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Volvo powers up with the S60R sedan

October 24, 2003|by JASON STEIN/Wheelbase Communications

What is it that has compelled a straight-laced, buttoned-down automaker to let its hair down a little? What is it that has compelled Volvo - yes, Volvo - to produce the 2004 S60R, the most powerfully packaged Volvo sedan to ever hit the streets?

You've seen Volvos before. Your professor used to drive one. He was the one with the thick, cord sweater, a temperament as easy as the open road and a general dislike for sharp turns, especially in ideology.

He was a thinker, not a racer. To err was driver error.

Your professor, and his car, have loosened up.

Forget the solid, staid image. The S60R, a racer's version of the venerable S60 sedan, is a blast that shatters Volvo's past. It's a very capable all-wheel-drive, four-door family ride that also doubles as a thriller. Don't believe us? Ask the Europeans.

In July, European Car magazine named the S60R the most significant new European car sold in America. To come out on top, the S60R had to bump out a Porsche, a BMW, a Jaguar and an Audi. Certainly no small feat.

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"The criterion for the award is simple," said magazine editor-in-chief Greg Brown. "It must reach into the souls of automotive enthusiasts and stimulate the desire to drive for the pleasure of driving."

A Volvo - yes, a Volvo - does all the above.

Built off its Performance Concept Car, the S60R is a glimpse into where Volvo wants to be when it comes to exhilarating driving. It begins with subtle design changes on the outside and ends with revolutionary stuff under the skin.

At first glance, it could pass as an ordinary S60 sedan. But look closer and you'll see a more aggressive nose in front and an oversized air scoop under the bumper that funnels cool outside air into the engine.

Under the shell, it gets even more interesting. For starters, there are three active chassis settings - Comfort, Sport and Advanced Sport - in one of the most sophisticated systems on the market. The Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept, called Four-C, employs seven electronic sensors to collect data on the movement of the car, instantaneously adjusting the shocks based on driving style and road conditions. It combines an electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system with a suspension that constantly measures road data input at 500 times a second.

But you can't rock if you can't roll, and what purrs under the hood of the S60R sets a whole new standard for Volvo power.

Equipped with the company's newly developed five-cylinder 2.5-liter in-line turbo engine that produces 300 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque, the S60R's output ranks it among the market leaders.

Volvo says the five-cylinder engine propels the car to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds and carries a top speed of 155 mph. It's all under the direction of one of two transmissions: an all-new compact six-speed manual gearbox; or a five-speed semiautomatic unit that allows manual gear selection.

And don't worry that you're hanging it out there with nothing to back you up. It wouldn't be a Volvo if it wasn't safe, and the S60R fits that bill with four-piston Brembo-brand brakes (with anti-lock) designed for even the most severe stopping conditions. Traction and stability control are all standard as are the big 17-inch wheels.

Inside, expect more upscale furnishings when compared to regular S60s, including laterally bolstered sport seats (coated in leather), stylish silver and blue gauges and real aluminum trim. The package also includes dual-zone climate control and a split-folding rear seat.

On the options list you'll find 18-inch wheels, a sunroof, a four-disc CD changer and a DVD-based navigation system.

While priced in accordance with its power, amenities and safety features, some families might find the base $36,000 sticker a bit of a stretch. But as in the past, most Volvos, including the S60R, aren't for the masses. Sleeker, stronger and more agile, it's still a Volvo, but hardly the Volvo your professor drove.

© 2003, Wheelbase Communications

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