I’ll admit that it took me quite a while to gel with the Volvo S60 Polestar. Or, to give it its more accurate if less evocative name, the Volvo S60 T6 R-Design with Polestar upgrade.
Could this be the first Volvo to force me into writing a less than glowing report? And, just as pertinently, could the Polestar gloss have finally worn off?
Not a bit of it. By the end of my week with the Volvo S60 T6 Polestar I was once again feeling the love and unwilling to hand the keys back to the Volvo press office. It’s certainly not perfect, but then what is?
At this point it’s probably worth mentioning that this isn’t a review of the bonkers 501bhp Volvo S60 Polestar you will have seen causing mischief on social media. This is the common or garden S60 T6 with the optional upgrade package. Which means that this particular Volvo is packing 329bhp of punch.
The Polestar brand has come a little way since I reviewed the Volvo C30 Polestar back in 2011. Back then, you’d pay £500 for a simple remap and a subtle boot badge. Today, clearly hoping to cash-in on the growing awareness of the Polestar brand, the S60 is available with a Polestar remap AND a Polestar package.
The remap, which takes the power up from 304bhp to 329bhp costs £815, with a secondary tier available for an extra £1,680. In short, the 18-inch black rims, 230/45 tyres, Polestar side decals and black mirror caps help you shout about your more potent beast. It’s for Volvo drivers who want to get noticed.
And bloody hell does it work. The Volvo S60 Polestar could result in a surge in personal injury claims caused by folk twisting their neck to get a better view of the blue blur flying past them. This is presence, Volvo style. You can’t accuse the Volvo S60 Polestar of being a shrinking violet.
It’s not exactly a fur coat and no knickers circus act either. Good lord, this thing has got some poke. Acceleration is brutal – down from 6.1 seconds to 5.8 seconds, with four-wheel drive ensuring that every last drop of its 480Nm of torque is transmitted to the asphalt. It helps to provide cross-country pace that’s on a par with just about anything else I’ve driven in the past year.
And this includes such luminaries as the new Porsche 911 Carrera 4 and Panamera. It’s all down to the tremendous amount of grip and general confidence it inspires. It flatters your driving skills, that’s for sure, rocketing up to licence-losing speeds without breaking sweat. It’s no surprise they had to limit this hot Swede’s top speed to 155mph…
But it’s not all good news. The standard-fit 7-speed automatic transmission does its best to dilute the experience to something a little more tepid. It’s not that I wish a manual ‘box was offered, it’s just that I wish the auto transmission was a little better.
Keep it in automatic and the changes are far from instantaneous. Blissful B-road runs can be ruined by a transmission which is too slow to react when powering out from a corner. Occasionally it chooses the wrong gear entirely, too.
Things are improved markedly when flicking the shifter to manual and flicking the shifter up and down to change gear. Suddenly you feel a lot more in control. It’s just a shame the shifter delivers a strange feeling of disconnection, almost as though the transmission is mounted in Ambrosia custard.
The temptation is to return the shifter to automatic, go easy on the throttle and allow the Volvo S60 to become the more docile animal it was created to be. Dare I say it becomes quite relaxed?
And this could end up being a key selling point for the Volvo S60 Polestar – an ability to seamlessly morph between B-road terrorist and relaxed A-road cruiser. Volvo isn’t chasing Audi RS or BMW M or Mercedes AMG models with the Polestar. It’s more of an S4 and 335i challenger, against which it can put up a pretty decent challenge.
The figures compare favourably with its German rivals. The Swede’s 480Nm of torque is 40Nm more than the S4 and a whopping 80Nm more than the 400Nm offered by the 3 Series. The S60 is less powerful than the S4, but more powerful than the BMW, but in both cases the Volvo is eclipsed by greater performance equity. BMW’s rear-wheel drive heritage and Audi’s quattro badge hold more kudos than Volvo’s Polestar.
Against the Germans, the Volvo does feel slightly more grown-up – more willing to slip back into safety mode and wrap you in cotton wool. And as you get older, the more that seems to matter. With two children sleeping in the back, there’s a real sense that you’re driving something responsible. Albeit a car with Polestar decals plastered down the side.
It also benefits from Volvo’s traditionally brilliant interior, which remains as beautifully built as it is designed. If there’s any nitpicking to be done, it’s that the essence of Polestar isn’t transferred to the inside. Aside from the standard R-Design package, there’s nothing to suggest you own something quite special. And let’s face it, if you’ve ordered Rebel Blue and the full Polestar exterior package, you’re not exactly looking for discretion.
I had waited a long time to get my hands on the S60 Polestar, with two previous bookings being cancelled due to ‘minor incidents’. Demand for the car must have been high, because by the time I handed it back to Volvo, it was approaching 10,000 miles. I experienced a few electrical gremlins, like the time the car was hellbent on telling me someone had tried to break into it. They hadn’t, because I’d only been away for a car a matter of minutes and it was in ear or eyeshot for the whole time.
Or the instance where the dashboard encouraged me to stop because the bonnet was open. After three unsuccessful attempts to prove the bonnet was actually shut, I gave up and drove with a big red exclamation mark staring me in the face. Eventually the error message cleared after being left overnight. The car was clearly in a strop.
But small inconveniences weren’t enough to dampen my enthusiasm for the car. I make no secret of my admiration for what Volvo stands for and some of the cars it has delivered in recent years. Maybe it’s a sign of getting older, but with Volvo you sense that you’re dealing with a company that has its customer at heart. Maybe I’ve bought into the marketing spin, but having seen examples of the safety technology being developed in Gothenburg, there aren’t many cars I’d rather transport my family around in.
Does that mean the performance products are any less exhilarating? I’d suggest not. In the real world, how many of us will truly get to appreciate the minor nuances between an S4, a 335i and an S60 Polestar? And although it’s a purely hypothetical scenario, given the choice of the three, I’d opt for the Swede. An emotional response, I grant you. But it just feels the most PetrolBloggy of the three. And yes, even with that transmission and the S60’s numb steering.
Not that you’d be mad enough to spend £40k on a new Volvo S60 T6 Polestar. Not when it will be worth a little over £20k by the end of year one. No, you’d wait until year four when it’s likely to be worth under £12k. Make a note in your 2017 diary – ‘must buy the used performance bargain of the year’.
The Volvo S60 T6 Polestar is a dying breed. A normally aspirated V6 engine is unfashionable enough, but with Volvo turning its back on six and five-cylinder engines in favour of four-cylinder forced-induction units, the days of wild performance cars like this are numbered. PetrolBlog will miss the glorious sound of Volvo’s tuneful motors. It’s the end of an era.
The S60 T6 does have one slight problem though. And it comes from within the same stable. Given the choice between the S60 and its big brother, the V60 Polestar, I’d go for the wagon every time. Now that’s properly bonkers.