2004 Volvo S60 R
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Story and photos by Greg Wilson

300 horses and AWD versatility

Luxury automakers have discovered that many customers will pay a substantial premium for the extra performance and exclusivity of a limited edition, high performance model. Not surprising then that just about every luxury auto company has introduced their own special, limited edition models. There’s BMW’s ‘M’ series of course, and Mercedes-Benz’ AMG models, Audi’s ‘S’ models, Jaguar’s ‘R’ series, and Volvo’s ‘R’ cars – and I wouldn’t be suprised to see another Saab Viggen model in the near future. Even Cadillac is getting into the act with its new ‘V’ series, and to a lesser extent Acura with its ‘Type S’ models and Lexus with its ‘L-Tuned’ models.

Volvo got into the game in 1995 with the introduction of a bright yellow T-5R Wagon based on the 850 Wagon. Critics wondered why a conservative family car manufacturer like Volvo would introduce a hot-rod wagon in a shocking ‘arrest-me-yellow’ colour (OK, it was also available in Black). Since then, Volvo’s image has evolved into a purveyor of stylish and sporty vehicles with sleeker lines and improved performance, notably the T5 turbocharged models. “Performance” is no longer a dirty word for Volvo buyers.

2004 Volvo S60 R
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This year, in addition to the V70 R wagon, Volvo has introduced the S60 R sedan – both badged as 2004 models. With a 300 horsepower version of their twin turbocharged 2.3 litre 5 cylinder engine (up from 247 in the V70 T5), these two R models are the most powerful automobiles Volvo has ever built. In addition to the muscle under the hood, the S60 R has all-wheel-drive, a standard 6-speed manual transmission, Volvo’s active driver-selectable suspension settings, Brembo brakes, and low profile Pirelli P-Zero Rossi 235/40ZR-18 inch radials on unique 5-spoke alloys.

It’s easy to identify the S60 R by the numerous ‘R’ badges around the car. There’s one in the grille, on the rear decklid, imprinted on the unique five-spoke aluminum alloy wheels, and on the brake calipers. Inside, there’s an R on the stainless steel door sill plates, an R on the steering wheel spoke, and two small Rs on the tachometer and speedometer bezels. Under the hood, the engine and camshaft covers are painted a unique blue colour, the trim colour Volvo has chosen for all R cars. The S60 R’s round gauges have the same blue colour faces, and the special sport seats have a slight blue tint and unique blue stitching.

Afficionados will also notice that the front air dam has been extended and the air intake is larger (for better engine cooling). And at the rear, a discreet lip spoiler minimizes lift.

Scandinavian interior impressive

2004 Volvo S60 R

2004 Volvo S60 R

2004 Volvo S60 R

2004 Volvo S60 R
Click image to enlarge

The S60 R’s well-finished ‘Scandinavian-style’ interior includes high-grade leather upholstery and attractive stainless steel trim on the doors and dash. The unique front sport seats and door inserts have a blue tint, while the rest of the interior is a dark grey colour. The front seats offer big side and thigh bolsters for extra cornering support and power height adjustment. One complaint: the manual dial for adjusting lumbar support is located on the inboard side of each front seat, and it’s very difficult to reach because it’s squeezed up against the centre console.

The centre stack, like that of other Volvo’s, has a wide flat surface with big dials and buttons and a pictograph for the ventilation system. It’s very easy to see and use, however some functions are different from the norm: for example the three round dials near the radio – the left one is for volume, the middle one is for station pre-selects, and the right one is for choosing your media, such as AM or FM.

The S60 R includes an AM/FM stereo with 4-disc in-dash CD player with 13 speakers and four 75 watt amplifiers for very clear, powerful sound. Other niceties include automatic climate control with dual temperature adjustments and single fan speed, seat heaters with two settings, and a bright green display on a black background which I found highly visible. Between the seats is a handy bin with enough room for about eight CDs.

The standard 6-speed manual transmission has Volvo’s unique ‘silver boot’ which moves around just as easily as the standard leather boot on most manual transmissions.

One Volvo feature I really like: the rear head restraints can be lowered to improve rear visibility simply by pushing a button on the console. When rear passengers get in, they have to push them up again, but that’s a reasonable trade-off for unobstructed rear visibility.

The rear seats have a sculpted, bucket-like appearance, and are more comfortable for two rear passengers than three. Rear passengers have adequate, but not generous legroom, and there is adequate headroom because Volvo carved out two impressions in the roofliner. A fold down centre armrest offers two pop-out cupholders and a covered storage area.

Behind the centre armrest is a pass-through to the trunk, and as well, the split rear seatbacks can be folded down by releasing a lever inside the trunk.

Engine specifics

The S60 R’s transversely mounted inline 5 cylinder engine is a modified version of the 2.3-litre turbocharged engine in Volvo’s T5 models. The engine features new KKK twin turbochargers that help the engine reach its maximum torque of 295 lb-ft. at just 1,950 rpm with the manual transmission (258 lb-ft at 1,850 rpm with 5-speed automatic transmission). Two intercoolers are used to cool the turbochargers.

As well, the engine features continuously variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust camshafts which adjusts the valve opening times to suit the engine speed and load. The result, according to Volvo, is better performance, lower fuel consumption and reduced emissions (the R-engine meets U.S. LEV I emission requirements).

Other differences between the R engine and the T5 engine include pistons and connecting rods that have been reinforced to withstand added stresses produced by high boost pressures, and improved cylinder head cooling. The sump also has been redesigned to ensure oil flows under extreme g-forces.

The new six-speed manual gearbox, which replaces a five-speed, was specially designed to handle the high torque delivered by the engine.

Driving impressions

With 300 horsepower at 5500 rpm, the S60 R can zip from 0 to 100 km/h in just 5.7 seconds, according to Volvo’s in-house acceleration tests. Turbo boost comes on early at about 2000 rpm, and thankfully there’s no perceptible kickback through the steering wheel. The 2.3 litre twin cam 20 valve inline five cylinder engine is not as smooth as a typical competitor’s V6 engine – it’s a bit noisy at idle, and there’s a mechanical whine under acceleration.

2004 Volvo S60 R

2004 Volvo S60 R

2004 Volvo S60 R

2004 Volvo S60 R

2004 Volvo S60 R

2004 Volvo S60 R
Click image to enlarge

Still, there’s very little vibration under acceleration, and at highway speeds the engine is quiet and vibration-free. Engine speeds at 100 km/h in sixth gear are 2,300 rpm, and at 120 km/h 2,700 rpm.

The new six-speed manual transmission has an easy, medium length throw that’s comfortable in all gears. But I had a complaint about the leather-wrapped shift knob: it has two seams which wrap over the top of the knob – they cut into the sensitive part of my palm when changing gears.

I liked the feel of the S60 R’s speed sensitive power steering, but the car has an uncommonly wide turning circle of 13 metres (43 feet). There were several occasions when I couldn’t make a tight turn and had to back up and make another try.

The standard all-wheel-drive system, which uses an electronically controlled Haldex limited slip coupling, has a short engagement and disengagement time – less than 100 milliseconds – sending power to the rear wheels instantly that the front wheels sense traction loss. When parking, the AWD system is designed to prevent the front and rear axles working against each other in tight turns. As well, when braking, the AWD system deactivates so that the ABS brakes can operate without interference. And when the Dynamic Stability and Traction Control system activates, the AWD system is also deactivated so as not to interfere with its operation.

One of the S60R’s unique features is its adjustable shock settings: Comfort, Sport and Advanced. Three buttons on the dash allow the driver to choose the settings appropriate for the particular driving environment. I found the Comfort setting provided a comfortable ride on the highway, but was still stiffer than a typical S60 suspension. In Sport mode, the suspension becomes stiffer, particularly over poor road surfaces. The Advanced suspension setting is best left for the race-track – shock compression and rebound is short, and the car bobs quickly and uncomfortably in normal driving. Interestingly, Sport is the default setting.

The S60 R’s suspension also adjusts automatically for the motion of the car in an attempt to keep the car parallel to the road surface. This is not a new idea – other manufacturers have similar systems. Personally, I’ve found the best suspensions are not electronically controlled – although such systems are useful for off-road vehicles which are top heavy.

The Brembo brakes on the S60 R have four-piston aluminum brake callipers on 330-mm (13-inch) discs, and stop the car from 100 km/h in a relatively short distance of 36 metres (118 feet).

Safety features

Safety features abound in the S60 R, as you’d expect in a Volvo. A partial list includes dual front dual threshold airbags, inflatable side curtain airbags, front seats with a “Whiplash Protection System (WHIPS)”, side airbags and “Side Impact Protection System (SIPS), five head restraints, five 3-point seat belts with pyrotechnic pretensioners, and emergency trunk release.


Competitors for the $58,995 Volvo S60 R include the Mercedes-Benz C32 AMG ($66,950), Audi S4 2.7T Quattro ($68,505), the BMW M3 Coupe ($73,800), VW Passat W8 4Motion ($53,400), and the Acura 3.2 TL Type S ($41,800).

It’s noteworthy that the mid-sized S60 R is larger than its European competitors, but priced less than the Mercedes and BMW. The S60 R and the Audi S4 are the only high-performance models to offer all-wheel-drive.

The S60 R lacks the performance feel and balanced handling of the rear-wheel-drive M3, and even the Mercedes C32, but it may outperform both those cars in the rain or snow. The S60 R has a powerful motor, but doesn’t feel as quick as the M3 and C32. Still, the S60 R’s practical attributes, such as a relatively roomy interior and a good-sized trunk give it more versatility for the money.


A handsome, well-finished high-performance sedan with the advantage of standard all-wheel-drive, the 2004 Volvo S60R won’t get you as excited as a BMW M3, but it is a more versatile vehicle all-around. Didn’t like its wide turning circle, though.

Technical Data: 2004 Volvo S60 R AWD

Base price $58,995
Freight $750
Options $550 (metallic paint)
Price as tested $60,295
Type 4-door, 5-passenger mid-sized sport sedan
Layout transverse front engine/all-wheel-drive
Engine 2.5 litre inline 5 cylinder, high pressure turbocharger, DOHC, 20 valves with CVVT
Horsepower 300 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque 295 lb-ft. @ 1,950 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual (optional 5-speed automatic with Geartronic manual
Tires Pirelli P-Zero Rosso Tires 235/40ZR-18
Curb weight 1,637 kg (3,609 lb.)
Wheelbase 2,715 mm (106.9 in.)
Length 4,606 mm (181.3 in.)
Width 1,804 mm (71.0 in.)
Height 1,431 mm (56.3 in.)
Cargo capacity 394 litres (13.9 cu. ft.) seats up
  1,034 litres (36.5 cu. ft.) seats down
Fuel consumption City 13.1 l/100 km (22 mpg)
  Hwy: 8.6 l/100 km (33 mpg)
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km

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