Car reviews - Volvo - S60 - Polestar sedan
Menacing looks, exclusivity, noticeable extra torque, same warranty and service intervals as standard T6
Room for improvement
No paddle shifters on the steering wheel, road noise and firm ride on 19s, steering feel
14 Dec 2011
VOLVO has brought the S60 Performance Project from this year’s Australian International Motor Show to life, with a limited run of just 50 units.
Called the S60 Polestar in honour of the Swedish brand’s racing affiliate that helped create it, the car is Volvo’s answer to the likes of AMG, M Sport and Renault Sport, giving its sleek medium sedan more kick and aggression.
While Polestar provides kits to other markets such as the US, the Australian version is unique in combining fully-integrated software updates with a new exhaust, bigger Heico wheels, stiffer and lower suspension and other various cosmetic tweaks.
The fully-integrated software upgrade has squeezed an extra 18kW of power and 40Nm of torque out of the creamy smooth turbocharged 3.0-litre inline six.
Figures of 242kW and a thumping 480Nm are nothing to be sneezed at, especially when said figures are delivered to the tarmac via a Haldex part-time all-wheel-drive system that can divert power away from the front wheels if conditions dictate.
The group responsible for the engine management tweaks – Polestar – is Volvo’s official racing arm and road-going performance partner.
The organisation is perhaps most famous for the ballistic all-wheel-drive, 300kW C30 Performance Concept Prototype in April last year, to explore the potential for a racing team to develop road cars.
This is also the organisation that won the Swedish Touring Car Championship with a tuned Volvo C30 in 2009 and 2010 and completed an evaluation season in the World Touring Car Championship before embarking on a full WTCC entry in 2012.
The instantaneous power delivery, muted but powerful note and effortless pull when overtaking made this car a joy to drive on the fast and swooping bends between Sydney and the Hunter Valley.
We ran into a few issues when the going got tighter and more twisty, however, with this driver crying out for more feel through the fingertips. This knocks the edge off the car in certain situations, and gives cause for moderate hesitation on these sorts of roads.
Furthermore, that all-wheel-drive system may be safe and effective at keeping the car under reins, but we noticed understeer when turning into sharp corners as well.
Lastly, the absence of paddle shifters on the steering wheel is a real bugbear, as they would lend an even more sporting flavour to the slick six-speed self-shifting transmission.
A Volvo insider admitted the brand was frustrated by their absence, but said that their fitment would require the brand to re-do many safety tests.
The stiffer springs and bushings, lower ride and low-profile wheels result in a ride that is as firm as you would logically expect, but things remained comfortable in the cabin even over some of the diabolically-bad back roads we encountered.
Potholes, corrugations and deep puddles did not noticeably unnerve the car, although there was a large amount of road noise. For this reason, the Polestar is not as good at grand touring as the more humble (but still pleasingly swift) T6 R-Design on which it is based.
This is cause for a bit of concern, because the worries over its handling at the limit and the lack of steering feel mean it is not as lithe and nimble as rivals such performance-oriented C-class and 3 Series models.
Then again, the S60 has the kind of outsider charm and value for money equation that its Teutonic rivals cannot touch.
This car comes chock full of standard features, sharing its list of cabin accoutrements – including the best leather and suede seats in the business – with the T6 R-Design.
The Polestar also gets a panoply of active, passive and preventative technologies including City Safety with Autobrake, BLIS blind spot detection, Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Warning and Emergency Brake Lights.
It ought to be said that the S60 is already one of the best looking sedans out there: The big haunches, undulating body contours and aggressive stance have made this car a head turner since day dot.
But the Polestar version has upped the ante with its big 19-inch Heico wheels, new rear diffuser, tweaked quad exhaust system and lowered ride height.
The big black and silver rims look menacing and lack the tackiness of many aftermarket sets – the Viking-inspired Heico logo in the middle is highly appropriate on a Nordic vehicle – and the diffuser and quad exhausts give the snub rear end a bit of mongrel.
This is one of those cars that can exude presence and charisma. It looks mean, hunkered down and substantially more expensive than it is. Approving glances from other road users were a dime a dozen.
At the end of the day, this car is sure to sell out rapidly due to its sheer exclusivity. It will become a desirable collector’s special in years down the track, and for good reason.
Whether it is worth the extra $10,000 over the T6 R-Design S60 on which it is based is a bit beside the point.
It is undeniably swift, sexy and a great deal of fun – most of the time. The fact that it carries the safety, quality and practicality of the rest of the excellent S60 range is a cherry on top.
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