In 2003 Volvo’s staid S60 saloon found itself thrown into an entirely new light.
Thanks to a hike in firepower plus the addition of a four-wheel drive system and electronically controlled dampers, the dependable Swede morphed into a potential BMW M3 rival.
A series of tweaks to its turbocharged five-cylinder engine, including a hike in displacement from 2318cc to 2521cc, netted it 300bhp and 295lb ft. Those numbers resulted in an Autocar-tested 0-62mph time of 6.3sec and a 157mph top speed.
Despite all this, the S60 R wasn’t well received. It had plenty of kit, but with a hard ride, poor automatic transmission and a lack of outright performance, it fell behind its Audi and BMW rivals.
Today, however, depreciation has taken its toll and you can pick up a decent example for £3500. For a car that offers a charismatic five-cylinder warble, a comfortable cabin and a decent turn of speed, it suddenly appears worthy of consideration.
“It was a real flagship model for Volvo,” says Russell Thompson of independent Volvo, BMW and Mini specialist RT Mechanics (01428 648648, rtmechanics.co.uk).
“They were good when they were right, but lots of things fail,” he adds. “Even though they’re a Volvo, they’re quite a specialist sort of car and can have a multitude of problems.”
A frequent fault in the S60 R is with the four-wheel drive system. The transfer case itself, or the splined sleeve for the propshaft that drives the rear wheels, can fail, so a lot of four-wheel-drive S60 Rs end up being front-wheel drive only.
“Owners don’t necessarily realise,” says Thompson. “Get under the car and turn the propshaft. If you can rotate it then it’s not connected.” Alternatively, if you have access to a suitable lift, you can run the car in gear with the wheels off the ground and see if they all turn.
The Volvo’s electronically controlled suspension dampers can also be troublesome. Original-equipment items will set you back £500 apiece from Volvo, but you can find the same dampers through aftermarket channels for less than half that.
“There probably isn’t an S60 on the road that hasn’t had several sets of them,” says Thompson.
Other parts that are prone to grief include the wishbone arms, but replacement items come with uprated bushes and last much longer.
When it comes to assessing a used example, it’s vital that you see it started from cold. If you find that the car in question suffers from a lumpy idle, it could be indicative of cracked cylinder liners.
“They can split their liners at the top of the bore when they get overheated,” reveals Thompson, although it’s an affliction that’s more common on tuned engines.
A further sign of cracked liners is the mysterious disappearance of coolant without any evidence of leaks or excessive exhaust smoke. Many owners overlook the problem, assuming that the car is simply leaking coolant from somewhere they can’t see it and that the offbeat idle is just due to the engine’s five-cylinder nature.
Lots of S60 Rs have had replacement engines under warranty to cure such faults, but if you had to go down that route these days, an exchange engine could cost you up to £4000.
On the day-to-day running costs front, overlooking average economy in the region of 20mpg, things aren’t too bad. A cambelt service, for example, is needed every 10 years or 115,000 miles and will set you back around £200.
Likewise, a regular annual service will cost in the region of £150 to £200, but you’ll still need to take it to a specialist who can properly care for the S60 R.
“Ideally you need someone with knowledge, or a dealer, to scan them with the proper Volvo diagnostic machine,” says Thompson. “You have to have the right kit to service them, too.”
Find yourself a clean example, though, and you’ll have a quietly capable and refined all-seasons saloon.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR:
TRANSMISSION Options are a six-speed manual or a five-speed Geartronic auto. The manual is the one to have as the autos often don’t feel as powerful as they should.
WARNING LIGHTS The S60 R is a complex car with a lot of electronic systems. Make sure all the warning lights come on and go off as they should. Proper diagnostic tools can help identify issues.
SERVICE HISTORY Cars that haven’t been maintained to the right standards can be problematic. “If they go out of the service network, they can get the wrong plugs and don’t like it, for example,” says Thompson.
EXHAUST Inspect the exhaust for corrosion and listen for any leaks. A replacement exhaust will set you back upwards of £500, excluding the catalytic converters.
SUSPENSION UPGRADES Don’t be concerned if the Volvo’s chassis has had some tweaks. American company IPD, for example, makes uprated anti-roll bars that are far superior to the standard ones.
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