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Car reviews - Volvo - S60 - Polestar

Our Opinion

We like
Outstanding high-speed ride, muscular engine, all-wheel-drive grip, comfortable cabin, exclusivity
Room for improvement
Exhaust note could be beefier, steering not BMW-sharp, no paddle shifters, brakes tire quickly


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19 Jun 2013

BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4... Volvo S60? Yes, if Volvo Car Australia gets its way.

See, the company’s Australian arm thinks its well-regarded S60 luxury mid-sizer is a little under-appreciated, enjoying neither the recognition nor reputation of the similar-sized (and priced) Germans.

In a bid to change the status quo, the company has turned to one of the oldest tricks in the book – the ‘halo’ effect.

The rationale is that introducing a limited-run hot version (and, separately, sponsoring a V8 Supercars team), will have a beneficial trickle-down on the entire line-up.

Enter the limited edition, 257kW/500Nm S60 Polestar – a $110k perception-changer on wheels. It costs about $35,000 more than the top-line S60 T6 R-Spec, so what does this extra money net you bar exclusivity? And is it worth it?

Well, it’s not a cheap car, that’s for sure. Volvo pitches the limited-run S60 flagship as a rival to the likes of the Audi S4 (from $119,900), and the more powerful BMW M3 ($155,100), Lexus IS F ($126,300) and even the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG ($154,900).

The current S60 range has always been a comfortable and refined grand tourer that ultimately lacked the dynamic nous of the class-leaders, and we have no hesitation saying the special Polestar version driven here closes the gap.

Did you ever think you’d see a Volvo with 20-way manually adjustable Ohlen dampers? We drove the car on the road in their most neutral setting (turned up to 10 both front and rear), and tackled a more dynamic stretch with a softer front (15) and firmer rear (5).

The springs, furthermore, are 80 per cent stiffer, although the ride never feels too busy or firm. Strangely, if anything, the car felt less composed at low speeds, pottering around the city.

The middle ground is the best, and the ride only improves with speed. The car’s ability to swallow corrugations without wallowing or pitching shows Polestar knows what it’s doing.

Note, to adjust the dampers you have to physically reach in under the wheel arches and in the boot and click them into place. Many rivals have a button. But it’s still a nice bragging point.

Polestar has given the T6’s familiar turbocharged in-line six-cylinder engine new software and a bigger intercooler, and the result is 33kW more power (257kW) and 60Nm more torque (500Nm-plus).

It’s a sweet, free-revving unit capable of hustling the 1684kg car from standstill to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds. Polestar claims to have fitted a launch control system – hold the brake, boot the throttle, point and shoot – although we didn’t really notice the difference.

There’s a 2.5-inch stainless steel full-flow exhaust with twin 3.5-inch tailpipes that look the business. We’d like them to sound more menacing, though. The 373kW S60 concept car that spawned the one driven here sounds full-on feral – we’d have loved it if some of that edge had made it across.

The six-speed automatic transmission has a re-mapped sport mode that holds a lower gear. It also has a manual mode – but the configuration is upside down (pull the stick to change down, and push it to change up) and the car is crying out for paddle shifters that don’t exist.

If you turn off stability control, Polestar says it sharpens the shifts further. It was tough to spot the difference on a short drive day, though.

The Polestar brake discs are sizeable (336mm front and 302mm rear) and there are Brembo pads (though Polestar hasn’t gone the whole way and fitted Brembo calipers). They’re effective at first but faded through overheating after 30 minutes of spirited driving. An AMG wouldn’t. Nor would a HSV Clubsport.

A new aerodynamic package incorporates a front splitter, rear wing and diffuser – all having been tweaked and modified in the Volvo Car Group wind tunnel in Sweden. But we suspect it’s not downforce that sticks this car to the road – it’s the all-wheel-drive grip.

The AWD system is front-biased, but shuffles torque to the rear axle under heavy throttle. It puts that power down without fuss, and holds the car the road through the bends – even the slippery ones. This level of grip, plus the well-sorted ride, makes this a consummate back-country cruiser.

Chassis changes including new stabilisers, a carbon-fibre-reinforced front strut brace and revised anti-roll bars are worthy, although the Polestar can’t quite bridge the gulf between a regular S60 and, say, a BMW 335i.

It’s nimble and grippy, yes, but the electro-hydraulic steering still has too much play on-centre and lack the final tenth of feel-and-feedback that turns good cars into great ones. Turning in to any corner involves an element of guesswork.

One area where Polestar has shown restraint is the design. The S60 is already a rather beautifully styled car, and aside from the larger 19-inch rims and small blue square badges, the special edition is a quintessential ‘sleeper’ -- in other words, it looks more subtle than it goes.

The cabin is just like the regular S60 T6 too, meaning comfortable and supple leather seats that lack the requisite bolstering for a performance car, a novel ‘floating’ fascia design and an uncluttered, good quality dash. Headroom is still tight in the rear.

The equipment list is extensive but basically the same as the T6 R-Design, so the extra $35,000 only buys you the performance mods and the exclusivity. The sole option is a $2650 sunroof.

For a first effort, the S60 Polestar is pretty commendable. It needs more steering feel, bigger brakes and more of a mongrel edge, but it’s a supremely relaxing and quick GT car with a dash of quirky edge.

Does it feel like a $110k car? Not quite.

We hope the small Swedish tuner gets the sort of feedback from Australian buyers that it wants, because with a little effort, and a few more dollars, it could make something great.

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