2012 Volvo S60 R-Design
Engine: 3.0L Turbocharged Inline 6
Power: 325hp, 354 lb.-ft.
Fuel Economy: 18 city/24 hwy
Price as tested: $48,125

Let’s play a quick game of word association. I say Volvo, you say…? The sure wager in this bet is that you mouthed some derivation of the word “safe.” In fact, the Swedish-rooted brand has become so synonymous with automotive safety that each and every model may as well have a red cross emblazoned on its side. But while protecting ya neck is never a bad thing, it’s become apparent that Volvo does have some newfound desire to be more than a vehicular one-trick-pony. Enter the 2012 S-60 R-Design.

Off the heels of Volvo’s quirky and polarizing C30 hatchback, the redesigned, sportier version of the brand’s midsize S60 is—at first glance—an attempt to live up to the brand’s masculine logo a bit better. Think about it. Even with the old armor-clad Cross Country, who have you historically thought of as a Volvo driver—your teacher? Neighbor? Mom? Nah, it’s pretty safe to assume this one was sculpted more for someone like you. The brand’s design team has finally embraced the use of out-of-the-box lines and curves, while maintaining a decisively European feel. Even being a bit stubby in the nose, the R-Design front end is just the right amount of aggressive. Its vents and components are intimidating to the eye, without looking too fast or furious. Its profile, which tends to be the most visually uninspiring view of a car, is set off nicely with silver trimmed mirror casings—reminiscent of Audi’s S-line—and a clean ribbon of chrome window trim. Bringing up the rear, the car’s sport-centric vibe is echoed further with a contrasting lower valence, although the exhaust tips recessed into “dummy” rear portals do come off as a bit awkward. Still, from an overall design perspective, the car is an A student.

Climbing up in the cabin is a bit of a different story. Far from ugly or unappealing, it doesn’t seem that the R-Design’s interior has gotten the same amount of attention as its outer packaging. The car’s instrument cluster, with its rich blue dials and silver trim, is otherwise a bit Spartan in presentation. Its waterfall center console with full pass-behind layout is a cool exercise in design minimalism, but it’s nothing new from the brand. On top of it all, the car’s signature high-backed seats are dope in design and will hold you like a devout lover, but their leather upholstery seems a bit on the thin side, and like the skin on a “biggest loser” contestant, needs to be pulled a bit more taut. Don’t get me wrong, the S60’s interior is far from bad. But it’s so close to being great, that its shortcomings unfortunately become magnified when under scrutiny. To the car’s credit, your iPhone or iPod will plug into the infotainment system quick and cleanly, and the interface is remarkably easy to figure out, even if you’ve become a bit of an aged, out-of-touch techie. Plus, once fired up and let loose, the car’s 650-watt audio system is a clean, crisp rush of whatever you choose to flow through its speakers.

If that last bit got you at all skeptical, hang on and hear me out on what happens when you push-start the head-turning sport sedan. Don’t hear much? That’s in part due to great sound deadening, but also due to the car’s turbocharged 3.0L inline six-cylinder. It’s good for 325hp when whipped, but remarkably smooth and refined at idle. But if you, like myself, have a bit of a lead foot, you may want to don some lightweight loafers. The real story of the S60’s powerplant is its 354 lb.-ft. of torque that hits early and hits hard. Yeah, you still may be in a safety-conscious sled, but when provoked, this is a Volvo that, like Latarion Milton, would clearly love to do hoodrat stuff with its friends on the road. Those aforementioned high headrests may look a bit obtrusive at first, but after a few enthusiastic mashes of the pedal, you’ll be glad they’re there. Venture off of the straight shot driving, and the R-Design does prove to be more than just, well, design. While its chassis can feel a bit heavy through aggressive cornering (safety rarely equates to lightweight, son!), the car’s electronics adjust well to keep all four corners anchored to the pavement. Experienced drivers may get the sense that the computerized intervention is a tad artificial in feel, but let’s keep in mind what comes first here. Volvo is Latin for “I roll,” and we all know they ain’t talking about flips or cartwheels.

Overall, the S60 R-Design is a commendable effort at juicing a brand that has been stereotyped for commendable, but less-than-thrilling characteristics. If you’re a boy-racer being forced to man up and protect a family, it’s worth a romp behind the wheel. Just don’t go too hard if you’re checking it out with the significant other, or your new, responsible intentions may start to look contrived.