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Review: 200? Volvo S60 R Concept

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SEE ALSO: Volvo Buyer's Guide



MODEL: Volvo S60 R
ENGINE: 2.5-liter inline 5 cylinder
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 300 hp @ 5,500 rpm/295 lb-ft @ 1,950-5,250 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual (5-speed automatic with sequential manual shifting mode available)
WHEELBASE: 106.9 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 181.3 x 71.0 x 56.3 in.
STICKER PRICE: $36,825 (V70 R $38,325), both base price

Volvo is getting serious about its performance abilities. With the introduction of the new R Concept S60 R and V70 R sedan and wagon, respectively, the Swedish carmaker has announced to its primary competition that it is ready to do battle. And Volvo believes it can win.

Core of the R Concept vehicles is Volvo's active Four-C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) and new 6-speed close-ratio manual transmission. Together, they transform the already powerful S60 and V70 into performance vehicles. With the addition of all-wheel drive, these vehicles have capabilities other manufacturers will be chasing after.

Volvo feels the two new vehicles will compete against the Audi A4 3.0 quattro, BMW 330xi, Infiniti G35, Lexus IS300 and Mercedes-Benz C320.

The Four-C chassis allows the Volvo to be driven as a "normal" sedan, a "sporty" sedan or as an "aggressive" sedan (or wagon). We had the opportunity to try the different modes on both a slalom course and the asphalt of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

On the slalom course, our first laps were with the suspension set to "comfort." There was considerable lean in the corners, oversteer and understeer in the areas designed to show these traits and nose-dipping on braking. With the suspension set to "aggressive," which Volvo recommends only for serious driving, the car was flat through all corners, exhibited neutral steering characteristics and was flat on braking and acceleration.

Obviously, the car was a hoot to drive on the track as well. We didn't have the entire 1.5-mile oval, but parts of the main track and an infield road circuit.

The true test was on the road. We drove the S60 R over the roads of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in southern Nevada. This is beautiful desert, with both long flat stretches and some interesting curves. These were roads ideally suited to a performance vehicle. Whether we were in "comfort" or "sport," the ride was nearly ideal. There were some sections with rough asphalt that saw road noise transmitted into the cabin, but otherwise the ride was excellent.

In "aggressive" mode, the ride was slightly harsher, but not unpleasant.

Volvo's test ride also took us down the Las Vegas Strip. Why? To show that the S60 R is also tractable in heavy bumper-to-bumper traffic. And if you have to drive in bumper-to-bumper traffic, why not do it in an interesting environment?

The Four-C concept is based on the ability to process enormous amounts of information related to the rotational speed and vertical movement of each wheel, steering wheel deflection and velocity, cornering, engine torque, and braking intervention by ABS. For example, th3e shock absorbers are updated with new information 500 times a second. Volvo collaborated with high-tech system developer Ohlins Racing AB and shock absorber manufacturer Monroe for the shock absorbers.

Also, under severe braking, the Four-C system receives the braking information a few milliseconds before the brake pads touch the disc. By then the microprocessor had computed how much the braking will cause the front end of the car to dive, and uses this information to set the shock absorbers to maximize control and tire grip. I HATE it when a car is smarter than I am.

The R Concept cars use the biggest brakes Volvo has ever used, with 12.9-inch ventilated discs front and rear.

These cars are also Volvos, with all the safety equipment one would want in a car or wagon; air bags all over the place, well-designed performance seats, a solid body structure, etc. And they are luxurious, with super leather in the up-level options. The cloth seats ain't bad either, but if you're going to go with the up-level R Concept, why not go all the way with the seats as well?

Those of us on the test drive agreed that here was a car we could buy for our less-adventurous wives, who would use it in "comfort" mode. Then on the weekends we could take the car/wagon, switch the setting to "sport" or "aggressive" and have a ball.

The best of all possible worlds.

© 2003 The Auto Page Syndicate