Vehicle Style: Luxury performance sedan
Engine/trans: 257kW/500Nm 3.0 turbo petrol 6cyl | 6sp auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 10.2 l/100km | tested: 12.3 l/100km
Volvo’s S60 Polestar was launched here last year as an experiment. An experiment to see if Australian buyers would warm to a genuinely fast European performance car that was not from a German stable.
Per capita, Australians buy more high-performance cars than nearly every other market on the planet. But we're also one of the toughest markets. That makes us the perfect 'test bed' for something like the Polestar: win here, and you can win anywhere.
Importantly, it was also a test for the Swedish automaker. Could it take the fight to its predominantly German competitors?
Well, in a word, yes.
Volvo has been so heartened by the acceptance here that it is now planning to take the S60 Polestar beyond Australia’s borders and sell it in seven more countries as both a sedan and wagon.
Polestar has given the S60 even more fettling and upgraded the interior and brakes - among other things. The result is a car with even more potent performance, along with a hefty dab of added comfort.
- Polestar-embossed charcoal leather/nubuck sports front seats
- Standard features: Bi-xenon headlamps, LED daytime running lamps, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, Keyless entry and ignition, rear air vents, active cruise control, dual-zone climate control, trip computer.
- Infotainment: 10 speaker premium audio system with Bluetooth phone and audio integration, USB audio input, 7-inch colour display, satellite navigation
New for 2014 is a slick LCD instrument panel and heavily bolstered leather/nubuck seats, and both make a great difference to the Polestar experience.
With the brighter, bigger graphics of the LCD display it’s easier to keep an eye on your speed and RPM, and the new seats hold the body even more securely when cornering hard.
The quality of the new upholstery isn’t up to Volvo’s usual standard though, and besides the black headliner and a transparent gear lever borrowed from the V40 there is not a lot else to distinguish the Polestar from its lesser S60 stablemates.
The driving position is less than ideal for a sports sedan too.
The driver’s seat is mounted very high, so you miss out on the heightened sensation of speed that comes from sitting lower to the ground.
Boot space is also compromised by the optional spare wheel, which, due to the absence of any under-floor storage, has to sit in the boot inside a bag.
ON THE ROAD
- 257kW/500Nm 3.0 turbocharged and intercooled petrol inline six, transverse mounted.
- Six-speed automatic, Haldex all-wheel drive
- MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear suspension. Eibach springs with Ohlins dampers
- Six-piston front calipers, 370mm two-piece rotors. Sliding rear calipers, ventilated rotors
Unflappable. That’s the best word to describe the Polestar’s chassis.
With drive going to all four wheels and a magnificent adjustable Ohlins suspension keeping the S60’s body in check, Volvo’s fastest sedan feels like it’s glued to the tarmac. Even during a spirited run in light rain.
And while the ride can be pretty brittle over level crossings, potholes and expansion gaps (19-inch alloys, low profile rubber and springs that are 80 percent stiffer than an S60 T6’s don’t do much for ride comfort), there’s enough compliance to keep all four wheels on the tarmac when pushing hard.
With perfectly-weighted hydraulic power steering that boasts good feel and feedback, it’s a joy to throw the Volvo into a corner.
There’s also bugger-all body roll, and Polestar’s efforts in optimising the standard S60 T6’s Haldex AWD system has paid off, for there’s traction aplenty under acceleration.
It will, like many AWD cars that don’t have Evolution, GT-R or RS in their name, understeer if you get on the power before you’ve cleared the apex, but that really just requires an adjustment of driver behaviour.
And once you’re dialled in, the Polestar can slingshot you out of corners with amazing force.
It’s ‘only’ a turbo 3.0 litre six up front, but when that 500Nm hammer drops at around 3000rpm, it unleashes a thump of brutal power.
There’s 257kW of power in total, and the engine pulls strongly right up until the 6500rpm fuel-cut.
The only transmission on offer is a conventional (but heavily strengthened) six-speed torque converter auto.
While it will fire through the upshifts when on full power, it doesn’t rev-match as smoothly as other performance autos. However, the provision - in this new model - of steering wheel-mounted paddles is a big advantage over the paddle-less 2013 model.
Even in more sedate driving we tended to favour the paddles as the ‘box tends to downshift too readily, when it could just as easily use the engine’s ample torque to waft along in a higher gear.
That said, the Polestar will rocket to 100km/h in just 4.9 seconds. Slushbox be damned.
Another big improvement for 2014 is the braking system. The 2014 S60 Polestar gets a set of beefy six-piston Brembo calipers up front (sliding calipers remain at the rear) and they’re matched with 370mm two-piece rotors and a firm, progressive pedal.
They stayed fade-free during our test, and are a worthy upgrade over the braking hardware of last year’s Polestar.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 36.34 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Stability control (switchable), ABS, EBD, brake assist and six airbags (front, front side, full-length curtain) are standard on the S60.
Standard electronic safety aids on the S60 Polestar include a low speed collision avoidance system, active cruise control and collision warning system with pedestrian/cyclist detection.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
With a forced-induction six, all-wheel drive and a retail price just north of $100k, the Audi S4 sedan is the closest match to the S60 Polestar. Options also include the slower but sharper-handling 335i, and the brutish HSV GTS
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The S60 Polestar is a very capable performance sedan. But while the revisions for the 2014 model certainly improve it, it's still kind-of pricey in the context of its rapid stablemate, the T6 R-Design.
Its rarity factor however adds to its desirability, and it is an absolute hammer.
It's not top-dog yet, but is getting damned close. Were Volvo to sharpen up the gearbox calibration and lower the driver’s seat a few centimetres, it’d have a very quick four-door that would easily rival fancier metal like Audi’s S4.
But even in its current form, the Polestar is an appealing machine - especially if you’re the kind that likes to buck trends and adores the unconventional.
And if you’re a bit of a Volvo aficionado, odds are you’ll find the Polestar to be the coolest thing on four wheels.
If the sticker price isn't too much of a leap, absolutely check it out.