The R-specification engine is a 2.5-liter straight-five that makes happy use of turbocharging to produce a satisfying 300hp. Dual overhead cams featuring continuously variable timing on both the intake and exhaust valves keep the engine from wheezing before the turbo spools up. But Volvo didn't completely take leave of its brand identity in outfitting the S60 R, as a host of safety and a few green features round out the otherwise brawny package.
Our test car was equipped with the $2,400 Premium package: a glass moonroof and an HU-850 audio system with a six-CD in-dash changer. It also had the six-speed automatic with manual gear selection, a $1,250 option, but it lacked the $2,120 navigation system. Sticker price with options came to $43,735.The provocative and comfortable 2006 Volvo S60 R evinces the dual nature of this performance car from the safety company. The gauges, unique to the R models, have familiar readable Volvo digits in silver on a soft-blue background and silver watch-dial bezels, a nice combination. An aluminum cover for the automatic shifter is another R-only touch, as are the power-adjusted full leather sport seats, which were black in our car, with blue stitching matching the exterior. The pleasantly thick steering wheel has audio and cruise controls at thumb's reach. Dual-zone climate controls are well laid out, with a pictogram and large buttons to direct airflow without any fuss.
Sound from the premium audio system comes through 13 speakers controlled by Dolby Pro Logic II surround. We found the quality well balanced, without too much bass or treble. The audio system includes an iPod adapter, but we weren't impressed by its performance. The adapter for the iPod uses a jack meant for a 10-disc changer and fools the system into thinking that the first 10 playlists on the iPod are CDs. You can navigate the playlists, but they don't display any track information.
From the outside, like the rest of the Volvo family, the S60 R has a softer line than cars from the recent era of refrigerator-influenced styling from the Swedes. Now curvy at the corners and with pleasant details such as the waist-high contour running the length of the body to form the taillight's cutout shape, Volvo's sedans haven't suffered unduly under Ford design influence. Maintaining brand styling despite a shift from longtime familiarity is no mean feat but can be said to have been accomplished here.The 2006 Volvo S60 R feels purposeful the moment you sit behind the wheel, and the engine fires with a suggestive growl from the exhaust. The car steps away smartly from rest, and the feeling of involvement is immediate, the ride noticeably tight even with the chassis in the Comfort setting. The microprocessor-controlled, six-speed Geartronic automatic transmission, an R-only option, has a Sport mode for slightly higher shift points in the first two gears. Volvo's Auto-Stick feature allows manual gear selection and offers reasonably quick response, although we wondered if the six-speed manual might not have felt more engaging.
Power is plentiful throughout the aluminum engine's rev range. Usable torque (295 pound-feet) is available from low revs (1,950rpm), thanks to dual wide-range valve-timing variability. But it's when the turbocharger is at full tilt that this motor takes on a different character. With DSTC and active yaw control directing the power to all four wheels, the 2006 Volvo S60 R stays planted and pointed in the right direction. These electronic aids can be switched off with a very deliberate sequence of button presses, but it takes lots of pedal pushing to invoke them anyway.