Over lunch at a recent Buttonwillow test day, K-Pax Racing's president, Peter Nielsen, mentioned his delight at embarrassing Porsches with his track-tuned 2006 Volvo S60-R. Although fitted with a bigger turbo, Haldex software and a long list of enhancements, the car now sits idle as Nielsen tends to more pressing matters. Yet the essence of his S60-R—a good platform tweaked to overachieve—lives on in new performance packages for the current S60 T6 R-Design.
Nielsen confirmed he gets odd looks from people when he tells them he works at a Volvo race team. The manufacturer's reputation for safety is deeply ingrained, and not everybody is able to accept that even safe cars can keep up with the best of them. Those are the people who didn't see the T5-R wagon on two wheels in a BTCC race, or Volvo's ad campaign touting the S60's naughty behavior with e-brake turns and a soundtrack of squealing tires...
Judged solely on its specification, the S60 can compete with anything in its class. Both the five- and six-cylinder turbo engines are as powerful and responsive as the competition, and the chassis is more agile than its predecessor. Add grip-enhancing AWD and you can see the potential is there.
So, what keeps the sportiest S60s from being mentioned in the same sentence as the Germans? The team at K-Pax Performance (the aftermarket division of K-Pax Racing) think they know, and its GT6 tuning package for the S60 T6 R-Design is their response to the problem. Nearly two years in development, and in the prototype stage when we drove their S60 T6, the full package should be finalized by the time you read this magazine.
The components include a set of lowered coil springs, a rear sway bar, 19x8.5-inch BBS wheels painted in anthracite and wrapped in 245/35 R19 Pirelli P Zero tires, plus a high-flow exhaust system. The production models will get an anthracite grille and mirror caps plus K-Pax emblems inside and out. Optional extras will consist of a carbon-fiber rear spoiler, carbon interior pieces, and a Brembo four-piston big-brake package.
Owners of the five-cylinder T5 models will be pleased to hear K-Pax will also have a GT5 package especially for them. Customers can choose from either the "Touring" or "Track" suspension package, with the latter featuring firmer springs that are 0.5 inch lower than the Touring, which itself sits 1 inch lower than stock. Nielsen recommended the Touring springs for cars that are driven on a daily basis, especially where roads aren't particularly smooth... so approximately 90 percent of the country! The company won't be offering an ECU upgrade because the factory-approved Polestar software is more than good enough. In fact, the prototype GT6 we drove had the Polestar tune, bumping power to the same level as the R-Design's 325 hp.
When you combine it with the K-Pax free-flow exhaust, you should get 340 hp and 370 lb-ft of torque, compared to the R-Design's 354 lb-ft. All the K-Pax performance parts will be sold exclusively through Volvo dealers who are authorized K-Pax Performance distributors. While parts can be bought independently, they must be installed by the dealer to maintain the tuner's dealer-matching five-year/50,000-mile warranty. The price of the GT6 Package is $6,995 plus fitting. K-Pax worked closely with the key component sup-pliers that make the team's S60 race cars so successful. For example, the BBS wheels may look like standard 19-inch CK wheels, but were made especially for K-Pax, as were the Pirelli tires, Brembo big-brake kit, Borla exhaust, and Eibach springs. Put them together and you could apparently shave 8 seconds off your lap time!
Track TestUnfortunately, we weren't able to play with the K-Pax Racing S60 touring car they were shaking down at the track, so before we took the prototype GT6 on the circuit, we ran a few laps in a stock 2013 Volvo S60 R-Design to see how the factory's best would compare. While not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, the differences were noticable.
The S60 R-Design has the aforementioned 325 hp, with its power application impressive and the six-speed auto swapped gears crisply. It was easy to get up to speed, but the car would understeer as it approached the limits, as you'd expect. Once past the limit, you had to wait for the tires to recover before getting back on the gas. After five laps, the R-Design's brakes started to fade, so we headed for the pitlane.
Getting up to speed in the GT6 was just as easy, with plenty of power throughout the rev range. Although it boasted 15 hp more than the R-Design, it had to spin larger 19-inch wheels, so performance was a wash between the two, with both cars hitting 60 mph in the low-5-second range.
Like the R-Design, the GT6 would understeer on Buttonwillow's fast sweepers, but the 245-section Pirellis gave up later than the R-Design's 235-section Continentals. Once past their limit, they were more progressive, requiring a quick lift off the throttle to get them back online and biting again. The way these cars recovered past the limit was one of the biggest differences between the two.
The GT6 felt more willing to rotate the rear end through the turns, and Nielsen credited that to the rear sway bar. The springs were progressive instead of the R-Design's linear rates, so they were more compliant for the first half of the compression stroke, stiffening under heavy loads. K-Pax was able to make its springs work with the electronic dampers for more controlled body motion under hard driving and also a smoother ride at normal road speeds.
Coming into the hairpin, the improvement from the GT6's Brembos was obvious. They didn't fade after five laps, with the pedal remaining consistently firm and easy to modulate. The shorter braking distance, the extra grip, and stable handling are where the GT6 shaved 8 seconds from the stock S60 T6 lap time.
K-Pax Performance got into the business of performance tuning while developing the K-Pax Racing Volvo C30 race car. Many of the parts they sourced from other companies either broke or failed to deliver. So they decided to build many parts themselves or work with suppliers to get them right. And now customers who buy a package like the GT6 know the parts have been continually tested on racetracks and fine-tuned by drivers and engineers with the same telemetry data used to set up their race cars.
You can feel the racing heritage in the GT6. It's a solid, sorted sleeper that's easy to drive quickly and definitely worthy of mention in the same sentence as the German competition.
Tech Spec2013 Volvo S60 - K-Pax GT6
Bay Area, CA
3.0L six-cylinder turbo with Polestar software, K-Pax/Borla exhaust
Stock six-speed automatic transmission, AWD
Brembo four-piston calipers, 14.4-inch two-piece rotors f
K-Pax progressive springs, rear sway bar
Wheels & Tires
19x8.5-inch BBS CK wheels, 245/35 R19 Pirelli P Zero tires
Anthracite grille and mirror caps, K-Pax emblems to come