Does Volvo’s Polestar performance arm stack up against BMW’s M-Division and Mercedes’ AMG? We speculate after a drive in the new Volvo S60 Polestar
|Engine||Power||Torque||0-100kph||Top speed||Weight||Basic price|
|Inline 6cyl T6, 2953cc||350bhp @ 5250rpm||369lb ft @ 3000-4750rpm||4.9secs||250kph||1752kg||$62,500|
|Amongst the best sport saloons we’ve driven this year|
|Cabin design maybe a little too understated|
We all know what to expect from Sweden: a lot of sense, a little humour, blondness, some airbags and – perhaps with the exception of Zlatan Ibrahimovic – not an enormous amount of character.
But, good Lord, our test model today – a Volvo S60 Polestar of all things – seems to have forgotten all of this. There’s a tiny rear wing, an engine lifted from a Scandinavian Touring Car (a championship of which Polestar has won all but two since the series’ inception), some 20in alloys, a front splitter, and a funky blue paint finish. Ah, maybe there is some Swedish character to this BMW M3 rival after all…
Does this continue in the cabin?
On the inside, this unexpected sense of ‘character’ seems to have reverted to type: aside from the floating centre console – which I will say is pretty cool – there’s nothing particularly noteworthy. It’s all nicely put together from decent quality materials and with a ‘modern’ design in mind and boasting possibly the most boring emblem ever invented. It’s all very, well, proper: nothing to overly criticize but nothing to get wildly excited about either…
Saying that, the seats are damn good with outstanding lateral support and a perfect driving position. The steering wheel is also, yes, proper, albeit clad with Polestar’s performance colours. That, plus the Polestar name on the doorsills, is the only giveaway of the potential lurking beneath. Perhaps, as the outside suggests, there really is more than meets the eye.
How does it handle?
As much is evidenced when we’re up to speed. As is my normal practice, on start-up I connect my iPhone to the Bluetooth system – on the first try, no less – and head to work while listening to my audiobook on String Theory (hey, I enjoy it). It’s only then that I notice the engine is considerably louder than one would expect from a Volvo. Underneath the bonnet is a 3-litre T6 six-cylinder that produces 350bhp: impressive but not quite up there with the 425bhp M3 and 503bhp C 63 S AMG, so we’ll hold our applause for the moment. Still, that same six-cylinder unit produces an impressive 369lb ft of torque, distributed across 80 percent of the rev range. On paper, the S60 Polestar hits 0-100kph in less than five seconds (that’s up there with the Porsche Boxster GTS), thanks in no small part to the unbelievably steady pull from the turbocharger. Not bad for the epitome of rationalism.
Forget the Swedish ‘character’, there is definitely something about the S60 Polestar that interests me. The entire car, as you would expect, seems well put together, has a four-wheel drive configuration for optimum traction, and – when you look past the multiple cupholders and ‘sensible’ interior towards that rather sprightly power unit belted down over the front axle, spirited driving is called for.
The chassis is, there is no other word for it, sensational: impressively rigid and paired with a suspension that has very few rivals. Every corner is handled with Bruce Lee-like poise. Every tight situation is answered with ’that all you got?’ Much like the interior, performance is dealt with, well, properly…
So, does it handle like a BMW M3?
Well, remember that this is still a Volvo: M3-esque tail happy shenanigans have no place here. At 1680kg, the S60 is the lightweight of the performance saloon segment, coming in almost 100kg svelter than Ingolstadt’s RS4 as it does. And as a result, the car is superbly balanced with a minute tendency to understeer but not much, given the superb amounts of grip through the front tyres. Stopping ‘now’ also means ‘right now’: Brembos at the front and back are so well-balanced that it is nigh impossible to get the rear squirrelling under heavy braking. Despite all this, the ride is extraordinary: firm, yes, but also appreciative of your vertebrae.
It’s at this point I should start talking about ‘Sport’ mode: there isn’t one. Switch the six-speed automatic gearbox to ‘S’, turn off ESC through the infotainment system…and that’s about as close as you’ll get. The suspension doesn’t firm up, the steering doesn’t get tauter and nor do the gears get any more ferocious when shifting. Everything the Polestar is…well, just IS, from the get-go, the balance between performance and everyday usability as precise as it’s going to be.
And that for me IS the character of the S60 Polestar
It’s a superb sports saloon with a Volvo emblem, offering both the safety systems and beautiful ride comfort you would expect from Sweden’s finest manufacturer (including you Ikea) with some considerable performance thrown in almost nonchalantly. This is, and I don’t hesitate to write this, one of the very best sport saloons I have driven this year.
I am not going to tell you that I want one. I am telling you that if I had the $62,500 asking price in my bank account, I would already own one.
Technical specifications on page 2