At the same time as releasing the Cross Country derivative to the blossoming Volvo V60 family, the Swedish car company also brings us the sportier R-Design model. There's a broader engine choice for the R-Design than the Cross Country, but ride quality issues mean that - regrettably - this isn't the best V60 in the range.
In the metal
While we've already said the V60 Cross Country might well be how the Volvo mid-sized premium estate should always have looked, the R-Design variant runs it mighty close for visual appeal. The beefier lower body kit on the car is complemented by diamond-cut alloy wheels of at least 18 inches in diameter (19s and 20s are optional), dual integrated exhaust pipe finishers, high-gloss black exterior trim and an interior with some absolutely gorgeous and supremely comfortable half-leather sports seats. R-Design Volvos have always looked marvellous, while the new V60 is a handsome machine, so add them both together and you get one of the best-looking estate cars that has ever been committed to sheet metal. Its competitors can't hold a candle to it for design genius, that's for sure.
Mechanically, the R-Design is almost identical to the regular V60 models in luxury-oriented Momentum and Inscription trims, but there is a change to the suspension. The R-Design model sits 12mm lower than the normal V60s, making it (in turn) fully 72mm closer to the deck than the high-riding Cross Country variant. Not only is the R-Design lower, it also has a sportier tune for the suspension, which promises to enhance the driving engagement of the V60. In Ireland, all R-Designs will be front-wheel drive and - at the moment - just a pair of 2.0-litre turbodiesel engines are confirmed: the 150hp D3 and the 190hp D4, with both available with either a six-speed manual gearbox as standard or, for another €2,030, an eight-speed automatic. Therefore, the 250hp petrol T5 we've driven here isn't as yet confirmed for our market.
The dilemma with modern Volvos, all launched in the wake of 2015's magnificent XC90 seven-seat SUV, is the balance between ride comfort/noise levels and their striking appearance, in terms of whether customers opt for a Momentum/Inscription/Cross Country or an R-Design. Certainly, with the bigger 90-series cars from the company, we'd advocate sticking with the former specifications; their chassis set-ups are such that fitting the R-Design kit, with its uprated suspension and wider tyres on bigger wheels, doesn't appreciably improve the handling, while the ride quality and tyre roar characteristics both suffer to a detrimental degree.
For the 60-series cars, though, so far we've found they're a bit more involving to drive - the XC60, in particular, seems to be OK as an R-Design, with engaging handling and not too much in the way of a rough ride or elevated whoop and rumble from the rubber. So we were hoping for much of the same from the V60 T5 R-Design, because those exterior looks and those front seats are incredibly hard to resist.
Sadly, though, it doesn't take much more than 100 metres in the R-Design to note just how firm the low-speed ride is. Like modern German cars, the Volvo's damping starts to come into its own as the speeds build, so by the time you're doing extra-urban and motorway velocities, the V60 feels tautly controlled and reasonably comfortable. But around town and on fiddly country lanes, there's simply way too much thumping and banging from the suspension as it deals with large primary impacts, like potholes in the road or speed bumps, while the secondary ride is constantly fidgety. In mitigation, there doesn't seem to be any excessive tyre roar from the R-Design's tyres and our test T5 had the biggest, 20-inch optional alloys fitted to it - a D3 R-Design on 18s or a D4 on 19s would likely ride a little better.
We'd perhaps be more compelled to overlook the Volvo's brittle low-speed manners if the V60 R-Design had then thrilled us with its handling, but it's still a fairly safe car in the corners. The steering is nice and quick on the V60, the body control is good and the T5 engine is suitably rapid - if understandably lacking for the haunting soundtrack of Volvo T5s of old - but while it can thread together a series of bends in a competent, reasonably entertaining manner, the R-Design doesn't ever truly excite its driver. Nor does it feel markedly sportier than an Inscription, and so we think it's once again a victory for comfort over speed, when it comes to specifying your new Volvo V60.
What you get for your money
All V60 R-Design models gain enhanced exterior and interior looks plus lower, firmer suspension as standard, as well as front parking sensors (to complement the standard-fit rear items), paddle shifts on the steering wheel for the automatic cars, the nine-inch Sensus Volvo infotainment with satnav, a 12.3-inch TFT instrument cluster, LED headlights with active high beam, dual-zone climate control, a ten-speaker sound system and voice control. That's a generous specification for the R-Design, but with prices starting at €45,500, it's a €4,300 price walk from an equivalent V60 Momentum, which is a big increase.
We so desperately wanted to adore the Volvo V60 R-Design, because its aesthetics are remarkably charming. However, the lower, harder suspension and big alloys have a deleterious effect on the ride comfort, without enough in the way of compensation in terms of more engaging handling. We'd perhaps be prepared to revise our opinion of the V60 R-Design upwards, once we've got a car on Irish roads and it's running on smaller alloys, but for now, our deep love for the V60 lies with other models in the range - like the utterly sumptuous Cross Country.