ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: Only 40 lucky (crazy?) enthusiasts will be able to own a 2015 Volvo S60 Polestar if they’re willing to throw down $60K. That’s a lot of loot -- nearly BMW M3 money, which starts at $62,950. Is the Polestar worth that kind of money? Whew. I’m not sure, but there’s no mistaking that there is some serious equipment here, along with a little extra grunt.
The 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder is here and kicks out 20 additional horsepower and 15 lb-ft more torque compared to the same engine S60 R-Design. That’s a respectable output bump coming by way of massaged engine management software, a stainless exhaust with 2.5-inch pipes, new twin-scroll Borg Warner turbochargers and new intercooler.
Polestar also did work to the transmission with new calibration for quicker gearshifts and launch control capabilities. The Haldex four-wheel-drive system also has Polestar tuning for more rear torque distribution, and the stability control system has been massaged.
The chassis is firmer with a suspension that features Ohlin shock absorbers with 80 percent stiffer springs sitting on 20-inch wheels that would normally come wrapped with Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires from the factory. Our test car (#38 out of the 40-car run) was shod with Michelin Pilot Alpin winter tires because it’s the middle of winter here in Michigan. I would probably be frozen in a ditch along the side of the road by now if the Super Sports were on here.
Brakes get a nice upgrade with 14.6-inch front discs (replacing 13.2-inchers on the R-Design) with six-piston Brembo calipers and 11.8-inch rear discs. Thinking back to our long-term S60 R-Design, the brakes were the weakest part of the package, getting cooked after one or two hot laps around a track.
Visual changes include new front and rear splitters, rear spoiler and diffuser. Inside there’s a nice, thick-rimmed steering wheel and upgraded seats with suede inserts, suede door inserts and blue accent stitching throughout.
The hard numbers, according to Volvo, are a 0 to 60 mph time of 4.7 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph (up from 130).
After a couple of nights with this very blue S60 Polestar, I came away quite impressed. It’s a sharp-handling car with the lightly weighted and very responsive steering helping you place the car easily in corners. It’s really point and shoot on the streets with some chattering felt through the steering wheel, but there’s a lot of grip for spirited drives home after work. Those firmer Ohlins shocks and springs keep the body locked down with very little roll through turns. It does a nice job tracking through corners, but you’ll feel understeer tendencies creep in when you push it harder.
The downside to that upgraded suspension is that ride quality is on the rough side. The majority of bumps are felt in the cabin, making it not an ideal car to take on a road trip. There’s also a lot of tire noise and thuds that get into the interior, but that could be because these are winter tires.
But, boy, this S60 Polestar is jumpy off the line with smooth power delivery from the I6 that’s, well, also smooth. The surge of power, particularly in the middle of the rev range, easily gets you merged onto expressways and past slow traffic. Manually selecting gears is fairly responsive for an automatic gearbox and fully auto shifts are quick, crisp and well timed.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Volvo makes the best seats. They strike a perfect balance of comfort and support with perfectly sized bolsters. I still want to turn one of these seats into an office chair.
The rest of the S60 remains serviceable -- there’s plenty of room for four adults, plus a spacious trunk. The simple design of the interior still looks OK to my eye, but the infotainment system is a little slow to respond to commands by today’s standards.
Then we get back to that $60K price tag. If you have a long-standing affinity for Volvos and want a pretty serious performance sedan, then go ahead and get yourself an S60 Polestar and enjoy. As for me, I think I would rather spend a few extra bucks and get that M3 with a manual transmission.
The 2015 Volvo S60 Polestar lineup consists of an all-wheel-drive sedan from their new performance partner and racing team from back home in Sweden.PHOTO BY AUTOWEEK
ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: There’s not a lot that can be said to justify this car -- it’s a $60,000 high-performance Volvo in screaming electric (“rebel”) blue, for Pete’s sake. It’s about as anti-sensible as the perennially sensible automaker has gotten of late. Fortunately, not every car needs to be justified. Despite, or perhaps because of, the S60 Polestar’s counter-intuitiveness, it’s a really enjoyable car to blast around in.
There are many ways in which this car is noticeably better-mannered than the S60 T6 Platinum we recently tested. It has all-wheel drive, for one; the car has absolutely no trouble putting that 369 lb-ft of torque down in an orderly manner, whereas the FWD car got squirrely under acceleration. Further, the stiffer suspension helps disguise the aging chassis. The ride is firm and sorted in a straight line without ever feeling harsh, and the car remains flat and predictable in corners.
And it’s fast, or it at least feels like it (not that 4.7 seconds to 60 mph is really anything to sneeze at…). A good chunk of the fun here is the car’s semi-sleeper character. Nobody expects a Volvo to be a rocket, even with the paint color announcing the car’s intentions from a quarter-mile away.
The inline-six is smoooooth, I’ll grant, and has a nice growl. Still, I don’t think this car (or any future Polestars) would suffer from a slightly breathed-on version of the turbo-supercharged I4 that will spread across the entire Volvo range in due time. If nothing else, it will knock off some weight.
As-is, this is a fine car that just so happens to sit in between a few segments of the market, both price- and performance-wise. Today’s Volvos are pricey for what they are without the Polestar tuning, and at $60,000-plus, this car isn’t something you stumble into. Though comparable AMG products cost tens of thousands more to start, they also boast hundreds more horsepower and more finely fitted interiors. This is a subtle in-betweener; simply put, the average luxury/performance buyer isn’t clamoring for a car like it.
Volvo has tailored expectations accordingly. It doesn’t really expect to sell many. A nice, round number, say, 40 or so, would probably suit the automaker just fine. That just so happens to be how many sedans will make it to the States, accompanied by 80 V60 Polestar wagons. There are probably 120 semi-wealthy eccentrics in America to whom these will be immensely appealing.
So if you see a Polestar on the street, go and chat with the owner. They’re probably a little weird, but that’s not always a bad thing.
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