Can a brand steeped in safety with more women buyers than men create a sedan that appeals to performance junkies? Volvo asks and answers that question with the creation of its new 2012 S60 T6 R-Design. For those with the need for speed, Volvo offers a version of it's S60 T6 sedan that's been tweaked up a few pegs on the manly scale - an additional 29-lb. ft. of torque and 25 more horses. Added exterior and interior appearance, suspension and steering upgrades make enough of a sporting statement to make performance-loving men ask, "Am I really driving a Volvo?"

Based on the success of the its crossovers - the 7-seat XC90 and the smaller, 5-seat XC60 - Volvo has come out of a sales slump that corresponded with its parting ways with Ford's ownership and is now owned by Zhejiang Geely Holding group in China. Last year's release of the S60 sedan in both T5 and T6 trims has also been a sales success, but the offering of a sport sedan like the S60 R-Design rounds out the lineup in a way that competes more properly with the likes of Audi A4, Infiniti G, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

The R-Design moniker is also available on 2012 Volvos including C30 and XC90, and will soon be available on the smaller XC60 crossover. But John Maloney, VP, Marketing and Product for Volvo said that the S60 T6 R-Design is "Volvo's most powerful production vehicle ever."

The more powerful engine upgrades come by way of Swedish performance house, Polestar. Taking the existing 3.0-liter turbocharged in-line six-cylinder S60 engine and boosting the turbo by 10%, while recalibrating the electronic throttle, the boost of power is felt immediately with just a small push of the gas pedal. The end result is 325 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 354 pound-feet of torque.

The S60 R-Design grips the road with very little body roll. The all wheel drive system has a corner traction control feature, which sends power to the outer wheel in turns and makes tough cornering seem quick and effortless. As for growl, the car is quiet and skips the pretentious rev tuning of some of its rivals. The car also mutes road feel - which can be considered good or bad depending on the preference of the driver.

Even with the additional 25 horsepower and the additional tweaks for performance, the fuel economy stays the same - 18-mpg city, 26 highway.

The appearance changes Volvo made to the car move the needle on the scale toward machismo, but not in an overtly muscular way. The low front spoiler and air intake with blacked out grill, along with the alloy wheels, add a visual edge with the rear diffuser and three-and-a-half inch polished exhaust tips and rear spoiler.

Inside, the seats have been redesigned for sport with deep side bolsters and black stitching. The science of finding the right stiffness for sporty seats is a tricky one, and the S60 R-Design errs toward stiff. However, this is another in a series of toughening up the offering to appeal to the serious driver. There is also a unique sport steering wheel, but the typical steering wheel shift paddles were conspicuous by their absence. When asked about this, Volvo responded that the complex engineering changes that would be necessary inside the steering column was not something they were able to do in this iteration, implying that it might be coming in the next version.

When compared to cars in the luxury marketplace, Volvo is a good performance car value. Its starting price of $42,500 puts it thousands less than the 2012 Audi S4 and around $1,500 less than the base version of BMW 335i. But premium brands like the Infiniti G37 are less.

Since Volvo is only looking to sell 1,000 to 1,200 per year of the model, the S60 R-Design is considered a "halo car," getting Volvo credentials in a segment it has yet to enter. "We have women, and of course we appreciate that," said marketing head, Maloney, "and why wouldn't we, our biggest product push has been SUV crossovers." But with this new offering, Volvo makes no bones about the importance of being competitive on a performance level to the other half of the population. Mahoney put a finer point on it, "We created this car because we have to literally prove that we belong in this segment."

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Joni Gray is a long-standing member of the automotive industry and has worked on both the corporate and publishing sides of the business. Over the past 20 years, she has managed advertising and marketing programs at Mazda, Hyundai and Honda and has been an editor at both Kelley Blue Book and the Los Angeles Times.

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