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First drive: Volvo goes R-rated

R-rated: Volvo’s stove-hot S60 R AWD is powered by a turbocharged 220kW engine.

Volvo’s hot new R cars have arrived, in the shape of the S60 R sedan and V70 R wagon

28 Nov 2003

THE hottest, most advanced Volvos ever have arrived Down Under in a hurry - in the form of the S60 R sedan and V70 R wagon.

On sale this month following their local debut at the October Sydney motor show, Volvo’s new R cars will leave previous R variants of models such as the 850 and V70 looking lame in comparison.

Pricing for the turbocharged 220kW AWD Volvos was announced in Sydney, with both the six-speed manual and five-speed Geartronic automatic versions of the S60 R sedan priced at $98,950, and both versions of the V70 R wagon priced at $102,950.

While the V70 R continues the high-performance wagon theme pioneered by the yellow T-5R in 1995, the S60 R is Volvo’s first real attempt at a genuine sports sedan.

The Volvo R press kit insists the estate version is by no means a softer option. It also claims the S60 R’s shorter wheelbase provides "a slightly more distinct behind-the-wheel experience".

Both the sedan and wagon employ all-wheel drive and an active chassis that adapts the character of the car to the driving situation. Based on Four-C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) technology - a joint-venture development between Volvo and Ohlins Racing – the R cars’ Active Performance Chassis combines rapid-acting damping control with all-wheel drive and Dynamic Stability and Traction Control.

Four-C monitors the action of each wheel as often as 500 times per second, and it is able to adjust each shock absorber independently in 5 to 15 milliseconds, using readings from several on-board sensors. They measure longitudinal and lateral acceleration, yaw rate, vehicle pitch, vehicle speed, braking force, engine torque, engine speed, throttle position, steering wheel position, steering speed and vertical wheel position.

A control unit adapts the damping force of the shock absorbers to reduce bodyroll, oversteer and understeer, while a choice of three ride settings is also offered: Comfort, Sport and Advanced, in which the electronic throttle’s response is also increased.

It is claimed Four-C also enables the electronically-controlled Haldex II AWD system to change behaviour during cornering. The AWD system recalculates drive forces in less than 100 milliseconds and DSTC can be disabled either partially or fully.

Weight distribution in the S60 R is 55/45 front/rear, while the V70 R’s is 54/46. Shorter springs also reduce the R cars’ ride height, with the V70 R riding 10mm lower up front and 4mm lower at the rear, and the S60 R 6mm/7mm lower than standard front/rear.

Volvo R cars employ the same ZF Servotronic speed-sensitive steering system offered as an option on XC90 and S80 since March, but the R uses a unique steering rack and software to produce a more direct feel. R cars also get an extra steering fluid cooler, plus specific steering gear, bushings, tyres and wheel alignment settings.

Bigger 330mm vented discs are gripped by Brembo four-piston silver-painted callipers up front, behind specific 18 x 8.0-inch five-spoke wheels with 235/40-series Pirelli P-Zero Rosso rubber.

Both models employ a fully revised, 220kW/400Nm version of Volvo’s long-stroke 2.5-litre turbocharged inline five-cylinder engine – making it the Swedish maker’s most powerful engine and world’s apart from previous 2.3-litre R models last sold here in 1998.

The all-alloy engine receives a redesigned twin-camshaft cylinder-head for better cooling, twin air-to-air intercoolers, stainless steel exhaust system, different alloy oilpan and other unique engine internals, along with a turbocharger that is 20 per cent larger than that found in low-pressure turbo Volvos.

Combined with maximum boost pressure of 1.05 bar and a 6500rpm rev-limiter, the result (on PULP) is 400Nm of torque between 1950 and 5250rpm in manual models, while the auto produces 350Nm between a slightly wider spread of revs (1800 to 6000rpm).

Volvo’s new R cars will leave previous R variants of models such as the 850 and V70 looking lame in comparison

Volvo claims the S60 R manual sprints to 100km/h in 5.7 seconds, with the heavier V70 R manual only two-tenths slower at 5.9 seconds. But with 50Nm less peak torque, the auto versions are a substantial 1.8 seconds slower to 100km/h, the slusher sedan completing the dash in 7.5 seconds and the wagon in 7.7 seconds.

All R cars are top speed limited to 250km/h, while claimed fuel consumption figures remain acceptable at 10.7L/100km for the S60 R manual (11.1L/100km auto) and 10.9L/100km for the V70 R manual (11.3L/100km auto).

Visually, the R cars receive only functional differentiation, including a lower, more rounded and 30mm longer front bumper with larger air intakes, a smaller grille with matt silver surround, bi-Xenon headlights with a matt silver surround and a discreet boot spoiler for the sedan. The wagon wears the standard V70 tailgate spoiler, with a more dramatic accessory available.

The result is a drag coefficient of 0.29Cd for the S60 R – only fractionally higher than the donor S60 2.4 - while reducing front-end lift by 25 per cent. One solid and four metallic colours are available, including an exclusive Flash green metallic.

Inside, the R cars feature right blue instruments with aluminium surrounds, off-black leather with beige door trims and carpet, aluminium door trims and glovebox inlays, dark grey dash and centre console, and grip-moulded and leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheels.

Nordkap blue and Gobi beige door trims and carpet are available as a no-cost option, as are the more deeply dished front R-line seats with power adjustment, memory and lumbar. The V70 R is fitted with the S60’s taller console to better align the driver’s arm with the Spaceball gearshift.

Standard features for all R cars include remote central locking, electronic child locks, leather trim, climate control, power/heated front seats, cabin air-filter, cruise control, 11-speaker/four-CD audio system, bi-Xenon headlights and a self-dimming rear vision mirror.

Standard safety items include ABS with EBD and EBA, DSTC, dual-stage front airbags, Inflatable Curtain, Side Impact Protection System and Whiplash Protection System.

Volvo will produce about 9000 Rs in 2003, 60 per cent of which will be the S60 R. Australia's initial allocation of 30 vehicles has been sold and, with an order book of around 55 cars, Volvo Car Australia is predicting an annual R sales volume of about 100 vehicles.


VOLVO’S new R cars were always going to be special, what with a 220kW turbocharged engine and an active, all-wheel drive chassis building on the strengths of the solid S60 and V70 models to take Volvo to unprecedented new heights.

But few at the Australian launch - held on public roads between Melbourne and Phillip Island, where it received a solid morning’s track workout – expected the hottest Volvos ever to be this good.

First there’s the force-fed 2.5-litre five-pot, which bears little resemblance to the engine found in previous R models, either in specification or performance.

Fully revised with a larger turbo, better cooling and more serious internals, the new R engine is a gem, achieving impressive specific output figures with maximum figures of 220kW and a big 400Nm - courtesy of a fistful of extra boost.

Significantly, the peak torque figure makes its presence felt with neck-straining subtlety from just 1950rpm, with a wall of thrust not letting up until the 6500rpm rev-limiter spoils the fun.

Producing a distinctive metallic note, with a very un-Volvo backfire and wastegate whoosh during gearchanges – accompanied by a tyre chirp into second and even third gear – tractable performance is even more apparent in the upper gears, where the R engine’s flexibility comes to the fore via effortless overtaking ability and deceptively quick generation of speed.

With top speed electronically limited to 250km/h, in typical European fashion the R cars are also sensibly geared, with 100km/h in sixth gear coming up at a perfectly useable 2250rpm. The six-speed M66 close-ratio manual itself is operated by a surprisingly slick and short-throw Spaceball shifter, which seems to offer both form and function.

While the similar engine in five-speed sequential-shift adaptive auto versions of both the sedan and wagon – which were not available at launch - is limited to 350Nm, it in fact boasts an even wider peak torque spread, with only slightly inferior fuel economy figures compared to the relatively frugal manual models.

We can’t vouch for the Japanese-built Aisan self-shifter – which should account for up to 80 per cent of R sales - but chances are it will work even more seamlessly with the near lag-free turbo engine.

Though Volvo smashed its acceleration targets of 0-100km/h acceleration in under six seconds – a benchmark figure for any serious performance car – even more convincing is the R engine’s in-gear versatility, which gives both the S60 R and V70 R the rare ability to be both practical and purposeful.

But performance means little without control and, thanks to Volvo’s innovative new active chassis concept, the R cars are as sophisticated as they are quick.

Volvo stops short of offering air springs or on-the-move anti-roll bar adjustment to control ride quality and/or bodyroll like some of its (more expensive) rivals, but has instead delivered a highly effective take on the active shock absorber concept to provide the R cars with multiple personalities.

In effect providing real-time damping control, the Four-C concept developed with top-shelf suspension maker Ohlins and set to appear in both the facelifted S80 and new S40/V40 goes a step further by being linked to the R cars’ stability control-equipped Haldex II all-wheel drivetrain.

In its basic application, the multi-dimensional system adjusts both the shock absorbers and drivetrain for greatest traction automatically and constantly, with the ability to override the system by selecting between three handling programs.

In Comfort mode the system trades a degree of bodyroll for a priority on ride comfort, which remains composed and very un-Volvo-like in the way it irons out small, high-frequency bumps – despite the addition of firmer springs and big 18-inch wheels, which are just one of many features standard only in Australian R cars.

The intermediate Sport mode and more aggressive Advanced mode – in which the ZF Servotronic steering also becomes firmer – noticeably trade ride quality for chassis response, transforming the S60 R and, to a lesser extent, the top-heavier V70 R into much tauter-handling animals.

Volvo’s new flagship offers enough extra performance, technology and equipment to put it in an entirely different league - and to make it a bargain relative to its performance rivals

While the steering changes nature in Advanced chassis mode, rarely is it effected by the engine’s considerably torque forces and nor does it present even a whiff of perhaps the most familiar Volvo trait of steering kickback over mid-corner bumps. The reasonably tight 2.5-turns steering lock is well matched to the solid, well balanced feel of both the S60 and V70.

More sophisticated than the original system, the electronic clutch-operated Haldex II centre coupling remains ostensibly a front-drive system in normal driving situations, but offers far more efficient redirection of drive to the rear wheels when required.

Linked to Four-C, Haldex sends up to around 65 per cent of power to the rear wheels and allows slight oversteer during corner entry, before becoming neutral at the apex and then directing more power to the front wheels during corner exits for safe and reassuring understeer at the limit.

It sounds complex but happens so seamlessly and intuitively in bends – as well as having an anti-tramp function and increasing rear damping force during launches to reduce squat - that you won’t notice it working unless you really pay attention.

Combined with a dynamic stability and traction control system that can be switched to either semi-active Reduced mode – which allows 10 to 15 degrees of overtseer before intervening – or fully shut down following a lengthy button-push process, the system is one of the few that’s best left on.

With all driver aids switched off – with the exception of the unswitchable cross-axle traction control system - the R cars become more biased toward understeer as the massive torque delivery stretches the friendship of the sticky P-Zero Pirelli rubber up front.

Reassuringly, however, in Reduced mode all the fun of both lift-off and power oversteer can be had in the knowledge the system will save the day if things get too far out of control.

Cleverly, for the real enthusiast, the system not only allows left-foot braking without interrupting power (unlike many electronic throttles these days) and offers dead-easy heel-toe downshifting, but even disengages AWD during handbrake turns under 90km/h.

Combined with Four-C and DSTC, Haldex II is one of the most sophisticated, intuitive and effective drive systems we’ve sampled.

The final piece in the R armoury is a braking system that matches the iconic Porsche 911 Turbo’s. Measuring a massive 330mm at all four corners, the R’s vented discs are gripped by four-piston Brembo callipers that offer brilliantly reassuring initial bite, superb pedal feel and virtually fade-free operation even during hard repeated braking at Phillip Island – a claim few road cars can boast.

Of course, both R models come with all the fruit you’d expect in a $100,000 car – including heated and power-adjustable front seats, climate control, cruise control, self-dimming mirror, approach lighting system, remote central locking and power everything.

But the R cars go further by offering a killer 11-speaker, four-CD Dolby Surround sound system, bi-Xenon headlights, 18-inch wheels/tyres, big brakes and active damping.

That leaves just laminated side windows ($990), rear sunblind ($295), sunroof ($2150), Atacama Aniline leather ($2500), metallic paint ($1350) and satellite-navigation ($5900) as options.

There’s also a reasonably unique interior featuring specific instruments, R badging and four choices of leather, plus the traditional Volvo safety kit, including electronically-operated child locks, ABS with EBA and EBD, DSTC, WHIPS, SIPS and a full compliment of airbags.

The only blight on Volvo’s highly ergonomic and versatile R package is an overly big, 13-metre turning circle - a whole 1.5 metres bigger than a cooking model S60 or Audi’s A6 quattro. Volvo says it’s due to the larger 18-inch rubber, but both the sedan and wagon still rub tyres on their wheelhouses at full steering lock like previous Volvo R cars.

The R version may well be twice the price of a garden variety S60 sedan, but Volvo’s new flagship offers enough extra performance, technology and equipment to put it in an entirely different league - and to make it a bargain relative to its performance rivals.

More than just the hottest Volvos ever or a perfect fit for the company’s new "bloody fast Volvo driver" campaign, Sweden’s new R cars are pretty damned hot by any measure. Sophisticated, too.

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