First Drive: 2011 Volvo XC60 R-Design

The VOLVO XC60 has only been on the market for about a year and a half, yet in that time it has become Volvo's best-selling XC. That's not too surprising, considering the small luxury crossover's good looks inside and out, loads of safety features, and excellent power. But for those who crave more thrills from their premium crossovers, Volvo offers a new option: The VOLVO XC60 R-Design is now available with the 3.2-liter six for 2011. This brings the number of VOLVO XC60 R-Design engine options to two.

 The R-Design is Volvo's high-performance trim level, and in the case of the XC60, that means a stiffer chassis, firmer suspension tuning, retuned steering, and unique styling cues. While the 3.2-liter gained 5 horsepower (now 240), we opted to drive the T6 AWD model. (Given the choice between trying out a five-horsepower increase versus a 30-pound-foot improvement, wouldn't you rather go for the T6?) Both benefit from the same chassis and suspension tweaks, but the turbo six now has an output of 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, increases of 19 and 30, respectively. Both engine changes were midyear updates. With the topline T6 AWD R-Design, we had the chance to feel the difference in on-road handling and the power increase over the T6 AWD Motor Trend tested in the past.

 And the differences are impressive. The crossover quickly gets up to speed, and throttle response is quick-the VOLVO XC60 is fast, yet power delivery was smoother than expected from this turbo engine. The transmission is wonderfully smooth, whether in Drive or Manual mode. On surfaces that aren't well-maintained, you can feel more bumps and road irregularities, but all is forgiven once you get on a twisty mountain road. The 60 feels strong and confident when cornering, and the new chassis tuning makes this the most fun model in the XC line. Even though Volvo estimates the R-Design will hit 60 in 6.9 seconds, at the hands of the MT test team, the non-R, 281-horse 2010 VOLVO XC60 reached 60 mph in 6.8, so we expect this new model will fare even better at the track. If there is one weakness with this R, it's that it had low-profile 20-inch wheels and 255/45R20 Pirelli Scorpion Zero tires, a combination that wasn't ideal in the hail and snow.