A Swedish pole star, but it might not be quite what you expect…
Volvo is known for many things: boxy 1980s station wagons; safety; and, more recently, chic design. But aside from a couple of special-edition models sprinkled through its history, high performance has not been one of those things.
No doubt well aware of the sober connotations its brand holds, in 2015 the carmaker set about adding some spice by purchasing a tuning firm with an enviable record of modifying and racing Volvos. Until that moment, Polestar was an extremely successful independent outfit that worked its magic on the cars from its home country. Now, under the ownership of Volvo Cars as the latter’s official high-performance division, Polestar has been given the task of applying its magic to models available for sale via the firm’s retail outlets. The first canvas on which the speed merchants have created their work was the S60 sedan.
As befitting a performance model, the first area to get scrutinised was the engine. The inline-six, which in its standard state is already a force-fed unit, boasts a new, twin-scroll BorgWarner turbocharger. The upgraded compressor feeds up to 1,2 bars of maximum boost pressure to the engine through an uprated intercooler. Spent gases are expelled via a new 63 mm stainless-steel exhaust system.
The sound produced by the motor is the most distinctive of any Volvo we’ve driven. It lies somewhere between the creaminess of a BMW inline-six and the offbeat warble of an Audi inline-five. A recalibrated ECU helps the range-topping S60 produce 258 kW and a more impressive 500 N.m of torque available from 3 000 to 4 750 r/min. Those figures don’t place it in the league of the BMW M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63, but then again the Polestar does cost almost half a million rand less than those halo performance derivatives.
Thanks to loads of grip off the line courtesy of the Haldex all-wheel-drive layout, as well as the aforementioned power output, the S60 sprints from standstill to 100 km/h in a brisk, if not lightning-quick, 5,61 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 250 km/h. Polestar recalibrated the software of the standard six-speed automatic transmission for faster shifts, as well as adding a launch-control function. We found that the transmission could do with a little more work, as it isn’t quick enough to respond during enthusiastic driving, and in the urban environment it exhibits a tendency to hunt. Thankfully, steering-wheel-mounted paddles let the driver take full control of the gear selection process, although cogs swaps can be painfully slow.
The final link in the power-transfer chain is a decent suspension setup. Polestar has employed 80% stiffer springs of its own design, coupled with manually adjustable Öhlins dampers. Stiffer bushings and a front strut brace, reinforced with carbon-fibre, help with precise suspension control. From an aesthetic point of view, the S60 stands out from the crowd thanks to Polestar’s signature bright-blue paintwork. Otherwise, there are few cues to differentiate this model from other S60 derivatives. A boot spoiler, compact rear diffuser, 20-inch wheels and discreet Polestar badging constitute the major visual changes.
Eagle-eyed enthusiasts will notice the six-pot Brembo callipers and 371 mm discs hiding inside the front wheels. Due to heavy on-track work before the braking test was done, the performance from these upgraded items was not as exceptional as we had expected. However, a fresh set of pad and discs should be more than up to the task. If the exterior is restrained, the interior is downright sombre. Sports seats, a translucent gear-knob, carbon-fibre-look cladding on the facia and partial Alcantara covering on the steering wheel are unique to this model.
As stated earlier, the straight-line performance is brisk rather than electrifying. Rivals from Audi and BMW are quicker in the benchmark sprint tests. However, when the road ahead gets curvy, the Polestar reacts well. There is an abundance of grip from the all-wheel-drive system and sticky Michelin rubber. Overall, the handling balance is neutral and most drivers will be able to exploit its performance potential. When grip is eventually relinquished, it happens progressively on the front axle first. That said, we would have appreciated more feel through the (over-assisted) steering. For those who are more experienced, climbing hard onto the throttle mid-corner moves power to the rear axle to slingshot the car out of a corner.