2013 VOLVO S60 & XC60 R-DESIGN

COLLINGWOOD, ON — It was a fitting way to call time on the seemingly endless winter of 2012-13: One final trip up north while the snow was still flying to test two vehicles that were custom-made to shine in these exact conditions. If you’re from Sweden, you know all about snow and ice. Volvo is from Sweden. Ergo, Volvo knows all about snow and ice.

But two of the company’s most recent releases, the 2013 Volvo S60 R-Design and 2013 Volvo XC60 R-Design are less about winter-weather management and more about tire-smoking performance. You see, Volvo is in the midst of some soul-searching at the moment and, along with that, they’re also setting off in a new direction.

Back in the summer of 2010, Chinese manufacturer Geely purchased Volvo cars from its prior parent company, Ford. The deal effectively saved the Swedish car manufacturer, but there were still plenty of question marks surrounding its future — particularly as sales have been slipping in some markets and one of their key products, the XC90 SUV, hasn’t been changed significantly since its debut in 2002.

That’s an eternity in this day and age, so it’s little wonder that there was some confusion as to what was going on at Volvo. This confusion has led to some spectacular deals on current product (seriously, if you ever imagined yourself driving a Volvo, now’s a great time to buy) and the need to embark on some brand re-building. This process is going to shift into overdrive as the Swedes set about releasing a horde of new vehicles over the next two years.

In the past, the Swedish manufacturer was known for setting the pace in terms of safety, but that’s not enough to hang your hat on these days. In fact, a plethora of airbags and a thesaurus’s worth of active safety acronyms is commonplace these days in economy cars, let alone luxury cars. What’s needed is safety plus something else; based on the release of the R-Design models, that something else might just be performance.

To be clear, the S60 and XC60 are not part of the forthcoming horde, they’re just foreshadowing what might come to pass. And if this is what might come to pass, Volvo is on the verge of one of the greatest comebacks since Lazarus. These two vehicles are remarkable for one very simple reason: They offer more outright performance than their immediate competitors — and their immediate competitors are no slouches.

VolvoS60-6.jpgThe secret to the success of the S60 and XC60 is the involvement of Polestar, a stand-alone performance tuning company that has been applying the wrenches to Volvos exclusively since 1996. While the company is primarily focused on developing race cars, the relationship with Volvo has grown over the years and these R-Design models are proof of that fact.

Polestar has, essentially, taken a pair of very solid vehicles and applied a healthy dose of paprika in the form of suspension and engine tuning. In both cases, the engine — a 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder — has been dialled in to produce 25 more horsepower (to 325 in total) and 25 more lb-ft of torque (to 354).

These are very serious numbers, particularly for the XC60, which in its more pedestrian versions, is a fairly unexciting compact crossover. Equipped with all those ponies and all that pull, the R-Design version propels the XC60 right into the thick of the competition. (Our family truckster is a compact crossover from another manufacturer and it’s a great little vehicle, but it’s nowhere near the machine that the Volvo is.)

On the uneven roads surrounding ski country, the XC60 proved its mettle even more. Generally speaking, compact crossovers don’t often have the best ride quality, mainly because they’re so compact. But the Volvo took all the punishment the winter-whipped roads had to offer and with so little drama, it was scarcely believable.

Over in the other corner, the S60 R-Design makes a similar impression. The sultry sedan is downright quick in a straight line — the sprint to 100 km/h takes an estimated 5.5 seconds. It’s also reasonably spry through the curves, benefitting from a lowered ride height, revised steering and a stiffened suspension system.

Like the XC60, this version of the S60 comes standard with Volvo’s all-wheel drive system, but in this case the effect of the technology was muted because the car was riding on summer tires. (Things were slick, to say the least.) Both vehicles are equipped with 6-speed automatic transmissions.

While neither the S60 nor the XC60 represent the obvious choice for someone seeking a luxury sedan or crossover, they do offer food for thought. Both vehicles are very comfortable, incredibly refined, handsome and, yes, safe. Plus, with the benefit of some inspired influence from Polestar, the R-Design versions bring these Swedes closer to the head of the class than ever before.

The Volvo S60 R-Design starts at $51,350 and the XC60 R-Design rings in at $45,450.

Related >> View more pictures

0 Comments | Add a Comment
*Your Name:
*Enter code:
* Comment: