Accelerated Development

By Hannah Wallace April 30, 2004

A full understanding of the Volvo S60R can only be accomplished if you know the meaning of the term "haul buggy."

"Haul buggy" originated with rap lyrics, but those of us with gentler sensibilities prefer to say the 2004 Volvo S60R hauls buggy. In other words, it gets up and goes.

While most Volvos look good but are boring to drive, the Volvo S60R begs to be used and abused. It rips you to illegal speeds in a few seconds, corners at your desired "g" force and stops faster than the truck/car/SUV/ minivan tailgating you.

It has every safety feature known, is comfortable for long journeys, gets reasonably good fuel efficiency from its turbo-charged five-cylinder, has a slick six-speed manual transmission, and, yes, won looks and thumbs-up from knowledgeable young folks in their hunkered-down Hondas with the coffee-can exhaust tip.

The old guy driving it must be cool.

I reluctantly turned it over when my test week was up.

Now, 300 horsepower from a 2.5-liter engine is quite a trick. And it would overwhelm a front-wheel drive car. But with Volvo's all-wheel drive setup, the S60R blasted a straight line no matter the weather or road condition. For anyone spending much time on slick roads, all-wheel drive is a lifesaver.

Volvo's setup, however, takes all-wheel drive to another level altogether. A dynamic stability control setup works with all four driving wheels and a three-choice suspension setup to get the S60R through a corner at insane speed. It makes super-quick corrections for over-steer or under-steer, directing power to the wheel that will most efficiently do what the driver wants. I'd call it overkill for my driving use, but anyone with performance aspirations will appreciate what this upscale sports sedan can do.

You'll also appreciate what Volvo dubs the Four-C, computerized controls for four ways a car can move. Four-C technology collects continuous information on the movement of the car and adjusts the dampening of the shock absorbers. How quickly? It samples 500 times per second, updating the setting on each shock absorber on the basis of the car's speed, the movement of the wheels and chassis, and the position of the steering wheel.

Three buttons on the dash-one each for comfort, sport and advanced-give the car its instructions. Sport is the default, providing a firm, but not harsh ride. Comfort smoothes out the bumps for those who don't appreciate being jostled. And advanced turns the S60R into a racecar, where a driver will feel each pavement ripple.

This Volvo offers beautiful leather seats with impressive side and lateral wings that cradle a driver. Snap on that seat-belt restraint and you are ready to roll. The seats are of a special anti-submarine design, and the head restraints, another special Volvo design, are among the safest in any vehicle.

The rear seats can be split, making it easy to carry skis, for instance, or fold them all flat to increase storage capacity.

The six-speed manual transmission has a top gear that lowers rpm at interstate speed, but note that the first two gears can quickly pass most legal speed limits. The clutch is heavy and you'll shift into neutral at stoplights. That clutch also engages quickly, so be prepared for some jerks before you adapt.

Braking is incredibly strong, thanks to big Brembos (almost 13 inches) and an anti-lock braking system. Instruments are done in a jewel-blue finish, which Volvo says was inspired by chronograph watches.

Volvo has earned most of its international reputation by building vehicles known for their safety, and the interior is filled with safety features, most invisible. There are the usual front air bags, side air bags and a head curtain that covers both front and rear seat occupants. The entire Volvo has a safety cage construction.

Also contributing to security, in my view, are the superb bi-Xenon high-intensity headlights. These babies provide a clean, crisp, daylight-type light. And they have little washers.

Pop the hood and behold the five-cylinder and its turbocharger. The turbo boost begins early-at 1,950 rpm you've got 295 foot-pounds of torque launching you. Rpm builds quickly, and shifts are quick and sure.

Zero to 60 is a show-stopping 5.5 seconds. Top speed is, believe it, 155 miles an hour.

Much to Volvo's credit is the way it coats its radiators with Premair, a patented substance that actually takes ozone out of the air it moves through and creates oxygen. Yes, it's a miracle. But it works, and if every automaker did this, think how much cleaner our air would be.

Our tester had optional 18-inch alloy wheels with 235/40ZR tires ($685). While good-looking and grippy, the wheels and tires contributed to a huge 42-foot turning radius, making this sedan more like a bus to maneuver in tight places. One other complaint: Visibility to the rear is limited by the head restraints above the rear seats.

The 2004 Volvo S60R is loaded and you can easily walk away with a fine sports sedan for under $40,000. The S60R is a limited-production car, so you might not be able to walk into a showroom and drive off with one. In fact, Canada's allotment sold out before the first one reached the showroom.

It's the safest bargain hot rod that money can buy. Lordy, it hauls buggy.

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