Sensible Volvo S60 and V60 have an evil twin
GOTHERBURG, Sweden: James Bond would never have owned a Volvo.
I can’t even imagine a lesser Bond, like Timothy Dalton, swapping his Aston Martin V8 Vantage for a sensible 240 GL sedan.
Wallowing through the European switchbacks, he’d be an easy mark for the bad guys, and his success with the ladies’
Well, even 007 may not have been able to pull that one off.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s never been anything wrong with Volvo’s brick-like sedans and wagons, which are stoutly built and renowned for safety. And although the company lineup has become less boxy, let’s just say performance and panache would rarely ‘ maybe never ‘ come to mind when describing a Volvo.
That is until now.
A recent visit to this automaker’s hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden was my first brush with the Volvo S60 and V60 ‘Polestar’ high performance sedans and wagons.
When I first heard about the concept, which was packing a 508-hp turbocharged inline six under its eye-catching blue exterior, I thought Volvo had gone mad. But it was based on the rock-solid S60 sedan, and it was really their independently run performance arm, Polestar, that was to blame for this tomfoolery.
Unfortunately, Volvo never went to production with this engine, which is no surprise in environmentally conscious Sweden. A tire-shredding Volvo would not only send the wrong message, but would seem out of character for an automaker synonymous with safety.
The S60 and V60 Polestars we get are powered by a more modest ‘ yet still potent ‘ version of Volvo’s proven T6 inline six-cylinder.
This 3.0-litre engine gets a new twin-scroll Borg Warner turbo to produce 345 hp and 369 lb/ft of torque starting at 2,800 rpm. This is up from 325 and 354 in their R-Design variant, and it now breathes through a 2.5-inch stainless steel exhaust and dual 3.5-inch tailpipes.
But there are still more mods, and when the S60s and V60s come off the assembly line, they are moved next door to the Special Vehicles Unit where Polestar technicians manually upgrade each vehicle within this Volvo facility.
Here, the chassis is modified to increase rigidity, and to work with springs that are 80 per cent stiffer than those on the performance-oriented R-Design model. The Polestar also gets special high-performance Ohlins shocks, 371-mm ventilated front discs with six-piston Brembo calipers and big 20-inch alloys to accommodate them.
Aerodynamic tweaks include the front splitter to optimize airflow and new rear spoiler and diffuser for increased downforce.
The six-speed auto with shift paddles works with the Polestar-developed Haldex four-wheel-drive system that has been retuned for more power to the rear. Acceleration is plenty quick, with this powertrain taking the two-ton wagon from 0-100 km/h in 5.0 seconds. The sedan does this in only 4.9.
Before I had an opportunity to hit the road, we visited Volvo’s Hallered test track where Polestar has been developing these cars.
We experienced them over just about every imaginable surface ‘ some even worse than Toronto roads ‘ as well as up and down steep grades, through tight turns, sweeping curves and on the banked high-speed oval.
Here, one of Polestar’s professional drivers drove a pre-production model around the wet track, hitting speeds in excess of 235 km/h. I’ll admit to having sweaty palms and a racing heart as he darted from side to side, even breaking loose the front wheels just a little.
Of course, he’s driven thousands of laps during his time at the facility, and at no time did the vehicle’s rear end even hint at coming around. I wouldn’t recommend trying this anywhere ‘ even at a fraction of the speed ‘ but it does demonstrate that Volvo’s traction control technologies are second to none.
My own experience was a little more sedate, as Sweden’s highway speeds are strictly enforced, even though limits are higher than here. Nonetheless, there were opportunities to legally plant the pedal and the Polestar did not disappoint.
Throttle response is almost immediate, and gear changes are rapid ‘ with or without the paddle shifters. The stiffer springs and speed-sensitive power steering provided plenty of feel, yet the ride was reasonably forgiving over rough pavement.
I kept it in sport mode, not only for the usual benefits of quicker throttle and better transmission mapping, but because it opens an exhaust valve for a deeper burble that turns into an angry growl as you spool up the turbo.
For track enthusiasts, there’s also a launch control function. I didn’t get a chance to try it, but like other similarly equipped vehicles, you clamp on the binders, floor the accelerator for a few seconds and then release the brakes for max power off the line.
As you’d expect, performance comes at a price. Although a base T5 can be had for as little as $37,750 and the fully dressed T6 AWD R-Design Platinum at $53,750, Polestar ups the ante at $64,895 for the sedan and $66,895 for the wagon.
Only a small number of Polestars will be produced, with its global run of 750 vehicles to be distributed in eight markets. Fortunately Canada is one of them, and how many arrive here depends on how quickly buyers snap them up.
If you want to get behind the wheel of arguably the fastest, best-handling Volvo yet, my advice is to place your order soon.