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First drive: Sizzling Volvo S60 on pole

The need for Swede: Volvo is going after performance offerings from the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz with its beefed-up S60 Performance Project.

Polestar performance upgrades give Volvo a viable – and affordable – GT tech-fest

17 Oct 2011


VOLVO will offer more performance on its mid-size S60 T6 AWD R-Design sedan from the end of this year – but it will come at a cost.

The S60 ‘Performance Project’, based on the concept car that starred at this year’s Melbourne motor show, will attract a premium of between $10,000 and $12,000 over the regular circa-$70,000 S60 T6 AWD R-Design range-topper.

No V60 (wagon) version is in the pipeline for Australia for now.

The engine software upgrade will be a dealer-fitted option and comes courtesy of Swedish racing and performance firm Polestar – a company that started in the mid-’90s racing Volvo 850s and gave its name to a one-off C30 super-hot hatch.

This chips-up the regular T6’s turbocharged 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder petrol engine’s power output from 224kW to 242kW, while torque jumps 40Nm from 440Nm.

18 center imageVolvo’s Aisin-sourced Geartronic six-speed automatic transmission drives all four wheels via a Haldex part-time all-wheel-drive system. No manual gearbox is available for the time being.

Whether Volvo Car Australia uses the distinctive ‘Polestar’ name and blue badging, or goes with the ‘Performance Project’ nomenclature invented for the Melbourne show remains to be seen as the upgrade also involves chassis componentry from US specialist Heico.

Other additions to the S60 include 19-inch alloy wheels and tyres, and the usual R-Design extras, bringing sportier looks via a body kit and other exterior (and interior) enhancements, as well as a modified, lower chassis for improved driving dynamics.

Volvo said the Performance Project upgrade will fall under the company’s usual three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

Availability in the first instance kicks off from December to about February 2012. If there is sufficient buyer interest, further iterations will most probably emerge in due course, according to a Volvo spokesperson.

Drive impressions

VOLVO is serious about challenging BMW, Mercedes and Audi, and the S60 mid-size four-door sedan has earned a place on buyers’ shortlists alongside the 3 Series, C-class and A4.

But what if you are after something faster, sexier and a little bit more exciting? Volvos aren’t exactly renowned for their high-performance machines, no matter how stylish and capable most of their models are now.

Sadly, unlike the Germans, the Swedish outfit doesn’t have a budding M Division, AMG or R GmbH to call on, so Volvo’s safe but slightly staid and sleepy image seemed set to continue, but somebody up there in Scandinavia has woken up to the S60’s potential and injected it with a healthy shot of Polestar-supplied ‘Performance Project’.

A mostly software-related update of the flagship T6, it increases the 3.0-litre turbo engine’s power output from an already lively 224kW (at 5600rpm) to 242kW and torque from 440Nm (at 2100-4200rpm) to 480Nm. Just what the good ‘doktor’ ordered.

The extra 40Nm of torque over the regular (and surprisingly swift) T6 is immediately obvious from the moment you set off.

Acceleration comes on strong, then just keeps coming on through the front wheels (unless traction issues send drive rearwards via a Haldex part-time AWD system) to create an extremely quick point-to-point touring sedan.

Initially we flew the fastest S60 along a small, tight circuit at Volvo’s Gothenburg HQ, and there the T6’s instantaneous power delivery impressed us almost as much as the refinement.

This Volvo is no sports sedan, for the steering – while quick and responsive – cries out for more weight and feel through the fingertips, though out on the open roads around suburban Sweden, the (admittedly 18-inch clad) T6 Polestar we used straddled a fine line between alacrity and comfort, absorbing bumps and thumps as effortlessly as it carved up the odd narrow-lane corner.

They say that power is nothing without control and the AWD system underneath, backed up by an extremely effective set of brakes, helped convey a feeling that we were piloting a relaxed and refined rocketship. Not in the BMW M5 or Audi S4 category, but plenty fast enough for most people to get a real kick out of the T6.

The overall feeling after a far-too-short 20km trip in the S60 Performance Project is that Polestar is ready to emerge from being an in-house tuner and racer of Volvos to becoming the Swedish firm’s equivalent of Renaultsport.

After sampling the hot S60, as well as the ballistic one-off C30 Polestar hatch, it is clear that Volvo in Australia can only benefit from the partnership, giving the German competition something to really lose sleep over.

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