Volvo are certainly trying to throw off the car for the
elderly tag that it inherited from years of “safe, solid” (and dull)
promotions. A toe in the water exercise in the British Touring Car Championship
helped lift the marque, and the new body shapes continued the trend.
A couple of years ago I tested the new Volvos and I did enjoy
the spirited turbocharged performance engines, but the suspension was a problem,
and getting the available power to the ground was even more of one. Torque steer
was very evident with any decent application of the right welly, so much so that
one was in danger of taking out the motorcycles on both sides of the car at the
traffic light grand prix.
The answer to all this is apparently the new Volvo S60 R,
which has just been released in Australia. According to the auto scribblers
down-under it is the most worked over road going Volvo sedan ever - a car that
Volvo would like you to think of in the same group as the BMW M3, Audi S4 or
Mercedes C32 AMG.
The problems of getting power to the ground have been
addressed in the Volvo S60 R, with this car no longer being FWD, but now 4WD.
With all road wheels delivering the horses, torque steer has been cured.
However, there are still complaints about the suspension,
according to the Aussie writers. Despite its high-tech “Four-C Technology” -
developed in collaboration with shock absorber developer Ohlins Racing AB and
shock absorber manufacturer Monroe - and what seems a perfectly competent
suspension design (multi-link at the rear, struts at the front), the Volvo still
lags behind most of the prestige field.
The switchable, three-mode Four-C electronics certainly
introduce more assertive shock absorber characteristics when the Sport mode is
selected, giving the impression of an eager, responsive chassis, but the Volvo
never feels as lively as the best of its competition.
The S60 R is probably best described as secure and
predictable. Helped by the Pirelli P-Zero Rosso 235/40 tyres, it will rush
around a given corner at decent speed, to be sure, but much of this is down to
the 4WD, rather than suspension dynamics it seems.
But it certainly has the horsepower. 285 bhp (220 kW) from
the 2.5 litre twin camshaft, 20 valve engine with variable valve timing, dual
intercoolers and a 1.05 bar turbocharger. The downside is a reported turbo lag
still present, and an inclination to stall at the traffic lights if you take
your mind off the jack-rabbit start.
Concentrate hard, and the S60 R will blast away with Subaru
WRX-style acceleration (in fact, the claimed 0-100 kph of 5.7 seconds is exactly
the same as the Subaru). Assisting this kind of rush is a six-speed transmission
is accessed via a quite positive, slick gearshift (Volvo’s neat-looking
“Spaceball”) and the ratios are closely spaced for an even surge of power.
Part of the S60 R package is a proper high performance ABS
braking system incorporating all the usual brake assist and electronic brake
force distribution, underpinned by a set of oversized, ventilated discs front
and rear, complete with four piston Brembo calipers.
The negatives return when attempting tight, parking-pace
manoeuvres. The turning circle is not quite of the Queen Mary proportions, but
is still an appalling 13 metres, caused by the car’s 18 inch wheels. U-Turns
become 3 point turns in all but the widest suburban streets.
The S60 R’s presentation is a combination of bold and
brassy and nicely restrained. Restrained on the outside that is, with an almost
invisible strip spoiler on the bootlid, a revised front with larger air intakes
and a black grille with matte silver surrounds, all framed by bi-Xenon
The instrument panel dials are blue-faced and there’s a
leather-clad, three spoke steering wheel with a “slightly elliptical”
section that is supposed to provide a firmer grip. Matching the instruments, the
leather piping on the seats is in blue.
The flagship S60 gets most of the equipment you’d expect,
from climate control air-conditioning, cruise control, 11 speaker sound system
with, four disc CD player and four 75 watt amplifiers, and a self dimming rear
vision mirror. However, not included in the basic package is satellite
navigation, laminated side windows, power glass sunroof - or even metallic
The S60 in basic form is an appealing car to look at and the
R version takes that a step further with its bigger wheels and subtly revised
bodywork. Again according to the pundits down-under, unfortunately the R also
inherits the Volvo suspension so it doesn’t really rate among other top shelf
Europeans in terms of ride or handling - although it has heaps of road grip.
It does inherit Volvo’s unquestioned skill at clever
packaging with its nicely conceived, comfortable and relatively spacious
interior, and a load-through boot that makes it a useful cargo carrier.
It is also outstandingly safe - dynamically and passively -
and beautifully built, with great attention to detail. Pity we probably won’t
see one here, as it would be another performance package that should come in at
an ‘affordable’ price. If you have big pockets!
My old friend Capt. Sitthichoke and the Eastern Offroaders
Club are organizing an overland caravan trip to Mandalay (the old capital of
Myanmar) and Pagan (the Land Of Thousand Pagodas) in the month of April during
the Songkran (Thai New Year) holidays.
It is a long trip and the schedule is:
Day 1 Chiang Kong (Chiang Rai province) to Laos/China border
- Xishuang Banna (230 Km)
Day 2 Xishuang Banna - Lincang (430 Km)
Day 3 Lincang - Yuxi (China/Myanmar border 120 Km)
Day 4 Yuxi - Muse (Myanmar border) - Mandalay (288 miles)
Day 5 Mandalay - Pagan (200 miles)
Day 6 Pagan (site seeing)
Day 7 Pagan - Mandalay (200 miles)
Day 8 Mandalay - Lashio (175 miles of mountainous road and
Day 9 Lashio - Muse (Myanmar/China border) - Yuxi (120 Km)
Day 10 Yuxi - Lincang (480 Km)
Day 11 Licang - Menghai (410 Km)
Day 12 Menghhai - Mongla (China/Myanmar border 70 Km) -
Tachilek/Mae Sai (Myanmar/Thai border 180 Km)
You will need the following for entry to Laos, China and
1. Copy of passport
2. Copy of car registration (If car is under finance need
letter of authority)
3. International drivers license
4. Medical report
5. Copy of insurance
6. Eight two inch passport size photos
Important note. It takes about 60 days to process all
formalities and permits for China. Interested participants should send in their
applications for the trip not later than February 15. Due to road conditions,
they are only accepting 4 x 4 Offroad/SUV’s with 2.5 litre engines minimum.
And only 20 vehicles will be allowed in the caravan.
Prices - Adults US$ 1,220, Children 4-12 years US$ 798,
Vehicles US$ 549 (includes vehicle entry permit fees Laos, China and Myanmar).
The price includes permits at borders, toll fees, insurance,
police escort, entrance fees to places of interest (Mandalay and Pagan), lunch,
dinner, English speaking or Thai speaking guide, 3-4 star hotel accommodation
(twin share) with breakfast, and Myanmar entry permit.
All participants must have their own life insurance, car
insurance, pay for own fuel and shopping and any additional food or drinks other
than provided by organizer. Cars to be fully equipped with recovery gear, carry
necessary spare parts, carry own medical kit, carry extra fuel cans, if car
fitted with CB radio or hand held walkie talkie must inform organizer about
model number, etc. All participating vehicles to be inspected and checked by the
organizer one week before departure. It is suggested that all cars are fitted
with All Terrain (AT) tyres.
Contact Capt. Sitthichoke on Mobile 01 8642270, or 038 432
226, fax 038 431 672, email [email protected] or [email protected]
If you are interested, I would strongly suggest you ring the
good Captain immediately. He is a very knowledgeable chap and knows the routes,
and speaks fluent English.