2015.5 Volvo S60/V60 Polestar First Review
Volvo has been basking in more than its normal share of automotive limelight during the past year. Most has come from the introduction of its new Drive-E engine family and the 2015 XC90 SUV that introduces the automaker's Scalable Platform Architecture. However, we recently drove a different but no-less-intriguing part of Volvo's model range, the limited-edition 2015.5 Volvo S60/V60 Polestar models.
Having served as the automaker's motorsport partner for nearly two decades, Polestar has been successful in both the World and Swedish Touring Car Championships as well as in putting its high-performance spin on various street Volvos. The most recent to arrive here was the 2013 Volvo C30 Polestar. When the C30 was dropped from the lineup, the S60/V60 were chosen to carry on and offer the same kind of enthusiast-grade experience in two higher-volume models which roll off of Volvo's assembly line in Torslanda, Sweden.
Adding the competitive edge
Our day-long encounter with the Polestar S60 and V60 included a solid mix of city streets, freeway cruising and twisty mountain road running as we travelled from Riverside up to the ski resort town of Big Bear and back, closing things out with some track time on the infield road course at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. It provided an excellent opportunity to evaluate these vehicles in every operating environment and quickly confirmed the Polestar folks are serious about their commitment to build vehicles that meld exhilarating dynamic character with solid everyday drivability.
Presented in U.S. trim last spring at the Chicago Auto Show, the 2015.5 Polestar variants benefit from visual and mechanical upgrades. Based on S60/V60 T6 AWD R-Design models, the changes to this fast-lane duo include an aero-optimized front splitter, rear spoiler and rear diffuser set off by 20-inch Polestar alloy wheels wrapped in super-sticky 245/35 Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. But the real story lies within, and goes well beyond mere powertrain enhancements.
To endow these Polestar-spec Volvos with proper motivation, the 3.0-liter inline-six boasts an upgraded twin-scroll turbocharger and intercooler plus a freer-flowing exhaust system along with a remapped computer controller that work to bump horsepower from 325 to 345 and bounce torque from 354 to 369 lb-ft. While not in the same acceleration league as a BMW M3 or Mercedes C63 AMG, these Polestar cars are engagingly quick - 60 mph rolls up in 4.6-4.7 seconds - and deliver sharp but smooth response to throttle inputs. Top speed of each is electronically limited at 155 mph. Revised programming on the paddle-shift 6-speed automatic serves up even more immediate cog changes, and all of this added driving fun comes with no impact on either car's baseline EPA marks.
Creating a dynamic personality
The chassis and running gear also benefit from a finely honed Polestar remix. Strategic reinforcement adds structural rigidity, the better to cope with 80-percent stiffer springs that are matched with manually adjustable Öhlins shock absorbers and firmer bushings. The Polestar-tweaked Haldex all-wheel drive and traction/stability control are set up to deliver rear-axle bias and be more accommodating of at-the-limit romps - a pastime at which these cars excel -- while huge 14.6-inch racing brakes with Brembo calipers ensure plenty of confident and consistent stopping power. Like the shock damping, effort of the well-sorted electric power steering is adjustable, although, only via a menu setting buried multiple-layers deep in the Volvo "My Car" display nest accessible only when the car is stationary. Who says Swedes lack a sense of humor...
The cabins of these Polestar road warriors get their own suitably focused makeover with unique color/trim elements complemented by key functional upgrades that include deeply bolstered but quite comfortable sport seats, a multifunction sport steering wheel and custom alloy pedals. Those latter enhancements became considerably more appealing when we transitioned from high-energy motoring on public roads to a formal hot-lapping session. Both Polestar players proved equally at home in a circuit setting, but the true extent of their formidable skills at precisely slicing through corners and seamlessly putting power down in transitions snapped into even sharper focus when we rode shotgun with Volvo's two-time Swedish Touring Car champ, Thed Bjork.
The promise of a better tomorrow
Only 150 of the 750 limited-run 2015.5 Polestar S60/V60 cars built for the entire world were brought over to the U.S. as part of a long-term commitment with Volvo that runs to 2023. Virtually all have already been sold. As for the future, Polestar confirmed a second limited-edition run of virtually identical 2016s will follow, although we're still waiting for an official on sale date as well as pricing - which is expected to closely mirror the $60,225 and $61,825 starting figures for the cars we drove. Things are set to change for the 2017 model year. At that point, production of Polestar-spec models will be limited only by demand and the cars will switch over to Volvo's new strain of Drive-E 4-cylinder turbo engines. Chances are good the lineup will expand to include other Volvo models, as well.
More Volvo News...