Volvo face two challenges with the V60 Polestar; firstly to communicate exactly what it is, and secondly to apologise for making so few of them. The answer to the first challenge is far from simple and if you can’t see why you’d want one, please read on.
The company will make just 750 cars globally, with 125 cars reaching the UK market – all of them V60 based, to reflect the brand’s heritage of fast Volvo estates made famous by the 850 BTCC driven by Rickard Rydell and Jan Lammers in the ’90s.
Polestar are an independent company of 35 people who work exclusively with Volvo as their global performance and motorsports partner. Their relationship has spanned almost two decades, and the V60 Polestar marks their ‘first’ joint production car.
Success will mark the beginning of a new Polestar range, with the lighter V40 being very much in both company’s sights.
So what exactly is it?
Since 2011 you’ve been able to buy a ‘Polestar Optimised’ S60, V60 or XC60, they’re officially called the ‘R-Design Polestar’ models and feature performance and styling upgrades which make them slightly quicker and a little bit more dynamic than the standard car.
With the launch of the new Drive-E powertrains, Volvo no longer sells the T6, but when they did the Polestar Optimisation treatment would boost its power from 304 bhp to 329 bhp and torque from 325 to 355 lb-ft.
The ‘R-Design Polestar’ models are close in ethos to Audi’s ‘S Line’ and BMW’s ‘M Sport’ cars, with a software upgrade delivering the added performance, but the new V60 Polestar is a very different kind of animal. Think of it as Volvo’s equivalent to an Audi RS, BMW M or Mercedes AMG – but with a more bespoke feel, similar to that of an Alpina BMW.
When the project began in 2009, Polestar asked themselves the question: “what would happen if a race team got to design their own road car?”.
The first answer to the question was the 501 bhp S60 Polestar Concept, one of our favourite cars of 2012, but deemed a little ‘too exciting’ (and costly) to make it into series production – it used Volvo’s 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engine, fitted with a Garret 3171 turbo, strengthened con-rods, modified inlet manifold and air intake, modified cylinder head and combustion chambers and a 3.5-inch stainless steel exhaust system.
The production V60 Polestar tempers the fireworks slightly by fitting a twin-scroll Borg Warner turbo (operating at a maximum boost of 1.2 bar), bigger intercooler, reprogrammed ECU and a 2.5-inch active exhaust system with twin 3.5-inch tail pipes. The exhaust uses a bypass valve to channel gases past the silencer once above 4,000 rpm, turning it into a straight through system apart from the catalysts.
Believe me, when you hear a V60 Polestar for the first time your knees will ever-so-slightly quiver.
Most of the chassis upgrades survive intact in the transition from concept to a road car; including high performance Öhlins dampers, stiffer Eibach springs, a carbon-fibre strut brace and stiffer bushes including the front and rear top mounts and tie blade. The engineers at Polestar improved the chassis of the V60 Polestar over the concept, so don’t think of it as the lesser car.
Tyres are a narrower profile with 245/23 R20 Michelin Pilot Super Sports replacing the concept’s 265/30 R19, while there are three different specs of winter tyre available on a choice of 19 and 20-inch rims.
The springs are overall 80% stiffer than the V60 R-Design, while trick Öhlins dampers feature a Dual Flow Valve (‘DFV’) that keep it settled over fast undulations while maintaining a modicum of civility on broken and lumpy b-roads.
The braking system has undergone substantial modification; with 371 x 32 mm ventilated and floating Brembo discs at the front mated with Brembo six-piston calipers and HP1000 pads. The standard car’s 302 mm rear discs remain, apart from the fitment of Brembo HP2000 pads to accommodate the Polestar’s increased performance.
The Polestar developed Haldex all-wheel drive system has been recalibrated to distribute more of its torque to the rear, which is further enhanced by switching the ESC system to ‘off’ – a process that involves several steps through the V60’s MY CAR menu. It works in sync with the six-speed Aisin Warner (AWF21) automatic gearbox with paddle-shift controls, which now delivers faster shifts as well as two new functions – curve-hold and launch control.
The first is obvious, unlike some auto boxes the Polestar transmission avoids changing up in mid-corners, you can also hold it on the rev limit without the auto function stepping in. Launch control operates simply by the driver placing one foot on the brake while the other full presses the throttle. If the driver fails to release the brake within 5 seconds, the system lowers the revs and the process needs to be restarted again. While in launch mode the system is merely ‘primed’, with no extra stress being placed on the gearbox, so according to Polestar you can do it “as many times as you like.”
In practice it’s undramatic and easy to do and apart from the slight rise in revs (while sitting in LC mode) nobody would know what you’re about to do – just remember to lift off the loud pedal before you reach the speed limit.
What’s it like to drive?
First impressions behind the wheel are of ‘very well’ sorted sports car – like a Porsche 911 GT3 or Nissan GT-R, and certainly unlike any previous Volvo. There’s a real depth of talent which belies those humble roots and a feeling of bespoke craftsmanship, rather like an AMG or Alpina sports saloon.
Like those more illustrious names, the V60 Polestar delivers its feel-good vibe from the first turn of the wheel with a sense of confidence and control to match the urgency of its twin-scroll turbocharged straight six engine.
1. An engine which entertains at any speed.
But don’t be too quick to judge the uprated engine its headline power figure. Volvo quote 345 bhp and 369 lb-ft (500Nm) of torque – which might not sound a lot, but in practice feels closer to 400 bhp and delivers performance not a million miles away from the 444 bhp Audi RS 4.
Not once did we think it ‘lacked performance’ nor did we wish we were driving one of its German rivals.
The difference comes in their torque – a peak of 500Nm (369 lb-ft) for the V60 versus 430Nm (317 lb-ft) for the RS 4, which sees the Polestar accelerate from 0 to 60mph in 4.8 seconds, reach 120 mph in 16.7 seconds and top out at an electronically limited 155 mph.
Both weigh near enough the same (1,834kg for the V60, 1,795kg for the RS 4) and while the Audi revs higher, the V60 Polestar lunges harder and feels as close to being naturally aspirated as any turbocharged car has a right to.
Not once did we think it ‘lacked performance’ nor did we wish we were driving one of its German rivals. Its power delivery is broad and elastic, pulling hard from low revs right up to its 6,500 rpm rev limit. It’s an impressive powerplant and one which you can use every day, on any road and in all conditions.
Volvo describe the sound of new Polestar as ‘throaty’, which with typical Swedish modesty underplays the sheer volume of its delivery. From across the Dunsfold track, where we put it through its paces, we could hear it from over 300 metres away, while driving in convoy along b-roads brought a smile to our faces every time the driver in front opened the taps.
Believe me, when you hear a V60 Polestar for the first time your knees will ever-so-slightly quiver.
2. Incredible grip and composure.
The V60 Polestar’s dynamic repertoire is delivered via the huge grip of its 20-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres and a chassis which is balanced, stable and easily adjusted with either one (or both) pedals.
On track the six-piston Brembo front brakes can be used to shift the car’s weight towards the nose, whereupon the 245/35 front tyres keep it resolutely glued to the road, allowing the driver to adjust the attitude of its rear with the throttle.
Don’t get me wrong though, this is no drift-king, on the road there’s little if any understeer, just plenty of reassuring grip and a neutral feel even under full throttle.
The Öhlins DFV dampers were selected because of their ability to blend a supple ride with unflappable handling, but the ride of our test car was as firm as you’d expect of any rival sports saloon.
They come from the factory in their medium setting – with twenty possible choices, which can be individually adjusted via a knob on the top of each damper. We would have preferred a softer setup, but while the fronts can be quickly adjusted the rears are less accessible, so Polestar advise a quick trip to your Volvo dealer or a friendly mechanic with access to some ramps.
While the low-speed ride of our test car was nothing special, its stability through fast sweeping corners was in a whole different league to most cars. Both on track and the road the V60 Polestar is truly glued to the road, with neither bumps or undulations deflecting it from its chosen purpose.
Polestar’s goal with the V60 was to make it “..a driver’s car for real life”, and in that regard they’ve exceeded their target. Drive one for yourself (if you can) and you’ll be immediately impressed – it’s as polished and well developed as the best from Audi RS, all contained within a package which looks as friendly and approachable as any other Volvo V60.
Should I buy one?
At £49,995 the V60 Polestar is the most expensive car in the range, apart from the fully-loaded plug-in hybrid, and certainly the fastest and most enjoyable car they company has ever made.
Only 125 cars will be sold here in the UK, which means you’ll struggle to find one to test drive, but thankfully you don’t have to. If you already like the V60, then you’ll love the V60 Polestar. There are no caveats to consider or weaknesses to offset against its headline strengths.
The V60 Polestar comes fitted with every factory option possible and is available in a choice of four colours; Rebel Blue, Black Saphire Metallic, Bright Silver Metallic and Ice White. Seats are a leather/Alcantara mix, while a solitary piece of carbon fibre adorns the floating centre console.
If we were being picky, we’d swap the carbon fibre trim for a leather-covered dashboard, plus some Alcantara lining for the roof, but none of that would make it a better car to drive which was Polestar’s main objective.
At around £10k less than a similarly specced RS 4 I’d call it something of a bargain, and perhaps the best news is it won’t be the last Polestar Volvo. The team behind this car are already looking at the Golf-sized V40, starting with the 306bhp supercharged-turbocharged Drive-E engine as their starting point.
Let’s hope they make a lot more than 125 cars next time.