Sweden, land of lutefisk, ice hotels and trolls hiding under bridges, is not always at the top of the list when it comes to being a source for grand touring and high performance sport sedans.
But apparently Volvo and its Polestar race-tuning partner never got the memo. Or at least that's what we've concluded after spending some time behind the wheel of the Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, a mouthful of a sedan that scoots in a decidedly Germanic way.
Can this Swede (of newfound Chinese parentage and a Belgian assembly plant) hold its own against the Teutonic competition to the south? Hop in as we go on some hot lapping around the neighborhood in Volvo's personal high-performance sport sedan.
What is it?
Now into its second generation, the latest S60 sedan has made its way to these shores in a variety of different flavors. The R-Design package applied to our T6 AWD model is built to show off a more emotional, aggressive side to a brand normally not known for such. As a result we end up with what's arguably the most complete and comprehensive sports sedan from Sweden.
Powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter twin-turbo six-cylinder engine, the S60 T6 benefits from an unheralded boost from Volvo's tuning partner, Polestar. The engine gets an immediate kick in the pants to the tune of an extra 25 horsepower and 29 lb-ft of torque accomplished through a turbo boost increase and a re-optimization of the ignition, fuel mapping and throttle response.
Altogether, you'll find 325 horsepower at 5,400 rpm and a mostly flat 354 lb-ft. of torque that arrives at 3,000 rpm. As a bonus, there is no voiding of the factory warranty, so this is a tuner special for everyone.
Power hits the ground through the Geartronic six-speed automatic transmission. Shiftable in its dedicated gate, it sends power to the Haldex-built AWD system that works in conjunction with a trick Corner Traction Control for torque-vectoring capabilities at the front wheels for faster turn-ins.
Our S60 also included the standard Volvo's City Safety system, which had us slowing down to a stop as we approached a stationary object just in case we weren't paying attention.
For those living in the "speed kills" camp, there remains a base model S60 T5, turbocharged five-cylinder with front- or all-wheel-drive drivetrains.
What's it up against?
Just some of the Continent's best-loved vehicles, that's all. Examples like the Audi S4, Mercedes-Benz C350 and BMW 335i will have prospective performance sedan buyers fit to be tied with all the choices that are currently in the marketplace.
How does it look?
Subtlety, thy name is Volvo. The S60 T6 R-Design looks standard save for a few select design cues. The most obvious is an R-Design badge located in the grille next. Just below is a new chin spoiler and a very lightly fashioned decklid spoiler to add increased downforce. Proportionally, the front clip fits properly. The rear? To our eyes, slightly abbreviated, as though Volvo designers lopped off about a foot too much of trunk space. Rear under bumper details include a pair of chrome-tipped exhausts residing in a stylized rear diffuser that is more show than go. Designers also decided to simplify things on the car's flanks by eschewing the use of any sort of ground effects side rocker panels.
Seeing that this is a Polestar version of the S60, we are curious why Volvo has also decided to eliminate the Polestar brand logo seen elsewhere in the lineup. We don't know about the next guy, but if we are paying more for a power tweak, regardless of how subtle, we want the rest of the motoring world to know about it. At least a badge can be ordered through Volvo's accessories department.
And on the inside?
Brilliant in charcoal grey, the S60 R-Design has a pair of ergonomically perfect front seats with all the proper bolstering that helped keep us perfectly planted while corner-cutting on our typical test loop. Truthfully, these eight-way power front seats are some of the best we have tried in quite a while, even eclipsing some megabuck seats optional elsewhere. A driver-canted dashboard lays out the kit for viewing from the left seat. Everything is as it should be with the controls, but we think the center console is a bit too busy with little buttons for our tastes.
The rear seating area is a vast improvement over the first generation S60, in that this time there is actually legroom behind the front seats. We think the idea that three adults can sit shoulder-to-shoulder is a bit optimistic, but that's par for the segment.
The Volvo Sensus infotainment system offered stellar tuneage and a seven-inch color monitor. A mediocre navigation system is optional, but it wasn't installed on our tester. If you tick the navigation box, you'll find it to be a bit finicky to operate without a dedicated joystick for certain controls.
But does it go?
To pull out an overused cliché: The one thing that struck us so much was what a Jekyll and Hyde presence this car has. Driving around as normal, you would have no idea that you are in anything more mundane than a regular, practical and safe Volvo S60. That is until you shift the lever over to sport mode and just feel the engine suddenly remap itself and kick you firmly back into the seat.
The steering just feels right with a certain firmness of road feel that we haven't see in many sedans before- or since this one. It almost outshines a German sedan that has a few rings in its nose. The six-speed Geartronic slushbox offered quick shifts once in its sporting position, while the exhaust note was quite impressive for an inline six-cylinder.
Seeing as the S60 R-Design is only available with an automatic transmission, we would have had more fun flipping paddle shift levers, if only they were there. Shame.
The Volvo/Haldex AWD system was sure footed and inspired confidence in the abilities of our test car, even on completely dry surfaces We even managed to feel a nice bit of torque vectoring from the Corner Traction Control, which reined us back in when quick turn-ins decided to grow hair and made the sedan feel remarkably nimble in tight corners.
Our 3,835 lbs. tester had an EPA rating of 18/25 mpg with an average of 21 mpg. We actually managed a best of 22.3 mpg in combined driving, which is about midpack for the segment.
Why you would buy it:
Your neighborhood is full of poseurs in their 335is and S4s, and you decided you wanted to break away from the pack.
Why you wouldn't:
You're still mourning the departure of the V40 and V70 wagons from our shores.
Leftlane's bottom line:
Never drawing attention to itself other than through its Rebel Blue paint hue, Volvo's S60 R-Design, like a typical Swede, goes about its business in a rather quiet manner.
This is a shame, because it belongs in the same company as all of its German sport sedan competitors. But if subtlety remains your thing, the S60 delivers in spades.
2013 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design base price, $43,900. As tested, $45,495.
Climate package, $700; Destination, $895.
Words and photos by Mark Elias.