If your main influences in buying a budget-friendly used performance car are Facebook groups and Instagram, then you might not know anything outside the MK4 Volkswagen GTI exists. The hot hatchbacks are great—trust us, we race VWs ourselves. But there’s an underrated option for those who want speed, comfort, and a car with four doors—and it wasn’t built in Bavaria. It’s the first-gen Volvo S60R, a sedan that packs all-wheel-drive, a turbocharged five-cylinder and a price tag to rival machines with a fraction of the performance.
The S60R is underrated, under-appreciated, and overlooked, but is it a reliable used car? That depends on how you define reliability. In terms of longevity, yes, S60Rs are known for being able to run for 200,000 or even 300,000 miles. However, they will have problems and those problems will require a lot of (often expensive) maintenance that means you’ll pay a fair amount to reach the high-mileage promised land. Ignore the slightest issue and it’ll come back to bite you, as anyone who has owned one for more than two months will tell you.
That said, people love the S60R so much, they’re willing to foot the bill to keep them going that long. Why? It’s a blast to drive, packs plenty of power and quickness, and it’ll give you plenty of smiles per mile. If you’ve got the means and the dedication, you may want to consider one.
Oh, and Volvo only built around 10,000 examples in total, so they’re pretty rare, too.
The 2004-2007 Volvo S60R Makes 300 Horsepower and 295 Pound-Feet of Torque
Volvo first introduced the S60R for the 2004 model year, riding on the ever-versatile P2 platform. It surprised the industry with a performance sedan that rivaled the contemporary Audi S4 but instead of employing a V8, it had a turbocharged, 2.5-liter inline-five. Not only was its power respectable at 300 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, but it’s delivery was also impressive. Peak torque carried from 1,950 rpm all the way to 5,250 rpm, while peak horsepower picked up shortly after at 5,500 rpm.
That'll make you wonder why the “R” stands for “Refinement” instead of “Racing.”
It’s as Quick to 60 MPH as a Porsche Boxster S
The S60R is typically stacked against other European sedans, but what about a Stuttgart sports car? The manual transmission-equipped 2004 model’s 5.3-second sprint from zero-to-60 mph is a tenth quicker than a Porsche Boxster S of the same vintage, even though it weighs around 300 pounds more. This is possible thanks to its Haldex all-wheel-drive setup and sweet, sweet five-pot we talked about before.
It also beats the B6-generation Audi S4 by a tenth, in case you were wondering.
Active Suspension Made the S60R Even Greater
Volvo developed the S60R’s suspension with Ohlins, who you’ve probably heard of. By collaborating with its fellow Swedish company, the automaker was able to fit an intriguing “Four-C” active suspension, short for "Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept,” to the P2 platform. The car’s electronically controlled shock absorbers can tweak themselves 500 times per second, allowing for precise cornering when in Sport or Advanced mode as well as improved luxury when in Comfort.
And so did an Improved All-Wheel-Drive System
There’s a bit of conflicting information on how Volvo’s AWD system functions but it’s generally agreed that, upon debut, the S60R (and it’s wagon cousin, the V70R) had between a 95/5 and a 90/10 torque-split, with between 50 and 70 percent of the available torque pushed rearward under certain conditions (wheelspin, heavy acceleration, etc). Later on, in 2006, the Haldex AWD system was revised for a quicker reaction time to spinning wheels.
Before Buying, Check the Suspension and AWD
At this point, Volvo had nearly perfected the formula for inline-fives. It produced so many variants of the engine that the boosted 2.5-liter was a strong point for both longevity and performance, all while providing a quirky plus for those who love the howling exhaust note.
As mentioned, the S60R does require extra love to keep it roadworthy. Before buying your own, just make sure to inspect the Haldex all-wheel-drive system and the aforementioned Four-C suspension, which are fairly complex. As with anything, improper upkeep or neglect can lead to problems here. Just know FCP Euro’s website features 129 pages of parts for the S60R, from necessary maintenance to performance upgrades.
Where to Buy One
If you’re looking to search an enormous database full of dealers and individuals, then Autolist is a good option when seeking out your own S60R. Say you’d rather buy one that’s been enthusiast-owned—the Swedespeed forum is a great place to start with all sorts of relevant knowledge just a click away. Pricing typically fluctuates between $6,500 and $10,000 depending on condition and mileage, of course.
If you like the S60R, or have any stories about why this might not be the case, leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Caleb cut his teeth on European cars with a '93 Volkswagen Corrado he owned in high school. Despite being tall enough to drive with his head out the sunroof, he always thought it fit him well. Nowadays, he gets his kicks dreaming about lifted Volvo 940 Turbos. --Instagram @calebjwords