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First drive: S60 Polestar’s power to surprise

Cata-Polestar: The fastest production S60 sees Volvo gatecrash sports sedan segment with gusto.

Volvo’s hi-po S60 guns for the Germans with suppleness and unexpected sting


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17 Apr 2013


TAKE heed Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Lexus, because a new era for Volvo is dawning with the global debut of its most convincing sports sedan ever.

The long-awaited production S60 Polestar will combine genuine sportscar pace with a price to put its Euro foes on notice, and is charged with changing people’s perception of Volvo as a whole.

The kicker is that Australia will be the first market in the world to get it, with 50 world-first units destined to hit our shores from their Swedish birthplace in late June.

Official pricing is not confirmed, but the 257kW, sub-5.0 second to 100km/h, 250km/h speed-limited beast is expected to kick off from about $120,000.

We’ve driven it in Volvo’s Swedish homeland, and walked away smiling.

Combining cracking pace and surprising comfort, the company better known as a safety pioneer has – thanks to its racing arm Polestar – created a GT with the ability to take it right up to the best Germany has to offer at this price point.

As you may recall, Volvo Australia imported 50 Polestar-tuned S60s in 2011, priced at $82,990. But the vehicle driven here is a different kettle of fish.

Going beyond the power-enhancement engine software offered on that car (hitherto to be known as the S60 Polestar Performance Pack), the latest iteration will be the first fully-fledged Polestar re-engineered Volvo available.

That means profound engine, chassis and brake upgrades undertaken by the firm’s Gothenburg-based motorsport partner, in a symbiotic relationship that is broadly akin to Renault’s connection with the Renaultsport organisation, or German tuner Alpina’s work with BMW.

The giveaway will be the small square blue badge on the grille.

Taking an ‘if you build it they will come” attitude with the S60 Polestar, Volvo Cars Australia managing director Matt Braid revealed the 50 being built right now on the regular production line in Sweden are essentially a test run, to judge customer and critical reaction for other markets around the world to observe.

“Polestar is using VCA as a guinea pig,” Mr Braid said. “Together we have worked hard over the last 12 months to get where we are.

“Polestar will use these cars from a global point of view to help develop a business case moving into the future.”

Though no other models have been announced for now, it is expected that a successful outcome will see V60 and SUV Polestar variants surfacing in the coming years.

Right now, though, if the two-day test route around southern Sweden – across sweeping narrow rural lanes as well as over multi-lane highways – is anything to go by, the newcomer ought to be decreed internationally as the country’s (let alone just Volvo’s) best-driving vehicle in a generation.

In a single swoop, Polestar has forever buried the spectre of the speedy but ill-steering and terse-riding S60 and V70 R cars of a decade ago.

Visually, however, the S60 Polestar is almost a mirror image of the concept car of the same name (and signature blue hue) revealed last year, creating confusing speculation about exactly where the car sits in the scheme of things.

The exterior changes include Polestar-specific front splitters and rear spoiler/diffuser combo (for improved aerodynamics), and unique door trims, gear knob, mirror covers, sill plates, and of course badging.

The aforementioned concept, as we reported from Sweden at the time, featured a 374kW/575Nm turbo six, all-wheel-drive and a 0-100km/h time of 3.9 seconds.

The model driven here is toned down by comparison.

Polestar managing director Hans Baath said achieving a rounded sports sedan with comfort as well as top-shelf dynamics was the goal with his creation, in order to smash the BMW M/Mercedes AMG/Audi S/RS nexus without compromising on refinement.

To that end, the engine in question is the familiar long-serving 2953cc 3.0-litre in-line T6 six-cylinder unit, fitted with a different Borg Warner twin-scroll turbocharger and intercooler, to pump out 257kW of power at 5700rpm and “at least” 500Nm of torque between 2800rpm and 4750rpm.

Employing revised engine software as well as a 2.5-inch stainless steel full-flow exhaust system with thicker 3.5-inch pipes, the production S60 Polestar can hit 100km/h in under 4.9 seconds, and comfortably exceed 250km/h – though it is speed limited to that figure.

Unfortunately there is no manual transmission available – VCA decided the target market isn’t there for a stick shifter – so the regular S60’s AWF21 Getrag six-speed automatic steps in.

One engineer admitted the gearbox’s torque limitation dictated overall engine outputs, adding that it could easily have been “significantly higher”.

Nevertheless, sending drive to all four wheels via a tuned Haldex all-wheel drive system that is constantly dealing torque out to each end like a seasoned croupier pro, the 1684kg Polestar feels plenty fast enough.

Selecting normal ‘Drive’, step-off acceleration is rapid but not startlingly so, with the car feeling exceptionally sure-footed as the big revvy six sings its way to the 6500rpm limit.

We’re talking Falcon 4.0-litre turbo responses here, so this is no slouch.

However, slotting the lever into ‘Sport’ not only changes the algorithms, but also seems to light a fire underneath the car, for the high-pressure turbo really kicks the boot in. Note there is also a Launch Control system to really help hustle things along.

Here the Polestar feels properly fast.

And properly controlled too, with steering fluency and feedback that we could only have wished for in previous performance Volvos, backed up by a chassis that – remarkably – excels for comfort as well as handling poise.

A quick glance at the spec sheet reveals Ohlins two-way adjustable shockers and uprated springs, working in sweet unison with fatter anti-roll bars, upgraded rear tie blades, beefier front and rear top mounts, better rear toe link arms, and a reinforced strut brace made of carbon fibre.

Along with a set of Michelin Pilot Super Sport 235/40R19 tyres on special Polestar rims, this particular S60 covers ground like it is glued to a smooth, silicon surface, absorbing the many ruts and potholes we encountered while sticking to the bitumen like a soul possessed.

Really, and remembering how slippery the early-spring Swedish country roads can be, the Volvo comes across as a toweringly capable and quick GT luxury sedan, with stoppers to match.

The Germans no longer have the monopoly on this sort of pampering performance sedan.

Issues? The optional Brembo-braked example we tested on the first day suffered from some noisy operating issues. Some testers reckoned the exhaust should sound fruitier. And it lacks the sheer lightness and alacrity of the supernaturally talented BMW M3.

But the S60 Polestar isn’t meant to be an all-out M3/C63 beater.

What it does provide is all-rounder performance and comfort that we never thought possible from a medium-sized Volvo sedan.

That Renaultsport analogy is a good one, because it highlights how outside expertise from Polestar has exorcised the long-time bugbears that have blighted previous Swedish so-called sports cars.

At around $120K this will be by no means a cheap S60, but it is good enough to seem like a bit of a bargain compared to some of its German and Japanese rivals.

Great job, Polestar.

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