouraging on- and around center. Your hands are more hesitant when the wheel is cranked off-center and the effort goes light. As far as correction amenability goes, for enthusiastic driving, the Volvo doesn't rank terribly high. Nor does the R-Design driver's seat rate highly for its bolster grip on drivers with smaller frames, though they're plenty plush for traveling to Kingsburg.
When all the driver controls sort of come together, we arrive at a figure-eight time of 25.6 seconds at 0.74 average g, improving on our old long-term S60 T6 AWD's 26.2 seconds at 0.68 average g. There will eventually be a Polestar trim with more power and even firmer suspension to cover the top of the S60 range. The R-Design sits in an odd spot now.
But let's pretend you don't care for the finer driving details. You'll want to know that the S60 backseat is one of the most accommodating in the segment for three passengers. You'll want to know the minimalist and tastefully styled interior has six airbags that contribute to the car's NHTSA 5-star and IIHS Top Safety Pick + ratings. You'll want to know those who learned to write text messages in the pre-QWERTY cellphone era will be wowed by Volvo Sensus' ability to enter navigation addresses through the center stack's number pad. You'll want to know the chief source of cabin noise originates from the tires. You'll want to know the new-for-2013 illuminated shift knob slides to the left instead of the right to access the transmission's sport and manual modes.
A little Swedish immersion goes a long way for fact retention.
The FestivalIn direct sunlight, the S60's Rebel Blue appears to almost match the blue found in the Swedish flags flying around town. A big crowd gathers for the maypole raising and the period outfits look fantastic. Next time, we'll have to show up earlier for the Svenska pannkakor (Swedish pancakes). Not a bad place to take a Volvo.
|2013 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$48,195|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||3.0L/325-hp/354-lb-ft turbo DOHC 24-valve I-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3828 lb (62/38%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||182.2 x 73.4 x 58.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||13.8 sec @ 101.3 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||111 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.90 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.6 sec @ 0.74 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||18/25 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||187/135 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.94 lb/mile|