Despite the company's storied rally history, Volvo seems to have eschewed building its line of R-Design vehicles into street-legal racers in favor of simply creating design packages that give the company's sedans, crossovers and hatches some much-needed attitude. In the case of the 2011 XC60 R-Design, that means the vehicle evolves from a mild-mannered high-rider into a machine begging to be seen delivering a load of equally well-dressed ladies to an exclusive night spot. It may not be able to reduce its tires to a cloud of carcinogens or successfully execute a Scandinavian flick, but this CUV is a much more attractive offering than its straight-laced siblings.
Photos copyright ©2010 Zach Bowman / AOL
Allow us to get one thing out of the way before we move forward – there is no additional horsepower here. Volvo has kept performance additions to a bare minimum, stuffing in stiffer suspension goodies here and there and skipping out on a more potent powerplant all together. Even so, there's a good bit to get excited about, starting with the retina-searing red paint. The hue, called Passion Red, is only available on the XC60 R-Design, and immediately distinguishes the trim from the rest of the safety-conscious flock. Those massive 20-inch aluminum wheels stamped with equally expansive XC60 logos are also unique hardware.
Throw in new color-matched cladding along the lower realms of the bodywork and you've more or less got the full story on the styling tweaks outside. Jump indoors and you'll see that Volvo has coated the vehicle's beautiful center stack in a new, darker material and that the excellent seats now boast contrasting leather panels for an added dash of style. Take the time to look close, and you just might notice the R-Design logo embossed in the leather, too.
But out of all the kit that comes along with the R-Design package, the new steering wheel takes the cake. Thanks to heaps of perforated leather and plenty of contours laid out just for the ball of your hand and each finger, the wheel feels like it was sculpted for something low, mean and rear-wheel drive. How it wound up on an all-wheel-drive family cruiser is a tale that Volvo isn't telling.
Our tester came in T6 AWD guise, complete with a 300-horsepower, 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine churning out 325 pound-feet of torque. Bolted behind that mill, a six-speed automatic transmission pumps power to all four wheels. Despite weighing a hefty 4,225 pounds, the XC60 R-Design has no problem getting out of its own way, especially once the turbo gets down to work. While it isn't as fast as its steering wheel thumb-grips would suggest, we never found ourselves imperiled by traffic or incapable of embarrassing lesser metal at a stoplight – should the fancy strike us.
While acceleration in the XC60 R-Design is nothing to scoff at, the vehicle's ride leaves plenty of room for improvement. The stiffer springs and reworked dampers give this crossover a somewhat jarring ride over broken pavement and pockmarked roads, and while we're all for sacrificing a little comfort for improved handling, the XC60 R-Design still drives much like the top-heavy CUV that it is. Should that red paint and sporty interior begin to make you think you're driving a corner-carver, be prepared to meet some substantial understeer when you start sawing on the wheel. There's just no fighting physics.
But after a full week with the stylized XC60, the ride was the least of our agitations. It felt as if the engineers at Volvo had worked to make the interior as far from intuitive as possible by lodging the controls for the nav system behind the steering wheel where they're impossible for the driver to see and omitting their location from the owner's manual. Even that sin is forgivable given that most owners would, after a week or so of driving around with the nav warning message on the screen, find the appropriate controls and memorize them, or just skip the wheel-mounted switchgear in favor of the remote control. Of course, Volvo itself seems to have abandoned this ill-fated system in the 2011 S60, but the XC60 will probably have to wait for at least a refresh to get the new-and-improved setup. Either way, we simply can't get past the key system for the XC60.
The vehicle is operated by a key fob about the size of a box of matches, though it doesn't rely on the same radio-frequency technology that most luxury manufacturers employ. To start the XC60, the driver must insert the fob, wait for a small electric motor to suck it into the dash, and then press the start button. Do any one of these things out of sequence or in a hurry, and the dash will simply regurgitate the fob and you'll be stuck doing the whole dance again, this time with feeling.
If you can get past the hurdle of starting the XC60 R-Design, you'll find one very beautiful, but pricey crossover. Our tester sat a little north of the XC60 R-Design T6 AWD base MSRP of $41,550 thanks to its optional wheels, putting the Volvo in the same arena as the BMW X3 xDrive35i. While we'd likely take the BMW for its more sorted suspension, there's no denying how right the Volvo design team got the XC60 R-Design inside and out. Give us a little more power, a set of adjusted dampers and a reworked starting sequence and we'd be whistling Du Gamla, Du Fria all the way home.
Photos copyright ©2010 Zach Bowman / AOL