There’s just something about the notion of a fast Volvo station wagon that makes no sense whatsoever – and that’s arguably what makes them so appealing.
Volvophile wagonistas wax lyrical about the boxy-bodied Volvo 850R of the mid-1990s. And now there’s a spiritual successor that aims to live up to the hype – the Volvo V60 Polestar.
Introduced to Australia late in 2014 alongside the updated and improved S60 Polestar, the V60 Polestar (priced at $102,990 plus on-road costs) may not be as angular as its predecessor, but it certainly lacks nothing in terms of its performance credentials.
Under the bonnet is a 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol turbocharged engine producing 258kW of power at 5250rpm and 500Nm from 3000-4750rpm. The highly-strung transversely-mounted six-cylinder maxes out at 6500rpm.
Power is sent to all four wheels through a six-speed “Adaptive Geartronic” automatic transmission, which has a sport mode with manual paddleshifter controls on the steering wheel.
Volvo isn’t messing about with this powertrain, which it claims can help the V60 Polestar jump from 0-100km/h in just 5.0 seconds, on its way to a top speed of 250km/h. The S60 Polestar sedan is just one-tenth quicker despite being 68 kilograms lighter (1766kg versus 1834kg).
It feels smartly rapid under hard throttle, with the engine and its beefy exhaust system emitting a fairly raucous noise in D, but shift the selector over to the sport mode and the warble gets even more intoxicating.
The most enticing aspect of the engine is its mid-range performance. While the 3.0-litre can get a bit bogged down in getting away swiftly, from 3000rpm through to the red-line it is properly fast, and the throttle pedal is easy to measure and manipulate if you’re cornering at speed.
What it could do with a little more of, however, is brake pedal feel. There’s a level of softness on initial application before the big Brembo six-piston calipers bite down with a bit too much force. It makes it hard to modulate your speed until you get really used to how the stoppers react.
The transmission is more miss than hit, too.
While the paddleshifters mean swaps between cogs can be handled by fingertips, the tiptronic gearbox isn’t as fast, smooth or precise as a dual-clutch unit. In sport mode we noticed plenty of thumping, harsh shifts, and it will upshift disobediently.
In D, the slurring nature of the transmission is hard to like – on our highway drive, for instance, it was constantly dropping to fifth gear and then back up to sixth when there was a slight incline. For a car with so much torque, it can be frustrating that the ‘box is so busy chopping and changing between cogs.
For a car that isn’t lightweight, the V60 Polestar is remarkably agile.
Undoubtedly aided by its Michelin Pilot Sport rubber (encasing 20x8-inch rims, front and back), there’s a superb level of cornering grip on offer. The all-wheel drive traction is also deserving of credit, ensuring plenty of traction makes its way to the road with minimal wheelspin.
Volvo’s adjustable suspension system may not be as technologically tricky as those used in rival cars – there’s no button to adjust the dampers from inside the cabin; you have to get under the car and manually adjust the Ohlins shock absorbers – but with 20 settings available you’re likely to find a level of firmness that suits you.
Our car’s suspension was set to the mid-way point (that’s 10 clicks out of 20, aiming for a balance of comfort and control), and while felt quite hard over firm bumps, the ride was otherwise solid and well-sorted, assisting the Polestar in feeling well gelled and adjustable.
The steering is beefy and precise – it responds fast enough at high speed to make you feel confident that the Volvo will tip in sharply with only a hint of understeer if you approach too quickly. It will also tow the line smoothly through sweeping corners, and while there’s a small amount of torque steer under hard straightline acceleration, the tiller doesn’t tug to one side when you punch the right pedal out of the bends.
There’s a price to pay in terms of fuel use, though – the V60 Polestar has claimed fuel consumption of 10.3 litres per 100 kilometres, and we saw 12.4L/100km during our test that included a mix of freeway, highway, city and country driving.
In terms of living quarters, the V60 Polestar is a lovely place.
As we have previously found when testing Volvo vehicles, the interior fit and finish is impeccable. The materials used all feel of a high quality, and while the cockpit isn’t as flashy as you might expect when you’re shelling out more than $100,000 on a car, it certainly feels sophisticated.
There are plenty of toys inside the cabin, including a thumping Harman Kardon audio system with 12 speakers that is linked to a 7.0-inch media unit. It is on the small side by class standard and doesn’t have a simple, intuitive control system a la BMW iDrive, but it offers a clear and simple navigation system, as well as Bluetooth audio streaming with TuneIn radio app capability.
The seats are brilliant – there’s no other word for the front buckets, as they manage to combine cushioning comfort with excellent support.
The rear seat is also comfortable, although headroom is a bit tight for taller passengers. However, with decent in-cabin storage and 430 litres of boot space (smaller than the average wagon but more than a hatchback), it would prove a fun weekend getaway car for four adults or a young family.
It wouldn’t be a Volvo if it didn’t have safety gear, and the V60 Polestar comes brimming with technology, all of it standard for the flagship midsize wagon.
Highlights include adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning and prevention technology (including full auto-braking), a pedestrian and cyclist detection and warning system, a reverse-view camera and rear parking sensors with cross traffic alert, lane departure warning and blind-spot warning systems, and six airbags (dual front, front-side and full-length curtains).
In terms of where it sits in the market, the Volvo V60 Polestar is quite a niche player.
Buyers who don’t need quite so much cargo space may be better served looking at the Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG, which is cheaper and just as potent, if not more so. Or you could choose the $108,500 (plus costs) Audi S4 Avant and be happy with something a little less overt. The $99,990 (plus on-roads) S60 Polestar could lure buyers who prefer the sedan shape, but for us the wagon is the pick, even if it costs $3000 more.
With its outside-the-square (geddit?) approach to fast motoring, the Volvo V60 Polestar gets more right than it does wrong.
That transmission could be a sticking point if you spend more time commuting than anything else, but on the balance of its other merits this sporty Swede is quite the charmer.