A po­lar shift for Swedes

Volvo’s per­for­mance arm re­fines the hero sedan — and adds a wagon — via a long­stand­ing Aus­tralian test­ing regime. Next, a hot SUV

Herald Sun - Motoring - - PRESTIGE - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER paul.gover@cars­guide.com.au

THIS is a Swedish car with a dis­tinctly Ocker ac­cent. The Volvo S60 Polestar has had Aus­tralian in­put from the very start, and not just be­cause of the company’s in­volve­ment in V8 Su­per­car rac­ing.

Aus­tralia is the test and de­vel­op­ment mar­ket for Polestar and now its hero car is head­ing out to the rest of the world after two ear­lier ef­forts to en­sure it is just right for the likes of Ja­pan, Bri­tain and the US.

“This is a very de­mand­ing mar­ket. You have a mo­tor­ing cul­ture. We re­ally lis­tened to feed­back,” says Polestar boss Christian Dahl.

Known as the MY15 ( model year 2015), it’s priced from a tick un­der $100,000 here.

The ba­sic recipe is much the same as when Cars­guide first drove the S60 Polestar in 2013, although the flavour­ing and ic­ing is smoother and tastier.

The ini­tial up­grade brought big­ger brakes, bet­ter seats and pad­dle-shifters for the six-speed auto. Now there are 20-inch al­loys with Miche­lin tyres, an ac­tive sports ex­haust and another tweak to the sus­pen­sion and all-wheel drive. There is also a V60 Polestar wagon, a first.

The car still has a tur­bocharged six-cylin­der en­gine (258kW/500Nm but, after ini­tially pitch­ing the car as a po­ten­tial BMW M3 chal­lenger, Volvo reck­ons it’s more likely to be shopped against an Audi S4.

Polestar also be­lieves it’s right for more than a dozen other coun­tries as it cranks up the pro­duc­tion vol­ume in Swe­den.

“For Aus­tralia, it’s the third gen­er­a­tion of th­ese cars but for

the rest of the world it’s the first gen­er­a­tion,” says Dahl.

He’s been a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to Aus­tralia, lead­ing a team that has been teas­ing and tweak­ing a car that’s vi­tal to Polestar’s fu­ture. It’s a call­ing card, a cash­flow cham­pion and a pointer to what Polestar can do on fu­ture Volvo projects, most likely on the XC90 SUV that’s about to go into pro­duc­tion.

Volvo sales have flat­lined in Aus­tralia this year and there are peo­ple who are ques­tion­ing its mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar bud­get for V8 Su­per­car rac­ing. How­ever, the Polestar car is part of a plan to lure peo­ple to the brand who are not just shop­ping for a safety-mo­bile.

Ver­sion three looks much the same, apart from its wheels and car­bon-fi­bre trim in the cen­tre con­sole, and it’s the same when you get go­ing. It’s swift more than sen­sa­tional in a straight line but the big gains come when you hit a twisty road with bumps.

The Polestar crew re­ally know what they’re do­ing and, thanks to the bril­liant Oh­lins dampers from Swe­den, the car is in­cred­i­bly com­posed and ma­ture. Well, un­til you push the shift lever across into sport and the ac­tive ex­haust does its raunchy thing …

Dahl says he ex­pected this to be a mi­nor tweak but it turned into a ma­jor project, as the ex­tra grip from 245x35 Miche­lin Pi­lot Su­per Sport tyres af­fected ev­ery­thing from the brak­ing to the rear-bi­ased tun­ing of the drive pack­age. “We ex­pected (to take) a week, but it ac­tu­ally took three months.”

After driv­ing the two ear­lier Polestar cars, I know ex­actly what to ex­pect. I know it will be quick and com­fort­able, with the abil­ity to turn heads in the light rac­ing blue used for Scott McLaugh­lin’s V8 Su­per­car.

But the car is more com­posed and ma­ture than I ex­pect. It even runs hot and fast around a closed test track.

The key is the dampers, which al­low it to keep its feet — cat­like — firmly on the ground in all con­di­tions. With the top­shelf Miche­lin rub­ber, it all works.

It doesn’t have the all-out pace of an M3 or a Mercedes C63, or a cracker HSV Com­modore, but it cov­ers ground very swiftly with min­i­mum fuss.

It’s a grand tourer that can also get up and go quite nicely in the city.

I’m still not to­tally happy with the brakes, which feel a bit spongy, and I would still like more support in the seats and some­thing more mem­o­rable in the de­sign of the steer­ing wheel. But those are nig­gles, not the com­plaints I had after driv­ing ver­sion one.

“We have built ex­actly the car we want. We have not tar­geted a com­peti­tor. There is no rea­son to make a copy of some­thing that al­ready ex­ists,” says Dahl. “This is the car our race driv­ers have for them­selves. It’s a car you can drive 365 days a year, not just on spe­cial week­ends.”

He’s right, of course. It’s a reg­u­lar five-seater fam­ily sedan or wagon with all the safety gear you ex­pect from the Swedish brand but with pace and panache you don’t.

It’s not a cheap car but it’s fully loaded. Ver­sion three fi­nally de­liv­ers on all the prom­ises we’ve been hear­ing since 2011. Now we’re look­ing for­ward to a Polestar XC90.

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