Volvo is betting on safe sex.
That's why the company came here recently to introduce its 2004 S60 R sedan and V70 R wagon to the United States.
They are the hottest, fastest Volvos ever offered in this country. They might also be the safest.
Hans Nilsson, R-car line manager, put it this way: "Our design provides control and excitement, without compromise."
Ohhh, yeahhh . . .
Volvo loaded the cars with 300-horsepower engines that develop lots of torque -- 295 foot-pounds between 1,950 and 5,250 revolutions per minute.
On the road, that means 0 to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds -- astounding for a car produced by a company that once frowned on that kind of performance. It also means moving through city traffic, mostly in second or third gear, without killing the engine or lugging the transmission if you're driving an R model with an available six-speed manual gearbox.
"Without compromise" means the S60 R six-speed, the car I drove, gives you that kind of speed and power without getting you killed -- unless you're having an extremely bad day, or you decide to do something, such as running a red light or speeding into an icy curve, easily classified as stupid.
Safety in the S60 R is both active and passive. Active safety helps you avoid crashes. In the S60 R and its companion wagon, active safety includes wonderfully precise steering; standard all-wheel drive for better traction; anti-lock brakes and electronic brake distribution to help prevent wheel lock and skidding in panic stops; dynamic stability control to help keep the car balanced and upright in sharp turns; and electronic traction control to reduce wheel spin on slippery surfaces.
Passive safety is what comes into play if active safety, which also involves driver common sense, fails. In the S60 R, that includes a rigid body structure with front and rear crumple zones to limit crash forces entering the passenger cabin, side-impact air bags and, among other things, a whiplash-protection seating system to protect heads, necks and backs in frontal and rear-end collisions.
Luckily, I didn't need any of the passive safety stuff in the several hours I spent behind the wheel on Las Vegas streets and freeways and nearby mountain roads. But I certainly needed all of the car's active safety systems during an embarrassing display of my racing incompetence on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The S60 R's Brembo, four-piston caliper brakes worked. The electronic brake-distribution system worked, as did the anti-lock braking system. The traction-control and anti-yaw systems all worked well.
To calm my nerves (and those of the track's monitors), I sidelined myself in favor of playing with another of the S60 R's features -- the Four-C system (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept), which I prefer to call "Dial-a-Feel."
The Four-C system works this way: You want a soft, luxurious ride? Automatically adjust the suspension system by pushing the "Comfort" button. A harder, sportier ride? Push "Sport." A really hard, truly sporty ride, one that gives maximum driving pleasure? Push "Advanced Sport."
Now, that's all I'm going to say about that.