The cars we loved.
If you follow the Swedish automotive industry, you’ve no doubt heard of all about Saabs financial ills. While Sweden’s second largest auto company has had a difficult time finding (and keeping) a stable owner, it’s up river neighbor Volvo has been quietly remaking its image from the maker of stodgy safety boxes to sleek safety wedges.
The transition of Volvo to sporty is far from complete, but made significant steps in the past with the 850R and S60R. Volvo has always chosen to endow sedans or wagons with its flagship performance banner “R-Type” as if to hold back on being too sporty or appealing to gearheads looking for traditional sports car proportions. A small departure from the norm came in the form of the promising C30 hatchback coupe. It was featured in a sporting support role in the first Twilight film. In its continuing role in the affairs of Cullen family,Volvo will reprise its role in the new Breaking Dawn film with an appearance from the S60 R-Design. Unlike the C30 which sport versions were mostly cosmetic, the S60 R-Design packs some real performance hardware.
Volvo has made an attempt to reach out to a new audience. The tweens who will be going to see the adventures of Bella and Edward are not likely to be able to afford the nearly fifty thousand dollar R-Design, but Volvo is hoping it makes an impact that will spread to lesser Volvos like the C30. Oddly, placing a car in a film featuring people who are by their very nature dead (as vampires tend to be), puts Volvo in new territory. That being a realm where safety is no longer the primary concern, but plays second fiddle to fun – something alien to most Volvos of the past. Why care about safety when you are already dead? Volvo’s bet is that more fun-loving sandal wearing, Mountain Dew drinking 20/30 somethings will bite (if not saddled with too big a student loan of course). It makes sense considering that a younger Edward drove a C30, now having been married he and his new wife have matured to a S60 R-Design no less.
The design trajectory of the S60 would support an appeal to more youthful buyers. The S60 was new in 2010, replacing the boxier first generation cars from 2000-09. The mid-sized S60 lost some of the angular distinctiveness that made it identifiable as a Volvo. The new shape is very un Volvo like in that its sleek, taunt and very curvy. It’s high tail and ground snorting nose looks more like Buick’s new Regal than anything ever to come out of Gothenburgh. Volvo’s designers seem to be getting out more and the exposure to global trends looks to be shaping all new Volvo cars (for better or worse). Traditionalist may argue that only Saab is designing truly Swedish looking cars.
UN-traditional looking or not, the S60 covers all the bases and comes in no less than 17 versions around the world with 9 different engines! Only three flavors are offered in the US with two engine choices, a 5 cylinder in the base T5 and a in-line 6 cylinder in turbo or normally aspirated guise (T6 AWD/R-Design). When turbocharged, the 3.0 makes 325 hp, 25 more than the same non turbo engine in the T6 trim. Both trim levels with the 6 cylinder come standard with AWD and a host of interesting technical features that take the concept of safety to all new levels of nannying.
Volvo being the safety minded company that it is, not only made plenty of safety features available for those inside of the car, but pedestrians as well with two systems that warn the driver of impact with objects or people. Clearly, Volvo makes most other car manufactures look reckless in this regard. The S60 in any form is probably not the car to be used in Death Race 2000, but there are other bits of technology to make the R-Design easier to drive aggressively in all types of road and weather conditions.
The benefits of all wheel drive are enhanced by a dynamic stability control system. No manual transmission is available as might be expected, but the autobox does have six gears from which to work with. Like any car that pretends to run with the A4 or 335, the S60 R is loaded with all the cabin entertainments expected in a modern car (Bluetooth/HD Radio/USB Interface etc.). At around $47,000 the S60 R is priced between the A4 and 335i. A typical student load bill might cost the same but can’t transport 5 vampires in total comfort. The smooth quite ride is well damped from exterior elements, yet allows the driver a certain amount of road feel. A recent edition of Motor Trend clocked the S60 R at 5.3 seconds in the dash to 60 mph, making it no slacker at the stop light. The German competition does most of these things better (with somewhat higher resale value), but the S60 R has been said to allow more drivers the ability to operate their cars closer to the limit with a kind of ease not encouraged in a Audi or Lexus. So no loosing control and crashing scenes if you pass on the high performance summer tire option during the winter.
The new S60 is a big step in Volvo’s continuing attempt to alter its image while holding on to that which makes them popular (safety). Polestar, a performance engineering firm who partners with Volvo often (they created nearly all the R type cars of the past), has been fiddling with a beefed up C30. At 405 hp the AWD Polestar C30 might not make it to market, but certainly it bodes well for some future version of the S60 or its successor to continue Volvos march to the performance flag for Sweden. Volvo will likely always be about safety first. It’s just good that Volvo finally has been adding more style with that equation, even if it means rolling with vampires to prove it.