New S60 + Executive Comments on R. Swedespeed Makes Case for New Volvo S60R.
By George Achorn, S60R Renderings by the Author
Nov 16, 2009 - 7:58:00 AM
Theres no denying the last few years have been tough on Volvo and as such, performance cars havent exactly been what youd call a priority. Ford Motor Companys move to offload its European portfolio and the admission that its Swedish marque was on the block coupled with an economic downturn left Gothenburg in a precarious position where even mainstream product development was delayed. Stalwarts such as the XC90 have gone long in the tooth by todays industry production cycle standards. R cars, momentarily gone from the lineup, have been replaced by R design optics packages that look the part though dont offer any real performance gains. As a result, Volvo's enthusiast ownership has shrunken. Given the context, we were encouraged recently when Volvo Cars North America boss Doug Speck suggested there could be a return of R-branded cars in addition to the already well known intention of adding diesel and hybrid models.
The idea behind a performance line like Volvo R, BMW M or Mercedes-Benz AMG is image a halo offering that inspires excitement and loyalty from owners but not huge profits. These cars are expensive to produce and sell in low numbers. When times are tough or numbers driven, non-enthusiast executives are in power, halo cars are the first cars to get the axe and thats entirely what happened to the S60R and V70R. Unfortunately, it is the influential consumer group who purchases these vehicles that is most proud of their cars and a brand's biggest proponents to friends and family. Ignoring these customers sends Volvo's most influential prospective owners off to other brands who cater to enthusiasts BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, or one of many other competitors. Even Cadillac, mostly known for limousines and fluffy traditional luxury, has recognized this and added its new world-class V-series cars.
Volvos prior design chief, Steve Mattin, once told us that the German culture is more about driving fast. It was his contention that Volvo would win customers by continuing its safety lead and raising its design to also be a differentiator. Thats a noble goal, but in our opinion it is not very realistic when competitors such as BMW, Audi, Cadillac, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo and more are all at the top of their respective design games. Further, we believe that those who place a high priority on safety and Swedish design are not so one dimensional that they dont yearn for a degree of high performance as well safe sex as outspoken ex-VCNA president Vic Doolan once termed it.
Its important to note that Volvos R-branded history. R-sport products were solely accessories in the 70s. The first R-branded 850s didnt arrive until halfway through the 90s. Rs based on the 850 and the first-generation S70/V70 that replaced them were a simple formula bigger chin spoiler, bigger wheels, sport suspension and a more aggressive ECU to more cost-effectively raise power and torque noticeably more than standard models. Other than that, a few interior upgrades were the only other cues.
In the era of the P2-generation S60R and V70R, Volvo was in a haughty mood. Its products were hot sellers laden with new technologies like Haldex AWD. Developing this generation of R-car was much more extensive, with a thoroughly reworked engine, push-button adjustable 4C suspension dynamics, Brembo brakes, body changes front and rear and lavish R-specific leather interiors with spaceball shifters for manual transmission cars. These were the most capable R-cars ever built, but costs rose and likely profitability wasnt great. Eventually the Rs disappeared despite the fact that S60 production continued.
Its not that we didnt love the P2 R cars, but we see that they were too aggressive a step for a brand where high-performance is a lower priority than with the Germans. However, we think the first R-cars may have been onto something mildly hotter cars that are both enough to coax mainstream customers with a little bit of flair and provide a solid foundation for the more hardcore who will modify and upgrade anything to their needs anyway. As icons like the BMW M3 move up market to the even more extreme, medium-level performers such as the repositioned Audi S4 and the turbocharged BMW 335i are enjoying a renaissance by offering just enough performance at a much more attractive price.
All things considered, we believe Volvo should take a step backward as it considers a next generation of R cars. The new S60 looks like an excellent basis on which to begin. Figure any R-design package planned or existing would be fine for a true R. Take a page from Audis book where they use their S-line appearance kit with a different grille on the S4. Scrap 4C or make it optional and, if anything, spend that money adding Haldexs great XWD system that controls torque at the rear wheels for added stability and even oversteer. Engine and interior upgrades are easy -- a more aggressively tuned T6 and maybe some Alcantara segmentation on the seats would be perfect. Maybe bring back the S60Rs Brembos or offer them as a port or dealer-installed accessory. A manual gearbox is a must while Geartronic cars should definitely get wheel-mounted paddle controllers. Many of the componentsbrakes, tuning programs, wheels, and interior accessoriescould even be shared between a number of models to bring costs down. And who wouldnt want R versions of the C30, S40, and V50 or even XC60 along with the S60 and V60?
Our rendered image speculation of an S60R sticks to the proposed formula. Weve guessed at what the R-design kit will look like, emphasizing larger openings for aftermarket upgraded intercoolers and improved airflow. Wheels are straight off of the XC60 R-design, but with centers painted a cool matte finish like Volvo is already doing to some of its own accessory wheels. For badges, weve done something a little more unique than the simple chrome R-script, instead favoring fender-mounted crown badges with a Swedish feel that harken back to Volvo badges of the 70s without being overly retro.
As Volvo sits on the precipice of a new era, we certainly hope for careful reconsideration of R models. Such cars will not necessarily rewrite the books from a volume perspective, but this sort of halo vehicle is candy for the faithful enthusiasts who eat, drink and breathe Volvo. We speak for them when we say wed all collectively recommend Volvo that much more to friends and family were Gothenburg to bait us with such an offering.
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