8 / 10
Following two successful, limited edition sales runs, the Volvo S60 Polestar is back for a third round – with two main differences. For MY15, the S60 sedan is joined by a V60 wagon and this time, production isn’t limited, meaning there will be as many Polestar tuned S60 and V60s available as buyers want.
Not long after we spent a week behind the wheel of the second-generation S60 Polestar, complete with a $10,000 price reduction, we got to test the new model in the Gold Coast hinterland. The two new vehicles are fully specified, production models, in effect meaning there is no base model and the only choice buyers will need to fret over is colour.
You can read our S60 and V60 pricing and specifications story here.
It’s interesting to note that the rest of the world doesn’t know quite how good the Polestar tuned models are. This will be Australia’s third iteration, while others just now getting their first, the car you see here. The success of the pilot programme in Australia has thereby led to seven other markets demanding the twin performance vehicles I’m testing today.
Volvo reckons Australia was the perfect testbed for the Polestar programme given it is such a demanding market, with buyers who are performance oriented and have high expectations of their vehicles. The success of the programme, and Volvo’s corporate commitment to its V8 Supercars venture, means Polestar-tuned vehicles won’t be disappearing from our local market anytime soon.
Resplendent in corporate Polestar blue, our fleet of launch vehicles makes for an impressive sight in the hotel’s valet parking area. Don’t be fooled though, both sedan and wagon are available in four colours – blue, white, black and silver. But it’s hard to argue with the visual curb appeal of the gleaming Polestar blue.
From this writer’s perspective, the V60 is the more stylish (and practical) bet, and the one to go for. You could even argue it’s a sensible family car if you need to convince the better half – or yourself. Therein lies the appeal of a wagon too, especially a wagon with some serious performance under the bonnet. You can almost talk yourself into the fact that you need (rather than simply want) one.
The sedan and wagon are close in the real world too, with the wagon weighing only four kilograms more than the sedan. Aside from that slight weight discrepancy, the S60 and V60 are identical technologically. That marginal weight gain means there are small differences in spring rates and shock absorber settings, which are largely imperceptible on either road or track. A quick check with both Robert Dahlgren and Scott McLaughlin (Volvo’s V8 race stars) reveals that no, we’re not daft, you can’t pick the extra weight no matter how well tuned-in your driving is.
On the topic of shock absorbers, the standard Ohlins units are adjustable (like the previous model) and bespoke. They’ve been developed specifically for Polestar and for this vehicle with input from Volvo and Polestar.
On our first road loop, the shocks are set at the dealer delivery setting – effectively right in the middle of the adjustment range. Later we test the same car on the same roads with the shocks adjusted up to three-quarters of their full stiffness setting. There’s a noticeable difference between the two settings. When we get our hands on a Polestar for the week we’ll give the softest setting a go over some harsh urban roads.
Volvo wants owners to take their new S60 or V60 Polestar home at the medium setting and drive it for a few weeks, then return to the dealer with their feedback. The service technicians can then set the vehicle up to suit the individual buyer’s preference. Adjusting the shocks is easy, and you can do all four in under five minutes. We suspect most owners will set the system where they want it and leave it. That said, if you want to fine tune the suspension for track days or country runs, you can.
At one point on track, we drove two cars that had been set up by McLaughlin and Dahlgren to suit their individual tastes. Interestingly, and perhaps evidence of their more finely honed skill set, both race drivers opt for a different setting front to rear to suit the tight, twisty track that focusses on front end precision. McLaughlin agreed that comfort is the go around town, while Dahlgren admitted to setting the car up for maximum fun (read stiffness) when in Sweden recently. He was driving on snow covered roads mind you.
What the adjustable suspension most illustrates is the S60 and V60 Polestar’s dual personality. There’s comfort available if required, but performance on hand too. The duality says a lot about the perception the Swedish company wants buyers to have.
Most of the changes for the new Polestar models have come under the skin, but there’s a crucial change outside. New, bespoke 20-inch alloy wheels have brought with them sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber measuring 245/35/ZR20. These new tyres contribute to increased grip levels, something the Polestar technicians were adamant the new vehicles must have – especially at the front end.
Volvo and Polestar were adamant that the new tyre package had to deliver an acceptable compromise between outright handling and day-to-day usability. Both companies feel that road noise is as low as you can hope for with sticky tyres on 20-inch rims. Coarse chip country roads generate some tyre noise, but it’s never too intrusive for comfort.
On the flip side, hook into a corner with some gusto, and the Michelins bite hard, make no audible protest and help the S60/V60 twins rocket through corners with precision. There’s no doubt the retuned shock absorbers are helping here, but the tyres are exceptional. The difference between suspension settings is noticeable too and rutted country roads mean you can feel the increased stiffness when the setting is wound up. Again, it’s not unbearable, but I’d be erring on the side of comfort unless I lived in an area with super smooth roads.
The springs for example, are 80 percent stiffer than those fitted to the R Design cars, the stabiliser bars are stiffer and there are uprated connecting points, mounts and bushings compared to the less-tuned variants. What that means is the Polestar is going to be a little harsher in terms of overall bump absorption – but it’s meant to be.
In terms of body style and design, there’s nothing major to report. There’s the aforementioned wheel and tyre combo that is both functional and attractive. The S60 sedan gets a new, larger bootlid spoiler that is now less ‘lip’ and decidedly more ‘spoiler’. The V60 wagon also gets a spoiler that is distinct from the R Design car. Both have been extensively tested in the wind tunnel to improve high speed stability.
The interior features some minor detail changes too, with Nubuck/perforated leather trim for the seats and steering wheel, that is both functional and comfortable. The Nubuck inserts especially add a little bit of ‘race feel’ to the cabin. You’ll also notice carbon fibre details, contrasting blue highlights, plus bespoke pedals and footrest. Volvo does comfort well, the seats are among the best I’ve tested, and they hold you in place well enough on track as well as being comfortable on the open road. The cabin’s fit, finish and execution is high-end and befits a car that rings the till just under 100 grand.
The T6 engine, inline and turbocharged, is rather intoxicating. Thanks to the comprehensively revised exhaust system – which is effectively a straight through design from the catalytic converter back – there’s a purposeful engine note as the revs rise to accompany the speed that you rapidly pile on. Country roll on overtaking is enjoyable, put it that way. You’ll want to get your Polestar out of the confines of the city to stretch its legs, there’s no doubt about that.
The engine delivers a smooth 257kW at 5250rpm and 500Nm at 3000rpm. The active exhaust system opens right up in sports mode to deliver even more sound, which adds to the fun factor. Polestar has recalibrated the throttle response, added launch control and retuned the automatic gearbox for faster shifts.
In Drive mode the gear shift is precise, but as comfortable as possible. In Sport or Manual modes you get faster shifts and minimal automatic interference, except if you don’t shift down through the gears as you come to a stop. There’s also a clever feature that comes into play in Sport mode. The gearbox won’t drop down a gear mid corner when you have generated high lateral loads, so it doesn’t unsettle the car. The system also keeps off-throttle revs up, so you have access to maximum torque faster, with less lag.
The tweaked Haldex AWD system impresses as it always did and you can have plenty of fun on-track with the ESC switched off. There’s more RWD bias in general and also when you use the launch control. The twins are plenty quick enough too. 0-100km/h is achieved in 4.9 seconds for the sedan and 5.0 seconds for the wagon. There’s a feeling of assurance on track when you start to crank the speed up and some hot laps with the V8 race drivers behind the wheel illustrated just what the AWD system is capable of.
The Volvo S60/V60 Polestar is an impressive car. It comes with performance pedigree and real world, daily driver ability, but there’s also a measure of difference about the way it plies its trade that ensures you won’t feel like every other tuned Euro owner. Despite the fact that this model will be more readily available than the previous two, you still won’t see another one every morning on your way to work.
I gave the Volvo S60 Polestar a 7.5 in my review a few months ago as did Dan in his comparison review not long before. There’s no doubt this new, third generation is a better vehicle, so I’m going to stretch that overall score to an 8. The Polestar models fulfil their brief impressively and look stylish doing it – there’s not a lot more you can ask for in a rapid, performance sedan. Or wagon.