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