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Volvo Adventures is an independent New Zealand based resource for the older Volvo models

Volvo S60R

By Mark Petch, NZ Autocar Magazine
Published in June issue 2003
(Photos from other sources)

Clever people these Swedes they not only invented the zipper but they also invented dynamite which is just as well as without dynamite there wouldn't be many roads in a country largely built on ice age rock and precious little else. And with no road system in Sweden, a country of only 9 million people, there would have been scant chance to develop 2 full scale indigenous car makers, VOLVO and SAAB not withstanding that both are now owned off-shore, by Ford and General Motors respectively. In performance vehicle terms, both Swedish car companies have had little choice but to follow pretty much the same forced induction engine strategy for the last twenty years. However, Swedish cars are usually more associated with safety than high performance and given their obsession with safety, it should come as no surprise that a Volvo engineer invented seat belts. Volvo has been by far the more successful of the 2 Swedish car companies. 

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Robbie Francevic
Bathurst 1985/1986
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In 1985, in the hands of the mercurial Gianfranco Brancatelli Volvo's turbocharged 350hp 240T won the European Touring Car Champion-ship; in 1984, closer to home, it won the inaugural Wellington Street Race and then the Australian Touring Car Championship in 1986, both the latter victories courtesy of Robbie Francevic and your humble scribe. So if I appear biased to one Swedish brand you will, I am sure fully understand. Actually, although it is true I still harbour a soft spot for Volvo, back then when we were racing them I found their management to be the most reluctant of brides. Saab, on the other hand, has always been genuinely sports minded, rallying in the 1960s with the great Erik Carlsson, then Stig Blomqvist, for several decades.

Ultimately Saab lacked Volvo's financial resources to compete on the world stage. Today Volvo is the biggest member of the Ford elite PAG (Premium Automotive Group), which also includes Jaguar, Aston Martin and Lincoln. Under PAG, Volvo's product designers have finally thrown off the shackles of corporate conservatism and the company now plays a pivotal role in Ford's 'pincer' strategy against Germany's three big luxury brands: Mercedes, BMW and Audi. As evidence of PAG's rapidly accelerating product assault, look no further than Volvo's latest offerings. The ultra successful new XC90 is rapidly demolishing Mercedes ML sales around the world, and now, entering left of stage, the new all-wheel drive S60R promises to be a Swedish alternative to the likes of Audi's S4.

Whilst this story is about Volvo's exciting new Audi competitor, it wouldn't be complete without me sharing with you -as I am won't to do - the inside goss about Volvo's next wave of jerry-bashing vehicles. At this year's Frankfurt Motor Show, right in the heartland of the enemy, Volvo will finally release its long-awaited new small sedan and wagon variant, the S40 and V50, which are both based on the next-generation Ford Focus platform. 

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The new 2004  S40

The really exciting news is that strong rumours suggest that the new S40 will also spawn an all-wheel-drive S40R with a 300hp, four-cylinder 2.0 litre engine, courtesy of the recently announced new Cosworth Focus. The S40R would obviously go head to head with Audi's yet-to-be-Launched new S3 - and any other pocket rocket for that matter. Despite Volvo's executives refusing to confirm they even have a V8 engine programme, take it from me: in January next year at the Detroit Auto Show, Volvo will reveal its first V8-engined vehicle, appropriately in the American-inspired and -designed XC90. Little is known about Volvo's new V8 other than, logically, like Jaguar's, it's rumoured to be a 'parts bin' special based on Ford's modular Duratec engine programme. However, unlike Jaguar's top performance models, which use a noisy supercharger to force feed the 4.2-litre V8 lungs, Volvo will evidently follow Audi's twin-turbocharger approach for its own future high-performance V8 muscle car offerings.

In 2005, Volvo is also set to replace its unloved transverse -mounted six-cylinder S80 with an all-new, V8-powered, all-wheel drive S80 and, ultimately, a twin-turbocharged 450 hp S80R. Timing? Probably late 2006 is our best guess. Aluminium monocoque body construction, like jaguar's new XL, is also being tipped as a distinct possibility for the replacement S80.

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Volvo's latest R offerings, its new, all-wheel-drive versions of both the S60 sedan and V70 Estate wagon, are very much wolves of the frozen steppes wearing sheep camouflage. Neither vehicle looks overtly sporty, save for the heavily bolstered front seats. 

Whilst I didn't get to drive the V70R wagon, its technical specifications would suggest that, apart from being 45 kilograms heavier, it too will be an absolute barnstormer. Volvo claims the S60R's sprinting abilities for 0-100 km/h are 5.7 seconds, with the heavier V70 Estate wagon a mere two-tenths slower at 5.9 seconds. Even over the mostly wet roads I encountered during the recent trip to Gothenburg, my 'bum-o-metre' confirmed that the S60R is one seriously quick car. Both the sedan and wagon are mechanically identical under their exterior skins, apart from the wagon's four-milIimetre extension to the driveshaft, necessary in order to provide for its four-millimetre increase in wheelbase over the sedan. The wagon's overall length is extended rearward only a mere 10-4 mm over the sedan's 4.6-metre overall vehicle length. Given the added versatility of the V70 estate body, I would expect the V70R to make up 70 per cent of the R model sales in New Zealand.

This story opened with a comment about just how clever the Swedes are because I also wanted to mention two other talented Swedish manufacturers whose products Volvo has drawn on. One you should already know is the Haldex Company. Haldex produces the 'on demand' all-wheel-drive, differential-based system as used by Porsche, Volkswagen and Audi - and now by the S60R and V70R models. More on Haldex later. The second is a small but very successful company by the name of Ohlins. If you're a motor-sport buff, or a motorbike aficionado, then you'll already know just how successful Ohlins is when it comes to the all-important suspension-damping components known commonly as shock absorbers.

A feature unique to Volvo's latest R models is that both incorporate Ohlins patented damper valve technology, in a special shock absorber made under license by Monroe expressly for Volvo. In the S60R, Ohlins technology is combined with Volvo's new Four -C (continuously controlled chassis concept) to provide an active suspension system similar to the CATS system used by Jaguar.

Four-C uses strategically placed sensors to measure lateral, longitudinal and vertical acceleration, in combination with individual wheel-speed and vertical-movement sensors, in order to calculate the best suspension response to a given condition. Four-C then firms or softens the damping characteristics according to that condition. 

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The lateral G sensors firm up the damping of the outside wheels of the car during hard cornering to control body roll. This is in contrast with BMW's new dynamic suspension system, which controls body roll by progressively stiffening both front and rear anti-roll bars by means of a very sophisticated hydraulic coupling.

There are of course pros and cons for each approach to providing an 'active' suspension system. In our opinion, BMW should also combine electronically controlled shock absorbers on its steel sprung models. The downside to the S60R's solution is a noticeable degradation in ride quality once you select one of the two sports suspension settings, but hey - at least in the Volvo the choice of ride quality is at your fingertips.

For user-friendliness, the Four-C active suspension system has three levels of manually selectable calibration: comfort, sport and advanced sport. Selecting either sport mode not only alters the S60R's dampers to their firmest settings but fortunately also raises the threshold of the vehicle's stability and traction control systems. Sadly, the S60R is an absolute killjoy if left in the comfort mode. Show it a tight corner, and it'll show you what a pussycat Volvo's overly safety conscious vehicle stability control system is. To be fair, Mummy is best to leave your new V70R in its default comfort mode when she takes the kids  to and from school.
The motive power behind the S60R's 5.7-second 0-100 km/h point-and-shoot ability is Volvo's neat, 2.5 litre, 300 bhp, turbocharged, five-cylinder, all-alloy engine. With a relatively high compression ratio of 8.5:1, and low turbo boost, a maximum of one bar from its single small turbocharger, the engine proved exceptionally flexible. It delivers an astonishing 400 Nm of torque from 1950 rpm right through to 5250 rpm. The 300-bhp peak power arrives at 5500 rpm. Most of the base engine's 'at risk' components, like rods, pistons and engine bearings, have been significantly upgraded in order to deal with the increased mechanical and thermal loads associated with such a huge increase in engine output. 

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Already, Swedish aftermarket tuners are claiming the S60R engine is good for another 100 hp. So watch this space, for the driveline should certainly hack the extra power, though I would probably want to upgrade the Brembo brakes further, given the S60R's not inconsiderable 1630kg kerb weight, and I would definitely lower the ride height. There will be of course a raft of after-market body kits available for those S60R owners who want their new jigger to scream "look at me".

Volvo's new six-speed manual makes its debut in the S60R, and its shift mechanism is one of the best I have encountered, way ahead of both those of the Audi S4 and BMW M3. I didn't get to drive the five-speed automatic option, which loses 50 Nm of engine torque in order to protect the weaker transmission. Personally, I don't see a lot of point sacrificing performance for the lazy auto option, which reportedly adds nearly two seconds to 0-100 km/h performance. The seamless Haldex four-wheel-drive system is the cleverest 'on demand' all-wheel-drive system around, and it endows the S60R with plenty of grip, even when you're tossing the vehicle around in the wet, as we were. It's an active system that can shuffle torque from the front to the back of the vehicle at will. In the S60R, the system is programmed differently to that fitted to Volvo's high-riding XC90, where benign under steer is intentionally the name of the game. With the Advanced Sport function selected, the S60R's Haldex is optimised to provide more neutral handling.

Ultimately, when push comes to shove, you have to settle for less mid-corner speed in the pursuit of greater exit speed - which the S60R delivers in spades. Or by the bucket load, rather. A little after-market fiddling and even greater performance and more aggressive looks can be had if Volvo's 'Q ship' strategy doesn't ring your bell at first glance. As said, I would settle for lowering the ride height. It's an inexpensive modification that will also improve the car's handling, as it lowers the car's centre of gravity at one and the same time. Twenty to 25 mm max is what I would recommend.

S60 Racecar Belgium

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S60 2002 Racecar

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Mr Sweden, Germany

You can order some pretty wild interior trims or opt for bold, but absolutely gorgeous, aniline leather in natural tan. If hide is your thing, you are going to die for the S60R's cabin. It is used more extensively here than by any competitor - even the door trims, including the bottoms of their receptacle holders, are leather-lined! And though I'm not crazy about the blue instruments, I really like the new black satin finish on the comparatively large centre console - also available in the XC90. Very classy.

Just as its motor-sport success forever changed the way most people thought about staid, safe-as-houses Volvo, the new S60R and V70R will challenge even the views of dyed in-the-wool Audi-philes on things Volvo.

Obviously, when the new Volvo pair go on sale in New Zealand sometime later this year we will get the opportunity to square them off against their nearest opposition. With an indicative price of NZ$105,000 for the S60R and NZ$110,000 for the V70R, these Swedish matches for an Audi S4 could well conquer their opposition.

Volvo S60R Specifications:

2521 cc transverse dohc 20-valve variable-valve-timed, turbocharged inline five, electronic fuel injection, 221 kW at 5500 rpm, 400 Nm at 1950 rpm (Auto: 350 Nm at 1850 rpm)

Six-speed manual or five-speed automatic gearbox, adaptive all-wheel drive via Haldex coupling, Tyres: 235/50ZR18 

Front- MacPherson struts with coil springs, adaptive dampers and stabiliser bar, Rear-Multilink with coil springs, adaptive dampers and stabiliser bar. 

Claimed 0-100:
5.7 seconds (manual S60R)

S60R NZ$105,000, V70R NZ$110,000 1999 - 2021