Very fast Volvos have achieved cult status over the past few years because like all the best 'Q cars' they team up the unlikely bedfellows of conservative appearance and wild performance.
The T-5R in 1995 was probably the moment at which the public decided that you could have the best of both worlds with a Volvo: comfy family motoring with a bite if the mood took you.
The company has not looked back since. Its cars have become sexier and more appealing to premium buyers and not just dyed-in-the-wool Volvo traditionalists needing something to carry their labradors in.
The new S60R and V70R carry on this fine tradition, with a 300bhp, 2.5-litre turbocharged engine offering 295lb-ft of torque.
In the metal, there is not much to distinguish the R versions from their more conservative brethren. Although the front has been changed to give more downforce and the nose has been extended on the S60R by 30mm for a larger cooling unit, the changes are subtle, and add to an already handsome car.
Some very clean, light, five-spoke alloys and a spoiler are the only other clues to what is the most understated of all the performance variants from the major manufacturers. Indeed, it even makes the Audi S6 look garish.
Inside, there have been a few changes. The dials are decked out in brushed aluminium and metallic Volvo blue, and the steering wheel – sportier than in other Volvos – has a little R on it to remind the driver of the car's potential.
The seats are absolutely fantastic. Leather Volvo seats are some of the most comfortable around, but these take it to a new level.
Higher side bolsters keep occupants firmly in place, without losing any comfort at all. And the untreated Atacama leather, although a rather expensive but as yet unpriced option, is the sort of hide not found on cars anywhere this side of £100,000.
Although prices are not yet officially announced, the S60R will cost about £34,000 – a couple of grand cheaper and 44bhp less than the upcoming Audi S4 saloon. The V70R will cost in the region of £37,000, about the same as the Audi S4 Avant. There are no great sales targets for these cars.
Volvo expects to sell about 400 of each model next year, and 350 of each in 2004. As for buyers, the vast majority will be men (97% who buy these types of cars are male), and most will own their own business.
There are no official figures yet for CO2, but for benefit-in-kind tax purposes, set your calculators to 35% because it will easily come in above the maximum level. Fuel consumption, again unofficial will be around the 25mpg mark for both cars.
Behind the wheel
IN order to achieve a complex balance of performance and comfort, Volvo has employed what it claims is the world's most advanced active chassis along with four-wheel drive.
This really is what the car is all about, because the S and V show off all the active suspension technology that will eventually filter down to more conventional Volvos. The sooner the better, I say, because it is a clever piece of kit. Three buttons at the top of the instrument panel are marked 'Comfort' 'Sport' and 'Advanced'. Press Comfort and the road surface goes all chocolatey, the car floats over bumps and ridges and the active suspension adjust every other millisecond to keep everything as calm as possible.
With the family on board, this will do the job in all the best load-lugging, effortless Volvo traditions. Sport firms up the dampers but there is still a degree of body roll, but with added sharpness through bends.
Both systems use Sky Hook control technology which adapts continuously to make the car feel, Volvo claims, as though it is 'suspended from above on virtual shock absorbers'.
But I recommend dumping the kids at granny's – possibly for a few days – and trying out the last setting on your own. The Advanced setting turns the car from a pleasant family motor into a very large, very fast and very hard-riding beast.
Basically, however fast you go, the adaptive suspension keeps adjusting to optimise grip, with no concession to ride comfort. Throttle response is sharper, there is no body roll, virtually no dive when braking hard and lots and lots of grip.
The engine gives real bark when the accelerator is floored, and 0-62mph takes just 5.7 seconds for the S and 5.9 for the V. The four-wheel drive ensures that any fast take off is fuss-free.
I'm not a great fan of the engine note though. It intrudes into the cabin a lot, and is not particularly pleasant, sounding harsh rather than sonorous, and after a while I think it would begin to get on my nerves. But such is the price to pay for driving such a fast car.
And if the driver gets a carried away and it goes horribly pear shaped, the car will sort things out for you. As I discovered (on a track, I hasten to add), if you throw it into a bend too fast, stamp on the brakes in panic at the wrong time, throw the steering around and basically get its hefty 1,700kg mass bucking about, the S60R proves patient with its driver, and will help sort the problem out by using all its electronic and hydraulic know-how. It is not only fast, but safe, as any good Volvo should be.
You can just let the engine and suspension do their stuff while you hang on, making this, along with the Jaguar S-type R, one of the fastest yet easiest cars to drive on the market.
That's not to say it is the most involving. For those that feel they have to live on the edge, the BMW M3 and M5, and to some extent, the Audi S6 still provide more thrill. But most drivers want a combination of speed, safety and practicality and of these two cars, the V70R in particular offers that in spades.
While the S60R is the marginally better drive due to improved weight distribution and a stiffer shell, it is the V70R, with its huge load space and benign looks that offers the genuine Q car experience.
|Engine (cc)||2.5-litre turbocharged|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||300/5,000||300/5,000|
|Max torque (ib-ft/rpm):||295/1,950||295/1,950|
|Max speed (mph):||155 (limited)||155 (limited)|
|Comb fuel consumption (mpg):||25 (approx)||25 (approx)|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||n/a||n/a|
|Transmission:||6-sp manual/5-sp Geartronic auto|