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
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.