By Wayne Gorrett
UPDATE @ 14.07.2015 – Volvo Cars has acquired 100 per cent of Polestar, the Swedish high performance car company, including the Polestar brand. Polestar will now be used as the model name for special high performance Volvos.
Take a fairly innocuous pipe-and-slippers family estate, drop in a race-tuned 345 bhp turbo-charged 3.0-litre straight-six power plant, mount it on track-honed underpinnings, snap-fit a few subtle aero parts and out blasts this raging, automotive Rottweiler guaranteed to engender an indelible white-knuckle driving experience.
🙂 There’s oodles of power on tap, a packed toy box, astonishing AWD grip, and family practicality to boot.
😦 The auto ‘box is not quick enough when left to its own devices and the flappies could be sharper. It’s expensive, considering the donor car.
In 2009, having run Volvo’s motorsport programmes in both the Swedish and world touring car championships for the previous two decades, Polestar Motorsport was announced as Volvo’s partner to develop a new line of performance cars providing parts, upgrades and re-engineering expertise to existing Volvo production cars.
Think other motorsport collaborations such as BMW and Alpina, Mercedes and AMG, Audi and RennSport (as in ‘RS’) and you quickly get the picture.
In the prevailing six years, there has only been one other Volvo Polestar variant – the S60 saloon. But, according Volvo UK, there is no demand for it here so the chaps in Göteborg have not made it available to us Brits. Other Polestar Volvo’s are said to be in the pipeline and only last year Volvo were said to be planning a storming 320 bhp V40 super-hatch to take on the likes of the Ford Focus RS and Audi RS3. But it’s all gone a tad quiet over at Polestar Motorsport since then.
Right now, we have only the Volvo V60 Estate to appreciate Polestar Motorsport’s magic wand. So you didn’t have to, I risked life and limb to find out what it’s like…
The V60 Polestar wears instantly recognisable ‘Rebel Blue’ paint (other colours are available but, why?) and deeper, more aggressive bodywork. Changes over the R-Design trim are evident with a cheeky chin spoiler and front splitters optimising airflow under the car and roof-mounted rear spoiler and diffusor, increasing down-force.
There are numerous Polestar badges around the car to reinforce its authenticity to the interested onlooker – front grille, rear tailgate, atop both exhaust tailpipes and tiny little ones on all 20” wheels – including the full-size alloy spare.
In the looks department, the V60 Polestar is certainly striking enough to compete with the performance-biased, Germanic rivals from Audi RS, Mercedes AMG and BMW ‘M’. It is an interesting, high-ticket branding exercise that many will undoubtedly baulk at, but that a select few wouldn’t think twice about.
Priced at £49,775, the production run will be only 750 cars. Of those, only 125 are destined for the UK, so it certainly has an element of exclusivity and will be a much rarer sight in the golf club car park than its now eleven-a-penny rivals from Germany, which should help residuals.
➤ The inside story
The Polestar theme continues on the inside. Open the driver’s door and you are greeted with an ‘Engineered by Polestar’ plate on the door sill, repeated on the passenger side. There is a unique Polestar steering wheel and an illuminated translucent gear knob housing a Polestar logo.
Other touches seem almost de rigueur for a performance car…bright alloy pedals (tick), some faux carbon-fibre trim (tick), sports seats (tick) and a pair of wheel-mounted gearshift paddles (tick). These are the changes that instantly identify a V60 Polestar’s cabin from its higher-volume V60 sibling, which at first seem scant return for your dearly departed £50k. Look a little closer though, and the tears begin to dry…
Front and rear furniture in the V60 Polestar is clad with a blend of charcoal leather with Nubuck suede paneling and contrasting blue stitching. It’s a great balance between being sporty and delivering something different.
The driving position is good, all-round visibility is excellent, headroom and legroom are generous enough and the seat itself offers the expected comfort and support.
The instrument cluster conveys vital information via a TFT (thin-film-transistor) display, with easily changeable modes for the outer readouts. The central multimedia system is navigated via the upper rotary knobs on the centre stack and the shortcut keys around the inner console. These are the kinds of solid, fixed buttons you can find intuitively without needing to take your eyes off the road. To my personal delight, there isn’t a touchscreen interface in sight.
To be honest, passenger space isn’t class-leading but it’s okay for a compact executive estate. Boot space is slightly below par for the class, but again, is still quite plentiful. The folding front passenger seatback adds to the useable load area.
➤ Safety first
In making a 345 bhp special edition performance car, Volvo has ensured that every passive and active safety system available on the standard V60 platform has been included. What’s more, Polestar has recalibrated many of the systems to allow the car to make better use of its vast reserves of grip and traction, which assist emergency course corrections.
➤ The toy box
Kit-wise, the V60 Polestar is essentially the now defunct V60 T6 R-Design that’s had every option box ticked. There really is no options list. Your only decision needs to be the colour – blue, black, silver or white.
As you would expect, the toy box includes Bluetooth, sat-nav, heated, leather, electric seats, climate control and a powerful 650W, 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system.
➤ The technical stuff
The V60 Polestar uses the Bridgend-produced 3.0-litre straight six-cylinder T6 engine previously deployed in the V60 T6 R-Design. Polestar Motorsport enjoys its independence and is not averse to procuring the best outside parts and technical expertise for their V60 derivative, and consequently went to town as much as possible without needing to re-write the existing servicing and maintenance routine.
Mods included the addition of the new Borg-Warner twin-scroll turbocharger, a new intercooler, a new stainless steel active exhaust system and re-mapped ECU settings. The six-speed automatic transmission and Haldex electro-hydraulic four-wheel drive system have been more aggressively re-configured, too.
The net result is the availability of 345bhp, 500Nm of torque and a launch control-governed 0-62mph claim of 5.0 seconds. Sure, it’s not as quick like-for-like as other Germanic offerings, but there’s plenty of poke for what, at other times, is a very level-headed Volvo. Rest assured, there has never been a more powerful production car from Göteborg than this.
Shorter suspension springs are fitted, lowering the ride-height by just 3mm over that of the previous V60 T6 R-Design. It may not sound much, but the spring rates were increased by a whopping 80 per cent. To ensure a firm but pliable ride, new Öhlins dampers are incorporated, which have a dual flow valve system that settles the shock faster over bumps. The increased compliance means that shocks do the work instead of the Michelin tyres.
The chassis overhaul is completed by 371mm Brembo front brake discs with six-piston calipers, ensuring the car is as much fun to stop as it is to make go. Bespoke Polestar Motorsport 20-inch alloy wheels are clad with Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, which just happen to be favoured by that other Swedish car-maker, Koenigsegg.
➤ On the road
Once in and comfy, turn the key and a salty exhaust note burbles forth from the twin tail pipes. Part of the ECU re-map shopping list was throttle and steering response, ensuring the V60’s controls feel more zealous.
In a straight line, drive is well-mannered but a little prone to tramlining. It’s in the twisty bits where the V60 Polestar really displays its prowess. Those big ventilated front discs and Brembo calipers offer serious stopping power, allowing late braking into a corner before chucking it right in – it’s all very un-Volvo-like. Thanks to that expansive list of motorsport parts (the decent suspension set up, uber grippy tyres and modified four-wheel-drive) you surge out the other side wondering how the hell you just did that.
I got the car slightly sideways only once in damp greasy conditions but if you’re hoping for heaps of sideways fun, think again as the four-wheel drive refuses to play – and you don’t feel any nanny electronics kick in either. The V60 is so well set up that it’s nigh impossible to unsettle the car through corners, with bags of traction and enough low-end torque to make it genuinely quick, point-to-point.
The ride is firm but this is a serious performance car after all. While large 20-inch wheels would normally point towards a bone-jarring ride, the Öhlins dampers offer a far more comfortable ride than you’ll find in some performance models fitted with smaller rims. Yes, I’m looking at you Mégane Renaultsport 275 Trophy.
The handling is excellent and the level of grip seemingly bottomless. The setup finds natural balance towards safe understeer at the limit, prior to which the car is very composed on its Michelin Pilot Super Sports. It’s all utterly and brilliantly controlled.
The standard six-speed automatic gearbox from the V60 T6 R-Design had lazy, hunter-gatherer tendencies. Polestar Motorsport has tried to make the same ‘box more responsive by re-wiring its brain, so the shifts are harder, faster and there’s even a launch control mode which takes a few attempts to master. But compared to a proper double-clutch effort, I’m sad to say that changes still feel late when left to their own devices. The flappy paddle shifters help but could be sharper, too. Still, you’ll find a straight face hard to achieve nonetheless.
It would be easy to poke ‘pointless’ barbs at the Volvo V60 Polestar. It’s an expensive car, based on a vehicle whose ageing chassis was little more than a Ford Mondeo and is now nearing the end of its lifespan. There are a myriad of cars that offer the same exhilarating performance, the eargasmic symphony of a highly-tuned performance engine and driving dynamics that stick the car to the road like poo to an army blanket. But there’s only a handful that lets the whole family enjoy it at the same time.
When the need for a grunt-filled, performance estate arises, might the grippy Swede win many over from the obvious German choices? Probably not, but for the relatively small number of buyers seeking something distinctive and characterful, it remains a choice near the edge of reason. Unique, too, as only 125 of the 750-unit production run will make their way to UK shores.
Altogether, the V60 Polestar is a stunningly impressive debut as Polestar Motorsport evolves from race shop and accessories-based tuner to a proper in-house performance brand.
As they say, being on Pole won’t guarantee a race win, but it sure is a good start.
➤ Fast facts – Volvo V60 Polestar
* Engine: 3.0-litre, in-line six cylinder, twin-scroll turbo
* Gearbox: 6-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
* Power: 350 bhp @ 5,700 rpm
* Torque: 500 Nm @ 2800-4750 rpm
* 0-62 mph: 4.9 secs
* Top speed: Limited to 155mph
* Kerb weight: 1,834kg
* MPG: 27.7 (combined). Tested: 26.9 mpg over 381 mixed miles.
* CO2: 237 g/km
* Price: £49,775.