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2012 Volvo S60 T6 R-Design: First Drive

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Take one look at the 2011 Volvo S60 T6 R-Design—especially its extensive badging, different trims and details, and somewhat lower stance—and combined with the moniker you might guess that Volvo has added what's essentially a sport appearance package to the S60.

But it's much more extensive than that. With a higher-output engine, a completely different suspension, various other performance upgrades, and spiced-up interior appointments, the R-Design is sharper, edgier, and simply more willing to be driven hard.

We verified that with a full day behind the wheel of this new sport sedan, first on some twisty two-laners climbing up out of California's Napa valley region and into the central valley—then later with some hot laps on the challenging course (read: blind corners) at Thunderhill Raceway in Willows.

Chipped for 25 extra hp and a different character

One of the first key differences: there's a pretty significant bump in power. With engine mechanicals unchanged, it's been essentially chipped—by the Swedish tuner outfit Polestar. Peak turbo boost is up about ten percent, spark timing has been advanced, and the calibration for the electronic throttle has been redone to be a little snappier. Output is up significantly, to 325 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 354 pound-feet first reached at 3,000 rpm, and technically, it's Volvo's most powerful production engine ever.

The sweet in-line six-cylinder engine in the R-Design still doesn't churn out the torque down low in quite the same way as BMW's turbo six in the 335i, let alone the 335is, but it feels like it really comes to life in the mid-range and sings enthusiastically all the way up to its 6,500-rpm redline. Even better, the throttle has been remapped to somehow make any push of your right foot deliver a rush of power a little more immediately.

Given all that, the difference in zero-to-60 numbers isn't all that impressive: The R-Design can get to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds—about a third of a second faster—but either out on the track or in real-world driving the net effect is that the R-Design simply feels a little more eager.

Responsive, but with some more harshness

The other key difference between the R-Design and the S60 T6 is how it rides and drives. If you're only skimming this piece, let's just say that the T6 R-Design is not for everyone, and many of the changes that the R-Design gets make it not only more responsive and able, but also quite a bit harsher.

More specifically, the suspension for the T6 R-Design is completely different than in the S60 T6, or even the T5. The 4C dynamic chassis system in the T6 has been thrown out in favor of a dedicated Sport suspension that's configured for tight body control—tighter and firmer than the sharpest setting of the T6 suspension—at the expense of a little on-road comfort. Twin-tube dampers have also been replaced with monotube ones for shorter, sharper response (but a pretty significant increase in choppiness on jittery surfaces). Springs both in front and in back have been shortened by 15 mm, which lowers the whole vehicle a bit, and spring stiffness is 15-percent higher than in the T6. Rear bushings are 20-percent stiffer, while in front the tie-blade bushing is four times as stiff, to help counteract any bouncing. And finally, there's a buff strut-tower brace that, an engineer suggested, might make the biggest driving difference of all.


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