Here's the great thing about the Volvo S60: it's stylish, full of character and the range is incredibly broad. Here's the problem with the S60: it's still struggling to get noticed.
You only have to look at Volvo's overall sales (just 183 cars in 2011) to see that. The S60 is the marque's newest, sexiest and most advanced model. It's the one that should be creating a stir.
Here's a possible solution: an R-Design package for the T5 and T6 models, which comprises quite a bit of shiny stuff on the exterior but also a few tweaks to the driving experience.
It's a halo model and a nice badge to offer status-conscious buyers. It's also exactly the approach that works so well for Audi's A4 S-Line package and BMW's 3-series M Sport kit.
The Volvo S60 T5 R-Design is $72,990 and the local distributor is so confident about the model that it's taken the regular T5 off the books.
You'll know the new car by its redesigned front bumper, glossy grille, larger rear diffuser and special five-spoke 18-inch wheels. Inside, there's R-Design detailing like a three-spoke steering wheel and alloy pedals.
However, R-Design is supposed to be more about all-round enhancement than looking good. So says Paul Welander, senior vice-president of product development at Volvo: "Our sights are set on creating a cohesive whole; an integrated blend of sporty looks and an exciting drive."
The T5 gets lower, more rigid suspension, altered damping at the rear and a strut brace under the bonnet.
Success? Despite the slightly mad history of the T5 name, this one is a sophisticated rather than sensational performer. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo makes 177kW/320Nm and drives the front wheels only, but a combination of the six-speed PowerShift dual-clutch gearbox (same as Ford) and clever traction control keep the T5's wilder side very much under control.
The S60 doesn't have the handling fluidity of a BMW 3-series or Peugeot 508 GT, but it's a polished performer through corners. .
And I guarantee you'll enjoy the journey as much as you would in the Volvo's sportier rivals because the rest of the package is so impressive. The interior is beautifully styled and ergonomically outstanding. The seats are superb, the car is practical - if not entirely spacious in the rear due to that sweeping coupe roofline.
And safe, of course. Even naughty Volvos are still very safe. The S60 T5 has the City Safety system, which now also recognises pedestrians.
The Teknik pack adds a wealth of equipment including Blind Sport Information System (BLIS) and Active Bending Lights (ABD). It costs a further $6000, but the Volvo's value pricing against its rivals means you have the scope to seriously consider it.
Volvo's efforts to make the T5 even more sporty haven't entirely succeeded. But the R-Design package looks fantastic and it certainly doesn't take anything away from the S60's existing virtues of sheer style and supreme quality.
Can we really do without the standard T5? With D3, T4 and T6 AWD R-Design models already on offer, yes. There's pretty much an S60 for everybody. It deserves much success.
The bottom line:
You can't complain that the S60 T5 R-Design doesn't look the part. Not as sporty as you might be hoping, but hugely appealing all the same.
* Audi A4 2.0 TFSI S-Line: $77,900
* BMW 320i M Sport: $82,040
* Lexus IS 250 F-Sport: $88,390
* Peugeot 508 GT: $65,990
* Subaru Legacy GT Premium: $67,990