A twist in sobriety: The Volvo S60 R-Design Drive Review

Volvo passenger cars are meant for the more mature and responsible amongst us; the family oriented, concerned and caring ones. But not a Volvo that wears the R-Design badge. Those ones are clearly for the radicals, thanks to the in-house tuning division at the Scandinavian auto maker that stands out as a tiny streak of crazy in an otherwise dignified history.
*Photography by Dinesh Gaur

R-Design cars are known for their unique touches of flamboyance and sportiness, that make a good looking car even better, and the drive a tad bit wilder. Take the Volvo S60 R-Design, for instance. More wolf like than feline, it has a ‘tame me if you can’ look without being outright aggressive. The sculpted V on the bonnet, the active bending wolf eye bi-xenon headlights that tilt and wake up on start, strong shoulders, expressive grille with the Volvo diagonal and R-Design badge give it a clean, yet self assured road presence that is hard to miss. We drove the vehicle for a while last month, and quite the head turner it was. It even managed to hold its own around tony Khan Market in New Delhi, capturing more eye balls while zipping alongside a much pricier Porsche Panamera.

*Photography by Dinesh Gaur

The S60 R-Design is a masterclass in aesthetics. Our drive was Rebel Blue in colour and that itself was striking enough on the road. But add a frameless matte black grille and generous chrome accents, a rear diffuser with dual chrome tipped exhausts, silver painted ORVMs and fabulous 18″ alloys to a car with an already strong character and pedigree, and you get a looker. The R-Design variant has a significantly lower chassis for a stiffer drive, giving the S60 a road hugging stance that alters the natural state of the vehicle. The low slung stance and well proportioned profile makes it undoubtedly one of the sportiest sedans in its segment. And a pleasant twist in sobriety.

*Photography by Dinesh Gaur

The sportiness continues through to the interiors, where the S60 R-Design wears an all-black look with brushed aluminium finishes and R-Design badges around the cabin. You are greeted by the familiar Volvo dashboard setup and floating console that has an aesthetic flow to it, a leather wrapped R-Design steering wheel with sport pedals, and a cabin that is extremely driver centric. The single dial digital TFT instrument cluster gives out all relevant information without complicating things and puts the driver in a commanding position. The black leather sport seats with electronic memory settings in the front are ergonomically designed for maximum comfort and are clearly the best in business. You could drive for hours without any sense of fatigue and it’ll be a shame if you give the best seat in the house to a chauffeur. The side support in the seats run all the way from the thigh to the shoulders, hugging you firmly in position even while tossing around those fast corners. There is decent headroom and legroom in the front, but if you are tall and well built you may find it a bit inadequate. The headroom at the rear reduces further due to the coupé like sloping roofline and while it remains comfortable for two, packing in three adults is a squeeze. In short, if you are looking for a roomy cabin, this may not be the most spacious one around.

*Photography by Dinesh Gaur

The S60 R-Design is rather well equipped though. The vehicle comes with a 7″ infotainment screen, a high performance Harmon Kardon sound system, DVD/ Aux input/ USB & Bluetooth compatibility. The infotainment interface is easy to use and the control knobs and number pad dominates the central section of the console. There is a two zone climate control, satellite navigation, trip computer, cruise control, a sunroof, front and rear park assist. The rear AC vents are in the B Pillar, which means better air circulation and a clutter free central transmission tunnel. There are enough stowage in the doors and central console, and the space behind the floating console is always a Volvo advantage.

*Photography by Dinesh Gaur

There are a few things though, that we didn’t quite approve. A manually operated non retractable sunshade on the rear windshield is clumsy to handle and retractable ones wouldn’t have hurt. The inner sunscreen in the sun roof also has to be operated manually. There are no window blinds in the rear which one expects in this segment in India. Maybe not in Sweden where a bit of sun shining through is welcome, but in India you most definitely need to cut it off in those harsh summer months. Another odd feature was that the 60:40 split fold rear seats can only be operated from the boot, and not from inside the cabin.

The S60 has a stubby boot that lends well to the design, but at 339 litre capacity, falls short in terms of utility. And if you opt for a spare wheel (yes, it is optional!) you have to keep it in the boot, which makes the space almost unusable. Let me explain this. The Volvo S60 R-Design doesn’t come with run flat tires, as it makes the ride stiffer. Neither does it come with a spare. In fact there is no provision for a spare to fit in under the mat. So if you want one, you just throw it in the boot. What Volvo gives instead, is an advanced easy to use puncture repair kit which is the trend in Europe. Now I can imagine driving with confidence without a spare or run flat tires on European roads. But give a thought to Indian conditions where patches of roads are garnished over potholes, and it could mean some serious trouble. Imagine being stranded in the middle of nowhere with a puncture, and without a spare. The only option you would be left with is to get towed away, if you manage to navigate through dodgy cellular networks and reach someone for help. Not a very pleasant thought. For all the advanced safety features in the vehicle, you could find yourself in an awkward situation where you are left to completely fend for yourself in an emergency. So better be safe than sorry, and sacrifice that boot space for an optional spare.

Like the XC60 R-Design (read the review here), the S60 also comes with the new 2.0 litre Drive-E diesel engine, and produces 181 PS of power and 400 Nm of torque. It does 0-100 km/h in 7.4 seconds which compares well with its German rivals. Though it certainly isn’t deficient on power, there is a noticeable lag at lower revs and the 8-speed automatic transmission isn’t the quickest shifting unit here. The manual shift pedals bring out the best in this S60 though. Stepping up the gas feels a bit raw and unrefined, and not effortless. The engine is a tad bit noisy, slight torque steer is noticeable and cabin insulation is not at its best. A bit more refinement would have been pleasant.

*Photography by Dinesh Gaur

For a front wheel drive configuration this one does a good job with intuitive engineering like Corner Traction Control, which is a torque vectoring system that applies just the right amount of power and brake force to the inner and outer wheels while accelerating out of a corner. But handling can never be compared to the rear wheel drive options available in the same price segment.

In terms of fuel efficiency, the Volvo quotes 26 km/l in the combined EU cycle, but we got an average of 12 km/l over a 300 km drive. Ours were not what you would call perfect driving conditions, so about 15-16 km/l is what you should expect under normal conditions.

The S60 R-Design follows Volvo’s tradition of having the highest regard for passenger safety. There are 2 Step Airbags in the front, SIPS Airbags and Inflatable Curtains, Whiplash Protection for the front seat passengers and Emergency Brake Assist. The City Safety feature is designed to protect against any front collision and avoid a crash while driving at speeds up to 50 km/l, if the vehicle in front were to stop suddenly. The sensors help apply brakes automatically.

Priced at INR 40.25 lacs (ex-showroom Delhi) the S60 R-Design is an indulgence. It looks stunning and drives better than its predecessor and has the crazy streak all R-Design cars have. While the transformation from an elegant understated luxury sedan to a competent sporty persona is appreciable, one cannot overlook the Germans in the segment. When you compare head to head, the S60 R-Design scores high on the looks department, but does it have the dynamic prowess of the Audi A4, BMW 3 series and the Mercedes C Class to match its feisty appearance? Well, that could be a matter of debate.

*Photography by Team LTD

All things considered, the S60 R-Design does bring the Volvo brand back in consideration amongst luxury sport performance sedans. But it may still have a bit of catching up to do to come out tops with this diesel version. It is undoubtedly safe, comfortable and boasts of top notch built quality, but cabin and boot space, ride and handling could put off the fence sitters. While it has certainly improved, it has not outclassed the competition just yet, as an all round package. The T6 Petrol could well be another story. More on that when we review it up next.

But test drive this before you make up your mind. It might just pleasantly surprise you. And if looks could kill, you would be knocked out for sure.

*Photography by Dinesh Gaur and Team LTD

1 Comment

1 Comment

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    The Untourists

    January 18, 2016 at 5:03 am

    Have always loved Volvo! Waiting for Polestar!

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