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2011-05-12 06:56

PERFORMANCE POLEVAULT: A dramatically twisty mountain past would not usually fill one with anticipation in a Volvo, unless it’s a Polestar tuned R-Design derivative.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Volvo
Model Polestar V60
Engine 3l in-line six, turbo
Power 246kW

Lance Branquinho

Volvo is best known for producing family cars with impeccable safety levels but the Swedish brand has always had a wild streak of sorts.

From its halcyon rally days with the striking P1800 coupe five decades ago to the hugely controversial (and remarkably well remembered) 850 station wagon British Touring car racer it campaigned for a single season back in 1994, Volvo has competition heritage – no doubt about it.

When the brand introduced its first R-affixed 850 models to the local market during the late 1990s, German premium brands were taken aback by the sheer performance of these five-cylinder turbocharged Viking cars – especially the five-door estate versions.

Now, nearly a decade and a half later, Volvo has released R-Design upgrades for each of the 22 S60 and V60 models recently launched in South Africa.

Unpack details of the R-Design package you’ll notice a redesigned grille up front (filled in with hexagonal-pattern mesh), colour-coded surfacing (contrasted by matte-finish door mirrors) and five-spoke 18" alloy rims. All things considered, the R-Design cars manage to add a perfectly crafted level of dynamic intent to their stylised Swedish surfacing.

Succinctly: they look swift and smart without appearing too elaborate, or tackily modified.

Inside, Volvo’s replaced the standard 60-series seats (which are superbly comfortable) with firmer sports seats in anticipation of driver’s requiring more support as the result of greater cornering forces being exerted. The steering wheel is R-Design specific too, as are the pedals and mats. General equipment levels remain unchanged.


Beyond the (negligible) styling and cabin trim upgrades, the R-Design package does add some subtle engineering touches to improve the cars' dynamic driving experience too, something Volvo was keen for the local motoring media to experience at South Africa’s premium racing circuit, Kyalami.

Lift the bonnet of one of these new R-Design cars you’ll notice a strut brace running between the suspension strut towers – signalling Volvo’s intent to stiffen the body structure.

The most pronounced changes are made to the individual wheel oscillation behaviour and stability intervention systems. Volvo’s engineers have cut a coil or two off each spring, resulting in a ride height reduction of 15mm and 15% greater individual wheel rebound resistance.

Harmonising these new, firmer springs are monotube dampers which combine the compression and return damping in a single valve actuation – thereby enabling responses nearly twice as quick as traditional twin-tube dampers, reducing body roll at speed.

The greatest depreciator of any dynamic driving experience is overzealous stability intervention system interference. In an effort to counter spoilsport stability system intervention, Vovlo’s electronic engineers have reprogrammed the R-Design cars to operate with greater benevolence towards on-the-limit driving behaviour – in other words: they’ll slide and scrub a bit (without momentum ruining ESP or traction control intervention) if you are really pushing along (rather) swiftly on a twisty road.

Volvo’s corner traction control system retains its torque vectoring (by braking the rear inside wheel when cornering at speed), yet the combined dynamic stability and traction control systems feature a selectable setting with a greatly reduced intervention threshold.

The R-Design upgrades are available for the entire range of S60 engine options, a rather substantial list seven engines strong.

Only the 224kW turbocharged in-line six T6 (remember the days when Volvo and BMW were not the only manufacturers building those?), or 177- and 149kW incarnations of the company’s turbocharged 2-litre four-cylinder engine can really do the R-Design package justice. Can the T6 really fulfill its performance billing? Well, Volvo had some special guests in attendance at Kyalami to answer that question...

SWEDEN’S FAMILY SUPERCAR: Established in 1996, Polestar’s business has been delivering turnkey racing car solutions for Volvo. Now they’re doing road car work too…


If you are a keen Volvo fan (or a Top Gear acolyte), you’ll not doubt be familiar with the company’s rather radical, and fastest-in-class, C30 hot hatch concept, engineered by the brand’s motorsport arm Polestar.

Volvo’s commercial director of motorsport, Alexander Scedvin (despite his effortless Swedish, of Macedonian descent), had some tasty information to share regarding Polestar’s future involvement locally.

A black R-Design V60 T6 Volvo had on hand for demonstration purposes was equipped with Polestar’s performance mapping, said to liberate an additional 10% worth of power. On the T6 that is good for around 246kW – Audi S4 rivalling power, combined with five-door estate configuration practicality

The cost? Well, Volvo and Polestar aren’t committing to a fixed price yet, projecting the performance upgrade to go for between R10 000 and R15 000 when it becomeS available towards the end of 2011.


How does it go? Well, the R-Design suspension and steering tweaks do their best to tame the additional performance. There is little doubt about the straight-line rocketship credentials of a Polestar tuned S60 T6 – it positively hauls, even at Gauteng altitudes.

The handling dynamics don’t quite have that last tenth of tautness and feedback compared to the German trio of M-divisino, AMG and S/RS-line products, yet a Polestar V60 T6 estate is plenty cheaper and rather unique in its offering. Petrolheads who casually dismiss its dynamics as being pointedly inferior to the Germans would be well served to note that World Touring Car racing driver, Robert Dahlgren, was on hand to set the pace around Kyalami during the media day.

Dahlgren was initially taken aback by how quick some of the local media were around Kyalami (in mitigation, some of journalists present were former or current racing drivers), yet eventually managed to get the Polestar S60 into the 2:05s around South Africa’s Grand Prix circuit, which is plenty quick.

Compared to former F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton’s 2.09, set in a vastly more powerful C63 AMG (with semi-slick tyres), back in 2010, Dahlgren is either a fantastic driver, or the Polestar V60 T6 is not quite the dynamically inert mommy-wagon petrolheads take it to be. I'll settle on it probably being a combination of both. 

The R-Design Volvos look fantastic. Their styling upgrades are tastefully done (a rarity these days) and the Polestar mapping adds that dynamic impetus missing from the standard engines.

Distinctively Scandinavian design combined with peerless safety features and outstanding comfort? That is what the Polestar modified R-Design S/V60 range offers.


Volvo S60 R-Design derivatives

T6 AWD Geartronic R-Design - R489 300
T5 Manual R-Design - R405 000
T5 Powershift R-Design - R421 400
2.0T Manual R-Design - R380 700
2.0T Powershift R-Design - R397 200
T4 Manual R-Design - R356 800
T4 Powershift R-Design - R374 200
T3 Manual R-Design - R332 600
D3 Manual R-Design - R377 400
D3 Geartronic R-Design - R391 300
D5 Geartronic R-Design - R433 200

Volvo V60 R-Design derivatives

T6 AWD Geartronic R-Design - R499 900
T5 Manual R-Design - R415 500
T5 Powershift R-Design - R431 600
2.0T Manual R-Design - R391 300
2.0T Powershift R-Design - R407 300
T4 Manual R-Design - R367 100
T4 Powershift R-Design - R384 600
T3 Manual R-Design - R342 900
D3 Manual R-Design - R387 900
D3 Geartronic R-Design - R402 100
D5 Geartronic R-Design R443 600

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