Volvo exists, as it ever has, to sell cars. It’s always done so in a way that set it apart from the true mainstream, too. In the 1990s, for example, you knew that a Volvo estate would have more space than your front room and would keep running at least until Satan holds his 100th annual Christmas ice skating party.
There’s an awful lot to like in Volvo’s back-catalogue, especially on the petrol side. The news that Volvo has stopped all combustion engine development, as it looks to steal a march on its rivals toward the ultimate goal of electrification, has made us a bit sad. There’s probably going to be a lot more where that came from, over the next decade or two.
So, naturally, being your friendly Internet-based automotive nostalgia fiends, we’ve had our noses in the classifieds. One of the most interesting, unexpected, charismatic and woefully misunderstood cars Volvo ever sold was the S60 R. Billed as ‘Volvo’s M3’ by the media at the time, it had 300bhp and 295lb ft from a turbocharged 2.5-litre five-piston petrol engine. Character? It had buckets of the stuff.
It had ample speed, too. It would launch to 62mph in a little over six seconds and manage a top speed of 157mph. Four-wheel drive helped it off the line, but a dopey automatic gearbox fitted the sports saloon’s M3-bashing image about as well a pair of those eyelashes you see on Fiat 500s. The car was totally misinterpreted; it was never about beating the E46 M3 at its own game. BMW had aced the 100m sprint with its frantic, furious six-pot M3, but Volvo had entered the 400m.
This long-legged brute was a well-equipped and sporty-feeling Swede whose actual talents were limited to straight-line speed, Autobahn blasts and making you feel just a little proud of taking the road less travelled. An M3 was the easy choice, but the S60 R was even more interesting.
It was also a choice made by much fewer idiots. Plenty of the many, many E46 M3s that were sold in the UK were slowly (or very, very quickly) destroyed or allowed to fall into ruin through lack of care. That, or a chronic mismatch of ambition versus talent. Most S60 Rs have escaped that fate, though there were fewer around to begin with.
If you’re looking to get in on the old-school, warbly, five-cylinder turbo action, prices are rising. Four years ago you could pick a tidy one up for about £3500, but now you’re looking at almost double that. The cheapest on Auto Trader at the time of writing is this colourful specimen, with aqua-blue paint over a slightly tired-looking black and tan interior and an 85,000-mile odometer reading. The price is £2995.
It’s modified, says the ad, but there’s precious little detail for a car as prone to problems as this one can be. For one thing the transfer case can fail with a loss of drive to the rear wheels, potentially without you even noticing. It “needs a bit of TLC,” too, which is trade speak for “full respray and 100 man-hours in a workshop.” The seller here just isn’t working hard enough to tell you what you need to know, so our pick would be something more like this one, from a dealer who has five for sale on Auto Trader right now.
The advert is still crap (why aren’t dealers better at this?!), but with so many on its books you’d hope that the seller knows the car, knows its faults and will have put the key things straight before advertising it. At £6000 this imported 83,000-miler isn’t cheap, and it’s twice the price of our fetching turquoise option, but it doesn’t look to have been meddled with and the, err, vivid orange leather seats look immaculate.
Packed with heated electric seats, rear parking sensors, climate control, cruise control and more, what’s not to like? The S60 R is a relaxed, thirsty and odd way to buy into the 300bhp club, but it blends understatement and charisma like Timothy Dalton as James Bond. We like it. Volvo may end up selling more cars than ever as an EV specialist, but that won’t stop us missing oddballs like this.