VOLVO S60 POLESTAR REVIEW
What’s hot: Adjustable AWD grip, buckets of power and sublime six-cylinder turbo
What’s not: Quality is there, but price is a hurdle
X-Factor: It looks cool, feels really solid, and goes really fast... (what else do you need?)
Vehicle style: High-performance luxury sedan
Engine/trans: Six-cylinder inline turbo/six-speed automatic
It will blast from 0-100km/h in 4.9 seconds and is speed limited to 250kmh. This, Volvo’s new S60 Polestar, is in a very exclusive club.
Each are thumping drives. They’ll pin the eyeballs to the back of the skull when fired off the line, and will suck the doors off most things they’ll find in a day of driving (provided they don’t find each other).
For features, luxury and performance, that club now gets a new member: Volvo’s S60 Polestar. It doesn't have quite the fearsome hammer of the M3 or C63, but belongs among them on merit.
On road, it’s a scythe.
Put it on a racetrack and its ‘alive’ chassis balance, adjustable suspension and AWD grip – not to mention the 500Nm straining at the leash – will see you posting some truly serious lap times.
Remarkably, for now, there is only one place in the world you can buy one – not Sweden, not the UK, not Europe... only here in Australia – and there is only fifty.
This market, with an appetite for performance cars that makes it unique in the world, is the test-bed for the product: what happens here – as far as buyer acceptance is concerned – may determine this hot Volvo’s fortunes elsewhere.
And what’s behind the name? It comes from ‘Polestar’: a specialist tuning and performance company that works exclusively with Volvo and, according to MD Hans Baath, “applies race engineering to road cars”.
After two days at the wheel, one on-road, and one on Queensland’s car-munching Lakeside race track, that latter comment would appear accurate.
If you’re looking for fussy overstatement, you won’t find it in a Volvo interior. You will find though a beautifully crafted space of elegance and superior style.
Aside from small details like monogrammed seats, the Polestar interior is virtually identical to the R-Design T6. That's no bad thing.
The ‘floating’ curved centre console is still impressive – clearly laid-out and logical, its clean lines remove any sense of clutter from the dash.
Also appealing are the sports-style metallic blue and silver metal-faced dials in the no-nonsense instrument binnacle. Everything is there: clear, clean and easily read.
The monogrammed electrically-adjustable leather sports seats are great; perfectly-shaped for my frame, nicely trimmed and surprisingly comfortable for a sport bucket.
Rear seats are similarly well-trimmed, and also in rich leather. It’s more a two-seater there though as the raised centre position is a tad uncomfortable.
At a plus-$100k price, there is no shortage of features. The S60 Polestar comes with Dolby 10-speaker surround-sound audio with CD/DVD, MP3, Bluetooth, USB and iPod connectivity with audio streaming and auxiliary audio input.
There’s also a seven-inch touchscreen with voice-control, sat nav, rear park camera (with front and rear sensors), driver alert system with lane departure warning, active high-beam control, forward collision warning and road sign speed warnings.
Adding to the sporting ambience is keyless entry and push-button start, a Polestar emblem on the leather gearshift knob, Polestar treadplates and numbered steering wheel.
For safety, coming from the company that has made “safety” its by-word, the Polestar has everything – every acronym you can think of: ABS, DSTC (stability and traction control), ACC (adaptive cruise control with pedestrian detection), BLIS (blind-spot information system, SIPS (side impact protection)... you get the picture: it’s all there.
ON THE ROAD
At the heart of the Polestar is a sight to gladden the heart of anyone who once ever loved an LC or LJ Torana GTR, or loved the howl of an M3 before a V8 was slotted into its nose.
There, under the S60 Polestar’s bonnet is a 3.0 litre straight six.
It’s running east-west across the nose (like an old Austin Kimberley) but it sounds like a straight-six, hauls like there’s no tomorrow, and has a seamless ‘hand of God’ effortlessness should you nail the accelerator to the firewall.
The 500+Nm it lets loose (not sure about the plus... 508Nm apparently) gathers like a rising wave. Mid-speed acceleration is very sharp: overtaking, or accelerating out of corner, is just a matter of point and shoot.
There is only one transmission choice, a six-speed Aisin-Warner automatic with launch control and quick-shift sports mode. Push the shift across into 'sport', and it operates 'backwards' (push for upshifts, pull for downshifts – not our preferred set-up).
We’d also prefer to find paddles at the wheel, but you can use the plus-minus plane on the lever for rapid-fire shifts.
It can also be left to its own devices in sport – our preferred setting for upshifts, using manual control when downshifting.
The Haldex AWD system, while providing stupendous grip, can also be configured for torque bias (sending increased traction to the rear) via the selectable DSTC.
Despite the weight in the nose, the AWD Polestar is astonishingly quick on a winding road, mostly for the way it gets out of a corner, and points with sublime chassis balance.
Importantly, on even the worst of the tarmac roads we encountered, you would never have described the ride as uncomfortable.
The Polestar Öhlins shocks are adjustable for the race track or road (with a series of ‘click’ settings adjusted from below). On road, set-up prior to our arrival by Polestar engineers, the chosen ‘road’ setting provided a firm but elastic ride.
While the springs are 80 percent stiffer than in the T6 R-Design, and there are new stabilisers front and rear, the McPherson strut front with multi-link independent rear suspension provides just the right amount of compliance to eliminate jarring over rippled or broken tarmac.
You know you’re in a high-performance car, but your kidneys don’t pay a price for being there.
The steering wheel feels great; it’s small, not-too-heavy but nicely direct (with just 2.58 turns lock-to-lock) and with a good feel for what’s happening down below, especially when hunting through a high-speed mountain road.
Thanks to the big 8.0 x 19-inch graphite alloy rims and 235/40 R19 Bridgestone Potenza rubber, there’s a bit of road roar on coarse surfaces.
It’s not intrusive – it comes with the territory – and is unlikely to bother you while you’ve also got the soundtrack of that six-pot wailing under the bonnet.
With 1684kg to haul down, there are big 336mm x 29mm ventilated discs up front and 302mm x 22mm ventilated discs at the rear.
While we had the performance pads under the bespoke Polestar callipers smoking on the racetrack (and the pedal softened quite a bit after some hard high-speed lapping), on road there was little noticeable fade after a long swift run through the hills.
Wherever we pointed the S60 Polestar, it was hard to get the smile off the face. It's not as raw as some, but there is a precision to the Polestar, matched by the storm of Newton metres from that unique straight six, that makes it a hugely enjoyable high speed drive.
ON THE TRACK
The S60 Polestar is more of a weapon on track than its understated (perhaps too understated) lines might suggest.
That little lip spoiler on the rear, front splitter and fat graphite alloys provide little clue as to the performance potential nestled under its swoopy lines.
It’s a shame really – because we’re all a bit shallow, and because it can be so seriously fast – that it doesn’t have a more bonkers steroid-driven look. (We’re not suggesting stripes but... you know.)
That aside, we hammered the Polestar around Lakeside and, on a track that is notorious for ‘eating’ cars (one corner is called ‘Hungry’ for precisely that reason), the Polestar could not put a foot wrong even under my ham-fist.
For this track, on the advice of visiting Swedish Polestar touring car driver Robert Dahlgren, the adjustable suspension was softened at the front, but stiffened at the rear (there are 20 separate ‘click’ settings)
The setting was counter-intuitive to our thinking, but proved incredibly effective.
With the DSTC switched off, the trick with this setting was to tuck the nose in early (before the apex) and let the unsettled rear tighten the line with a sideways drift.
Then, thanks to that Haldex AWD, you can really get a shoe-full of power down early without worrying you’re going to fling yourself, and a very expensive Volvo, somewhere unpleasant.
With such a keenly balanced chassis, there is no great skill required to drive this car very quickly. (And no great skill to fire it off the line: DSTC off, left foot on the brake, firewall the accelerator, move left foot sideways – simple.)
The S60 Polestar feels incredibly agile on track. When arriving rapidly into a corner you're aware of the weight over the front wheels, but it tucks in eagerly and there no sense of the bulk that typifies some road-based performance cars.
It is also, as we discovered, very forgiving should you arrive somewhere way too hot – all elbows, eyeballs and tightened sphincter.
Hans Baath describes the S60 Polestar as “a driver’s car for all roads, all weather, and all seasons”. After a day on the track, we’d agree it’s at least that.
For now, if you want an S60 Polestar, you’ve got a choice of red, white, blue or metallic black. Whichever colour you choose, if your wallet can bridge the gap, we think you’ll be well-pleased with your purchase.
The Polestar is quick – very quick – but combines winged heels with sublime balance and grip.
It also feels like it’s been hewn from a brick. Where a burning trail of money follows some at the high-performance end of the market, you don’t get that sense with this car.
Volvo, after all, has always built robust cars. And ones that have had no trouble coping with Australia’s extremes.
This is a four-star performance car. It’s not cheap; it’s $30k more than the capable and swift T6 R-Design, but the additional ‘race-car’ technologies and engineering built into the Polestar’s chassis and drivetrain don’t come without a price.
Drive it – you’re sure to like it – and you’ll see where your money has gone.
- 6-cylinder inline T6 engine, 2953cc
- 257kW (350bhp) @ 5700rpm, 500+Nm @ 2800-4750rpm | Max 6500rpm
- Fuel consumption: 10.2 l/100km combined
- Polestar engine software, New Borg Warner turbo, New intercooler
- 2.5-inch stainless full-flow exhaust system with 3.5" tail pipes.
- Polestar Öhlins road and track, 2-way adjustable shock absorbers
- Upgraded springs | 60N/mm front, 65N/mm rear (80% stiffer than stock)
- Upgraded stabilizers front and rear
- Upgraded rear tie blades
- Upgraded top mount in front and rear | Upgraded toe link arms in rear
- Strut brace with carbonfibre enforcement
- Bespoke Polestar rims, 8x19" ET51 | 235/40R19, Michelin Pilot Super Sport
- AWF21 automatic gearbox, Polestar software, Launch control
- Modified transmission software for faster shifts and launch control
- Modified AWD software for more rear torque
- Front: Volvo calipers, 336 x 29mm ventilated discs, Jurid 958 performance brake pad
- Rear: Volvo calipers, 302 x 22mm ventilated Brembo discs, HP2000 Brembo performance brake pads