2019 Volvo S60 T6 R-Design Review: Enough Swedish spice to be a true sports sedan?
Sports sedans-- and especially sedans simply striving to be sporty-- comprise a strange, diverse segment. One bookend stands pedestrian with front-wheel-drive, high-volume sellers like Honda’s Accord Sport, the Mazda6, and even the Toyota Camry XSE. Conversely, the opposing extreme holds fire-breathing, performance-focused machines like the CTS-V, AMG E63, Giulia Quadrifoglio, Hellcat Charger, and so on, and so on, and so on. But somewhere in-between lives a happy medium, a sedan that appeals to the masses but that is still somewhat exciting to drive.
Picture a Venn diagram. One hemisphere houses “sporty” and the other “luxurious.” The cars that reside in the overlap have to be equally competent at carrying a family as they do inspiring a spot of sporty driving. They represent a selection of more approachable, affordable choices. These are the sedans that are comfortable and family-friendly but still boast enough sporting intention to make the driver desire an after-work blast up a mountain pass rather than a leisurely sight-seeing sunset stroll. Let’s call them Goldilocks.
Dead-center within the overlap between the two lies the 2019 Volvo S60 T6 R-Design. This S60 is largely focused on hauling people and keeping its occupants comfortable. But given its R-Design designation this S60 is also tasked with adding a bit of spice to an otherwise straightforward purposeful people hauler. And it certainly has spice, but it’s a different kind. Is it just a dressed-up S60, or does it actually have sporting merits? Beauty, as the trope goes, is more than skin deep.
First things first, just look at it. Visual spice? Oh, yes. The S60 is a true looker in its base form and the “sport” package makes it even more so. Ticking the R-Design box adds black exterior bits, trim-specific wheels and seats, and, crucially, a lower and stiffer suspension setup versus the non R-Design S60s. The added styling elements and Fusion Red paint allow for a look that is both sporty and luxurious. This is a tough tightrope to walk and Volvo managed to do so quite well, at least visually.
The same goes for the interior. It’s downright nice inside the S60. Journalists always fawn over Volvo’s seats and here it’s especially justified. Like the exterior’s visual panache, straddling the line between comfortable and supportive is difficult. And here, too, Volvo manages to do so, with seats that are somehow soft and firm and all the right things in all the right places. They offer sufficient adjustment and the heaters work phenomenally. They hold you in place and are still cross-country road-trip worthy. And they don’t look half-bad, either. Hey, Volvo: please keep doing seats like this. Forever.
There’s more good from the driver’s seat. When reviewing vehicles I always try to get a sense of how a car feels when sitting still as it can be an indicator of the overall experience said vehicle offers. The S60 R-Design feels upscale, modern, spacious, and different. It’s truly distinct from others in the segment, in a positive way. Further, forward visibility is fantastic and the ergonomics, in traditional Volvo fashion, are equally so. Speaking of fashion, the interior is dressed up nicely and does boast genuine solid build quality as well as the ever-sought-after Swedish simplicity. The interior’s one downside is how headache-inducingly slow to respond the interface can be, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available and the Sensus Connect center screen offers strong resolution.
How is the S60 T6 R-Design as a sedan? As expected, rather well; the overall packaging is solid and the car has enough room without being overly large. And it’s a true sedan, not a “coupe” like many other wannabe sports cars, so the rear seats have plenty of room for all but the tallest occupants. That’s a win.
So the S60 R-Design is good to look at and good to be an occupant in. But how is it as a sports sedan? This is where things get a bit more convoluted. In short, it’s a happy medium between the normal, luxury-oriented S60 and the full-on performance-focused Polestar Engineered T8 variant. But breaking things down reveals much more of a mixed bag.
First, an explanation. What differentiates the T6 from its T5 and the aforementioned T8 Polestar Engineered counterparts? Usually I’m not one to write or even leisurely discuss numbers and statistics but here it matters, and matters a lot. Versus the T5’s 250-hp/258-lb-ft turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder, the T6 ramps it up with compound forced induction by way of the addition of a supercharger. This brings the T6’s total output to 316 hp and 295 lb-ft which isn’t nearly T8 Polestar Engineered levels of thrust (415hp/494lb-ft combined), but it’s not insignificant. Factor in that the T6 R-Design AWD weighs nearly 500 pounds less than the Polestar Engineered car and it paints a better picture of what the dynamics equate to. With the T6 slotted between the T5 and T8 and the car’s weight staying closer to that of the T5, the performance merits bode well for the car featured here.
Even with its middle-tier T6 powertrain, power is not lacking. Rolling the Drive Mode selector into Polestar Engineered (not to be confused with the car bearing the same namesake) brings a decidedly stronger throttle response which, though it doesn’t affect power, certainly feels like it does. The car pulls hard through the gears and, at least up to highway speed, gives off the impression that there isn’t a huge faceplant off the power plateau. Acceleration isn’t overwhelmingly fast but it’s by far entertaining enough for local roads. There are some fun boost noises thanks to the twin-charged, but that’s where the good stops. It’s not a supremely refined engine and in normal use is fairly uninspiring. It also absolutely misses on the front of exhaust noise. There’s simply not enough of it and in such a quiet, insulating car there could absolutely be a little aggression by way of sound. As-is, there isn’t.
Similarly, the transmission does its job aptly in normal use but struggles when the car is driven harder. driving. Upshifts are quick as are downshifts, yet even when using the (very nice) paddle shifters the gear-changes are somewhat lazy and the transmission itself reacts slowly. Let’s be real, though: this will only be a problem for true enthusiasts and will only infuriate those of us who really care. The casual buyer won’t mind that the transmission isn’t perfectly predictive and occasionally drags shifts. But here the S60 shows its pedestrian roots.
The steering is also somewhat lacking. The car handles well, at least well enough for a 4,000+ pound all-wheel-drive sedan, but the steering feel is bothersome. It’s dead-numb in Eco and Comfort modes which is no surprise and is not problematic. Toggling to Polestar Engineered adds significant steering weight in that it requires added force to turn the wheel. What’s still missing is any semblance of feel from the front end. The added heft doesn’t translate to more information traveling through to your fingers and hands. And on-center it’s still absolutely dead, though just slightly more of a workout.
Interestingly, this does not drastically affect its prowess as a back-road corner-carver. Between the weight, all-wheel-drive system, and inherent Volvo-ness, this S60 feels utterly planted. The lowered suspension is stiff enough to handle corners without massive body roll yet maintains a ride quality that isn’t jarring by any means. And though the steering remains a factor of disconnect between driver and machine, the handling and buttoned-down feeling create outright driving confidence. And if allowing you to comfortably driving at a pace with which you’re content and relaxed isn’t the final mark of a decent sporty sedan, I don’t know what is.
Volvo’s 2019 S60 T6 R-Design T6 is an attractively-styled car with quality accoutrements, top-notch materials, and so-so dynamics. Is it worth its roughly $55,000 sticker price? Yes. On the whole, the S60 T6 R-Design feels properly premium and achieves its intended goals with aplomb. It’s sporty enough, plenty luxurious, and still feels solid and safe, just like a Volvo should. I wish it had a little more spice in the form of raised tactile involvement, but that’s not Volvo’s way. The 2019 S60 T6 R-Design might not drive like a special full-fledged sports sedan but it sure looks and feels enough like it has those traits from the fun part of the sports-sedan Venn diagram. And, of course, it has the luxury side covered as well. It’s proof that in a complicated segment, focus on driving dynamics isn't everything. And for that, the S60 T6 R-Design will be just right for most who consider the Swedish sedan. Is it the Goldilocks of the segment? Perhaps not. But the Goldilocks of S60s? Absolutely. That’s the right kind of Swedish spice.
(Disclaimer: My employment with Volvo afforded me the opportunity to drive this car. Let the record show that, aside from retaining my job, I have no vested interest in the betterment of the brand and the writing herein reflects my unbiased opinion. These are wholly my own thoughts and do not represent those of Volvo, its employees, or the brand in any way. Additionally, the views and opinions expressed here are my own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.)
Hi, my name is Ross. I write primarily for Hooniverse.com and co-host the Off the Road Again Podcast. I strive to bring some down-to-earth perspective and wit to the world of automotive journalism. I am an off-road enthusiast/self-proclaimed expert and an amateur autocrosser. My current car is an NC Miata Club PRHT but the joke goes that I am perpetually looking for the next vehicle I will regret...