Work­ing blue

The Polestar S60, a go-fast car with a touch of nasty, can kill the Volvo cliches

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - PAUL GOVER paul.gover@cars­

WE all know that Volvos are quite good to crash. But no one buys a Volvo to go fast or just for the en­joy­ment of driv­ing. Un­til now, per­haps.

Take a Swedish com­pany called Polestar and an Aus­tralian push for per­for­mance that in­cludes— yes, re­ally— V8 Su­per­cars rac­ing from 2014.

That adds up to some­thing new, fairly spe­cial, and def­i­nitely mem­o­rable, in the Volvo cat­a­logue. It’s an S60 the com­pany is pitch­ing against a spread of go-faster hero cars in­clud­ing the bril­liant BMW M3 and sledge­ham­mer Mercedes-Benz C63.

The Volvo S60 Polestar will never se­ri­ously threaten th­ese but it’s a fair bit cheaper and ca­pa­ble of crack­ing along fairly briskly with­out flick­ing your bowls hat off the par­cel shelf or go­ing soft on safety. It will even sprint to 100km/h in 4.9 sec­onds and has to be held back to 250km/h at the top end.

It’s not cheap at $109,950 but it is ex­clu­sive with just 50 copies. For now at least. This is al­most cer­tainly the first of what will be grow­ing se­ries of Polestar-en­hanced Volvos. It’s com­ing first to Aus­tralia be­cause Volvo knows its needs to be more than just the safe­ty­first brand in a land where peo­ple still like cars and like to drive. ‘‘ We see this a driver’s car and a car built to work in all weather, all sea­son and all roads, ev­ery day, and not just on the per­fect day,’’ says Polestar head Hans Baath.

It’s also a test case, a first, to see whether the car has po­ten­tial for other coun­tries and whether Volvo should do more stealth work on other mod­els. ‘‘ Choos­ing Aus­tralia was quite sim­ple for us,’’ Baath says. ‘‘ The car is a vi­tal part of ev­ery­day life. There is a huge car cul­ture here.’’


The bot­tom line is $109,950 and that’s a lot when you can get a T6 all-wheel drive for $65,490 and a Teknik-tweaked ver­sion for $75,490. But Volvo wants shop­pers to con­sider it against an M3 at $155,100 and a C63 at $154,900.

The car picks up a bunch of Polestar gear but, in re­al­ity, it’s a con­ser­va­tive pack­age. All the Polestar im­prove­ments are done on the reg­u­lar S60 pro­duc­tion line, un­like com­pa­nies such as HSV that need to get base cars into their work­shops.

Volvo calls it a Q-car— a tag de­rived from the wartime Q-ships, which were in­no­cent­look­ing cargo ships with con­cealed guns— but th­ese days it’s prob­a­bly bet­ter to de­scribe it as a stealth fighter.

It is def­i­nitely fly­ing un­der the radar and the only give­away— on about a quar­ter of the cars— is bright blue body­work of Swe­den’s mo­tor sport rac­ing colour.

The only op­tion on the Polestar car is a sun­roof for $2650.


Any turbo car is rel­a­tively easy to tweak but the trick is get­ting the pack­age bal­anced. It’s about engine out­put first but also en­sur­ing the car doesn’t turn into an un­ruly, fire- breath­ing beast. There is no risk of a run­away here for Polestar has been a Volvo per­for­mance part­ner for more than 20 years and the only ex­ter­nal changes to the engine are a free-flow ex­haust. The rest is down to com­puter pro­gram­ming.

The end num­bers are 257kW and at least 500Nm— ob­vi­ously more— linked to a tweaked Haldex all-wheel drive sys­tem that picks up launch con­trol. But the engine still won’t rev to the red­line, the quicker shift­ing six-speed auto has no flappy pad­dles and a gear-change that’s set for cruis­ing not sport­ing.

The big de­vel­op­ment on the Polestar car is Oh­lins sus­pen­sion that’s both firmer and more com­pli­ant than a reg­u­lar S60. It’s even ad­justable if— as if— you take the car to a race­track.

There are also big­ger and bet­ter brakes, with 19-inch al­loy wheels and sticky Bridge­stone Potenza rub­ber.


Even in bright blue, the Polestar Volvo is a stealthy car. There is a tiny rear spoiler and a deeper dam un­der the nose. The big al­loys cover im­pres­sive brakes. And that’s about it.

The cabin is dis­ap­point­ing with only a build num­ber and a tiny Polestar badge on the top of the shift lever. The seats are stan­dard, so is the trim and there’s noth­ing to re­mind you that you’ve splashed more than $100K on the car.

In a lot of ways it’s like the Au­rion Sportivo. That is, a bit naughty for some­one in the mid­stream of mo­tor­ing but def­i­nitely not nasty.

‘‘ This is the think­ing man’s per­for­mance sedan. We didn’t go big on the ex­ter­nal mod­i­fi­ca­tions,’’ says Volvo Car Aus­tralia man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Matt Braid. ‘‘ The body­work changes are for a rea­son. It’s not about win­ning the brochure wars.’’


Noth­ing changes on the safety front, which means five-star NCAP rated pro­tec­tion and a bunch of driver as­sis­tance schemes.

But, re­ally, this is an S60 that should do even bet­ter be­cause it has greater grip and bet­ter brakes, and is likely to be driven by some­one who is ac­tively con­duct­ing the car and not just doz­ing at the wheel.


Within 200 me­tres I know the S60 Polestar is not a threat to an M3 or a C63. It’s brisk from the lights, with a solid midrange turbo shove, but there is none of the ex­cite­ment or theatre of the Ger­man mas­ter blasters. It’s not nearly nasty enough.

So I set­tle back to savour the car and find it sur­pris­ingly en­joy­able. The big im­prove­ment by the Polestar team is in the chas­sis— such a com­bi­na­tion of rigid­ity and com­pli­ance is rare in a car that starts life as a front-wheel drive fam­ily bus.

The car copes bril­liantly with bumpy roads, sits down tight with­out crash­ing or bang­ing and is en­joy­able to hus­tle— but not has­sle— over some wind­ing and un­du­lat­ing moun­tain roads west of Bris­bane. It’s a grand tourer with panache.

Push harder and things are not so good. There is no sup­port in the front buck­ets, the auto gearshift is coun­ter­in­tu­itive for a per­for­mance car, the brakes start to stink and the safety-net set­tings in the engine means it will not hold a gear or down­shift on de­mand.

So Polestar has done some great work but I can feel the lim­i­ta­tions of a con­ser­va­tive com­pany and the need to run the car down the reg­u­lar S60

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