2006 Volvo S60 R
Although Volvo built its reputation on safe--and boxy--vehicles, that hasn't stopped the company from producing the occasional stormer. The 2006 Volvo S60 R sedan is the latest in a line that included 1995's cult classic, the T-5R. But the S60 R ups the ante with a host of computer-controlled functions to both produce speed and keep it under control. With styling befitting its capabilities, especially when outfitted with our test car's Sport Body Package, the S60 R looks the part both inside and out. Fortunately, the driving doesn't disappoint. A microprocessor-controlled six-speed automatic drives all four wheels via Volvo's Four-C (continuously controlled chassis concept) adaptive suspension, with three chassis settings available depending on conditions and mood. A Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DTSC) system is standard on the R model for braking slipping wheels and reducing power if necessary.
The R-specification engine is a 2.5-liter straight-five that makes happy use of turbocharging to produce a satisfying 300hp. Dual overhead cams featuring continuously variable timing on both the intake and exhaust valves keep the engine from wheezing before the turbo spools up. But Volvo didn't completely take leave of its brand identity in outfitting the S60 R, as a host of safety and a few green features round out the otherwise brawny package.
Our test car was equipped with the $2,400 Premium package: a glass moonroof and an HU-850 audio system with a six-CD in-dash changer. It also had the six-speed automatic with manual gear selection, a $1,250 option, but it lacked the $2,120 navigation system. Sticker price with options came to $43,735.
The provocative and comfortable 2006 Volvo S60 R evinces the dual nature of this performance car from the safety company. The gauges, unique to the R models, have familiar readable Volvo digits in silver on a soft-blue background and silver watch-dial bezels, a nice combination. An aluminum cover for the automatic shifter is another R-only touch, as are the power-adjusted full leather sport seats, which were black in our car, with blue stitching matching the exterior. The pleasantly thick steering wheel has audio and cruise controls at thumb's reach. Dual-zone climate controls are well laid out, with a pictogram and large buttons to direct airflow without any fuss.
The attractive gauges in the R version of the S60 have blue faces and watch-dial bezels.
Sound from the premium audio system comes through 13 speakers controlled by Dolby Pro Logic II surround. We found the quality well balanced, without too much bass or treble. The audio system includes an iPod adapter, but we weren't impressed by its performance. The adapter for the iPod uses a jack meant for a 10-disc changer and fools the system into thinking that the first 10 playlists on the iPod are CDs. You can navigate the playlists, but they don't display any track information.
From the outside, like the rest of the Volvo family, the S60 R has a softer line than cars from the recent era of refrigerator-influenced styling from the Swedes. Now curvy at the corners and with pleasant details such as the waist-high contour running the length of the body to form the taillight's cutout shape, Volvo's sedans haven't suffered unduly under Ford design influence. Maintaining brand styling despite a shift from longtime familiarity is no mean feat but can be said to have been accomplished here.
The 2006 Volvo S60 R feels purposeful the moment you sit behind the wheel, and the engine fires with a suggestive growl from the exhaust. The car steps away smartly from rest, and the feeling of involvement is immediate, the ride noticeably tight even with the chassis in the Comfort setting. The microprocessor-controlled, six-speed Geartronic automatic transmission, an R-only option, has a Sport mode for slightly higher shift points in the first two gears. Volvo's Auto-Stick feature allows manual gear selection and offers reasonably quick response, although we wondered if the six-speed manual might not have felt more engaging. Power is plentiful throughout the aluminum engine's rev range. Usable torque (295 pound-feet) is available from low revs (1,950rpm), thanks to dual wide-range valve-timing variability. But it's when the turbocharger is at full tilt that this motor takes on a different character. With DSTC and active yaw control directing the power to all four wheels, the 2006 Volvo S60 R stays planted and pointed in the right direction. These electronic aids can be switched off with a very deliberate sequence of button presses, but it takes lots of pedal pushing to invoke them anyway.
The driver can easily change the chassis setting between three modes.
Our car's optional 18-inch wheels and Pirelli P-Zero tires gave excellent grip and feel through the variable-assist steering. But they contributed to a sometimes jarring ride, and pairing them with the Sport Body Package's chin spoiler gives every speed bump or driveway entrance the potential to require a trip to the body shop. The chassis doesn't offer any ride-height adjustment, but the three electronically adjustable modes--Comfort, Sport, and Advanced--are suitably different. The Advanced mode dictates sharper throttle response and minimal shock-absorber movement for reduced body sway, and it would make a track day in the Volvo a lot of fun.
Braking is done via four-piston Brembo calipers proudly on display through the five-spoke wheels, clamping on big ventilated discs all around. ABS is naturally standard, as is electronic brake distribution for panic stops.
Fuel economy is EPA rated at 18mpg in the city and 25mpg on the highway, which is not unreasonable in a sedan capable of 155mph.
Perhaps secondary to buyers of this particular Volvo, safety is nonetheless taken as seriously in the 2006 S60 R as with the rest of the lineup. Dual-stage front driver and passenger air bags, along with side-curtain air bags, line the passenger compartment, which itself has a host of safety-cage elements intended to transfer or dissipate the energy of a collision from any direction. The Side Impact Protection System includes a carefully reinforced body structure and transverse tubes under the front seats to transfer force to the other side of the body. Energy-absorbing materials are used for door panels and trim. The car also includes Volvo's antiwhiplash system, which allows seat backs to both move and tilt backward, giving more gently in two stages should a relatively low-speed (up to 20mph) rear-end collision occur. The steering column is designed to collapse telescopically in two places in a head-on collision.
An interesting environmental touch Volvo has been offering on production vehicles since 2000 is PremAir, a catalytic coating on the radiator that converts ozone in the air passing over it into oxygen. Another unexpected feature--this one optional--was power-folding rear headrests, presumably for easier folding of the rear seat backs but with the added benefit of being able to improve rear visibility from the front seat.
Volvo's standard comprehensive warranty is good for a period of four years/50,000 miles, and a four-year membership in Volvo's roadside-assistance program is also standard. For 2006 models, the 7,500-mile diagnostic check and oil/filter change is free of charge at any U.S. Volvo dealer.