Test Driven: Volvo S60 R (6/10)

Volvo S60 R

The first time I heard about the Volvo S60/V70 R was at their factory in Gothenburg, Sweden back in 2003. My family and I were there on a European delivery trip to pick up my Mom’s new Volvo S80 Executive. The Volvo representative showed us this beautiful turquoise V70 R with a stunning oxblood interior and informed us of its impressive details. I remember being thrilled to hear that Volvo was going to be making a legitimate performance car that would take on Audi and BMW. So, in 2011 with Mind Over Motor up and rolling, I decided it was time to go try out an S60 R and see what it was like from behind the wheel.   

I had heard many things about the S60 R, both good and bad, so I did have some preconceptions going into my drive. The car I drove was a manual transmission, an interesting silver over blue color scheme, around 92,000 miles on it, and was priced around $12 grand. Clearly it was not the finest example out there, but I considered it a very realistic car that would be relevant to potential buyers looking at S60 Rs second hand.

The S60 R is the definition of a “sleeper”, from the outside it looks like any other safety-minded Volvo, giving no hint to the car’s true level of performance. Once inside you will find the seats are more like a cushy sofa than a gripping bucket seat . The interior appointments are all very nice, and in many ways even a step up from the normal S60s of this era. The S60 R is also, of course, just as practical as any normal S60, and has all wheel drive so you won’t get stuck in bad weather. It is a very good overall package on the surface, but that is what I had expected. The real question is, how good of a sport sedan is it when compared to the likes of other brands?

The S60 R has a nice solid ride, it feels very stable at highway speeds, and seems to just whisk you along the road smoothly without lifting a finger. All of that is fine and great, but every other European sedan does the same. During spirited driving the S60 handles very competently in hard, sweeping corners. Its steering is very quick and responsive, but lacks anything in the way of road feel. Its manual transmission worked well, but felt a bit fragile to me, as if it wouldn’t take much to cause a problem. The clutch was terrible, with no feel in the pedal and a lack of grip on harder shifts; the latter was likely due to it having done 92k miles. With the throttle floored the speedometer goes up quite rapidly, but for some reason it was not all that exciting. The S60 R is a fast car, but it does not feel fast, and that was a big let down for me. On the upside though, the sound its turbo 5 cylinder makes is not unlike the wail of a V10, so your ears will be happy despite your heart rate remaining stable.

The Volvo S60 R drives very well, and it does everything competently. As a car I cannot really fault it, but as a sports sedan it leaves much to be desired. This is especially so when you compare it to the Audi S4, BMW M5, and Mercedes C32 AMG, all of which can be had in the same price range on the used market. S60 Rs are also known to suffer from many electronic gremlins that can add up in repair costs, and they have seen various mechanical issues caused even by basic modifications. If I had to rate the S60 R, I would give it a 3/5, it is a decent car but I wouldn’t really recommend one, unless someone just really wanted to be different from the norm of sport sedans.

WoM Score: 

Primary Function: Performance: 1

Secondary Functions: Luxury(2) Practicality(2), MPG(2): 2

Visual Appeal: 1
Build Quality: 1….. put together well, but has know reliability problems
Value for Money: 1

Final Score: 6/10

-Nick Walker

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