R You Ready?

Add the letter R to a Volvo and you get a performance vehicle you can drive 365 days a year. It is a guilt-free way to indulge in turbos and tight suspensions in the context of a practical family vehicle that likely will spend too much of its time crawling through gridlock. Scooping up a new Volvo S60 R sedan or V70 R wagon caters to the split personality in many car buyers. It's the chance to, say,

Alisa Priddle

May 1, 2003

4 Min Read
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Add the letter R to a Volvo and you get a performance vehicle you can drive 365 days a year. It is a guilt-free way to indulge in turbos and tight suspensions in the context of a practical family vehicle that likely will spend too much of its time crawling through gridlock.

Scooping up a new Volvo S60 R sedan or V70 R wagon caters to the split personality in many car buyers. It's the chance to, say, own the fastest wagon in North America — yet also one of the safest and most versatile. It's a way to reconcile high performance with everyday driving needs.

On the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, there is no disputing the performance potential: The new turbocharged 2.5L I-5 in the S60 R and V70 R pounds out 300 hp and 295 lb.-ft. (400 Nm) of torque between 1,950 and 5,250 rpm. That includes 15.1 lbs. of available turbo boost (double most turbo engines), requiring twin intercoolers for the intake air.

A new, hidden spoiler in front reduces lift by about 25%; a smaller one in back cuts it by 20%. The effect is evident when speeds exceed about 110 mph (285 km).

And a new 6-speed close-ratio manual gearbox was designed and built in-house to handle the high torque delivered by the engine.

A winding tour through the desert's spectacular Circle of Fire in Nevada's Lake Mead recreation area is a perfect backdrop to test a chassis system offering three distinct driving experiences. Flying over pavement swells, pressing a button on the fly changes the ride from a cushioned float (there's a bit of body roll) in the comfort setting, to the exhilaration of the advanced mode for maximum contact with the road (no body roll here), immediate throttle response and extra torque at takeoff.

The Four-C Technology (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) has a microprocessor that computes the motions of the car to tailor the stiffness of the dampers, which are updated with new information 500 times a second.

The second-generation, Haldex-developed all-wheel drive system makes Volvo's R cars viable all-season vehicles. The Haldex AWD system also serves to improve the cars' dynamics: Torque is rear-biased at the onset of a turn (reducing understeer) and migrates forward to enhance directional stability when exiting a curve.

The Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) system constantly searches for the most traction and can direct all power to a single wheel, modulating the strong Brembo brakes as required.

Volvo touts the unique manner in which the AWD, DSTC and Four-C work together as one network within the vehicles' computerized electrical system known as Multiplex.

The sporty interior features upholstery with visible seams unique to the R models. Of the three options, the most elegant is Atacama leather, dyed with a thin coat of lacquer.

One knock: poor illumination of the instrument cluster. The digital odometer is hard to see in the glare of daylight. It is much better at night, but the dark blue background makes the speedometer hard to read.

Production of this second-generation R series began March 3 in Ghent, Belgium, with U.S. sales as of May 1. First-year production of the S60 R and V70 R will total 7,500 units, of which 4,200 are destined for North America. That includes 3,800 slated for the U.S., 350 for Canada and 50 for the Mexican market.

Volvo initially expects higher wagon sales to enthusiasts. Once that tapers off, sedan sales are expected to account for 80% of the total mix in the U.S. and 65% in Canada.

Pricing is expected to be a competitive point: $36,825 for a well-equipped S60 R and $38,325 for the V70 R, not including the $680 destination charge.

The profile of the S60 R buyer in the U.S. is 70% male, 35-45 years of age, college educated, an auto enthusiast who is married with no kids at home and a household income of $130,000-plus.

The new R cars are designed to expand Volvo's image beyond safety. The V70 R, if it nets 1,000 sales worldwide, will have done its service as a halo vehicle, Volvo says.

The auto maker plans to prove the R concept with these two vehicles and then apply it across the range for all who dream of high-speed open stretches as they inch along a snow-covered freeway.

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2003
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