As our BMW X5M drive proves, SUVs and sportiness do not often good bedfellows make. Which is why we approached the Volvo XC60 R-Design with some caution. The R-Design department is Volvo's lightweight, Scandi take on Merc's AMG or BMW's M-Division, adding a frisson of performance - at no detriment, of course, to the Massive Amounts of Safety Stuff - to its strait-laced range. Though the XC60 misses out on any engine upgrades, it gets tarty styling, smart leather and, most significantly, a stiffer chassis and sharper steering.
This is, potentially, worrying news. The XC60 has never pursued the BMW X3 down the route of saloon-like handling at the expense of any off-road ability, instead offering a softer take on SUVism. But the R-Design mods don't turn the XC60 into a corpse-stiff bone-cruncher. The stiffer springs and quicker rack offer more nimbleness and a fraction more directness, but manifestly fail to dislodge the XC60 from the floaty end of the 4x4 spectrum. The R-Design doesn't sit any lower to the road, meaning it's still a capable off-roader.
Admittedly, our XC60 was equipped with non-standard 16-inch wheels - currently the only way to fit winter tyres: the standard 18-inchers or optional 20s will, no doubt, add a mite more crunchiness to the ride. But even in R-Design guise, the XC60 remains - in the most literal sense - a soft-roader.