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Automobiles

[REVIEW] 2015 Volvo S60 Polestar

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Volvo is a company that has built its reputation on creating safe, sensible, and practical workhorses.

While the Volvo’s S60 sedan has been with us for a few years now, its 2014 revision brought new sheet metal for the hood, fenders, and accompanying headlamps for a more aggressive overall look.

Now, that aggressive sheet metal has been taken a step further by Polestar, the small Swedish firm that has gotten its knickers in a knot about the perennially safety-conscious identity of Volvo.

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While Volvo’s standard S60 sedan is a perfectly enjoyable luxury sedan, I would hesitate to call it sporty. The chassis is reluctantly stoic when pushed hard and not particularly communicative.

It is, however, efficient, comfortable, and sweet natured. Just what traditional Volvo customers expect from the brand.

But Polestar has thrown their expertise at the S60 and for the first time every, Canadians can enjoy the fruits of their labour.

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The small tuning company’s experience working with Volvo in the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship and Australian V8 Supercar Championship can be clearly felt in the S60 Polestar.

Their creation now offers saucy Scandinavian sheet metal and much improved driving dynamics in a right-sized package.

Let’s take a closer look.

Exterior

Wearing a paint job very similar to BMW M3’s Yas Marina Blue, one can’t help but compare the Swedish package to that of the Bavarians.

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As blue as the summer sky, the S60 Polestar screams aggression with its Rebel Blue paint job. A carefully crafted body kit matches nicely with large 20-inch lightweight alloy wheels setting atop 14.6-inch Brembo rotors and 6 piston callipers.

My car was equipped with a 19-inch Polestar wheel and winter tires package.

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With its front splitter and decklid spoiler, the S60’s flowing body now has more of a cat-on-its haunches look. The sleek, wedge-nosed snout makes the front end appear lower and wider compared to the standard car.

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Out behind, the subtle duck tail accompanies a rear diffuser and integrated dual Polestar 3.5-inch stainless exhaust tips.

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Interior

Polestar left the S60’s interior mostly untouched. Inside, you’ll find two of the most comfortable seats in any car, bar none.

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Somehow, Volvo’s ergonomic boffins have managed to dial up the lateral support to levels befitting a sports sedan while still keeping the seats supportive and yet buttery-soft at the same time.

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The mix of Alcantara, top-grain leather, and subtle blue stitching is both grippy and luxurious. It’s Swedish witchcraft I tell ya!

My test car was fitted with all the modern conveniences that one would expect, including sat-nav, front and rear parking sensors, a Harmon Kardon premium sound system, and Volvo’s whole safety suite of radar cruise control, lane departure warning, and blindspot monitoring systems.

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The infotainment system is, of course, not Volvo’s strong suit. The 7-inch screen is a bit small by today’s standards, and the interface not exactly user-friendly. The busy centre stack’s myriad of buttons and switchgear are looking a little aged today, but still functional once you get the hang of it.

Truthfully, once you are used to the buttons, you might favour them over digging through various layers of touchscreen menus as with many other systems today.

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While I’ve never had a problem with Volvo’s floating centre stack layout, it is starting to get a bit old. The grey-on-grey-on-grey soft touch plastic is broken up by carbon-fibre-like trim on the centre stack. It’s high quality but not exactly exciting.

At least there is a Polestar-exclusive transparent backlit gearshift knob, which adds a special little touch at hand.
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Volvo’s all-digital full colour TFT gauges also bring the interior up to modern standards.

A video posted by andrew_ling (@andrew_ling) on

Performance

Volvo killed its V8 engine over four years ago and now it is slowly getting out of the five and six cylinder engine business as well.

If you’re a fan of Volvo’s naturally balanced inline six-cylinder engines, this is probably the best example available.

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But run, don’t walk to your Volvo dealer, as future Volvos will likely only be powered by four-cylinder engines with turbochargers and belt-driven superchargers, four-cylinders paired with hybrid powertrains, and turbocharged diesel four-cylinder powertrains. All I can say is that those new engines had better be pretty damn good to compare to the Polestar-tuned six-cylinder!

The S60 Polestar’s 3.0 litre mill produces 345 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque from 2,800 rpms. Thanks to a bigger twin-scroll Borg Warner turbo, new intercooler, and full-flow exhaust, power is increased 15 per cent over top of the T6 engine.

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After some slight turbo lag at lower revs, the inline-six rises enthusiastically to the occasion. There’s a beautiful engine burble to go along with it, and you can really hear the turbo whoosh above 3,500 rpms. Love it!

Power is delivered through all four wheels through Volvo’s Haldex all-wheel-drive system, now fettled by Polestar engineers to be more rear-biased. The system defaults to 50/50 when accelerating or cornering hard and the car is surefooted in all weather conditions all year round. Something that cannot be said for rear-wheel-drive only BMW M or Mercedes AMG cars.

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Throw the gearshift lever into Sport mode and the computer bypasses all of the exhaust silencers to emit a sonorous wail that beckons like the mythical Sirens from Greek mythology. The best part is that you don’t even have to be driving fast to be able to enjoy it.

Now for the bad news. Although Polestar tweaked the 6-speed automatic transmission, they did not redesign any of the hardware bits and bobs. The software tuning does make the shifts faster and more deliberate but it is far from the snappy performance that one can experience from a dual clutch transmission.

Pull the beautiful satin-finished steering wheel paddles and you’ll still experience a delay. It may only be a split second but it’s obviously there and not particularly rewarding. Downshifts can also be a bit reluctant.

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Also, because the Polestar’s peak power and torque figures aren’t reached till higher up in the rev range, fuel consumption can rise significantly if you dip into the turbo a lot.

The transmission seems to have been calibrated to keep the engine humming in its sweet spot when in Sport mode, and rightfully so. But this will no doubt mean that you will be unlikely to reach the S60’s official fuel consumption ratings.

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I averaged 14.5L/100 kms in mostly city driving, and around 11L/100 kms in highway driving.

Driving

Polestar’s upgrades run deep and plentiful here. The 80 per cent stiffer Ohlins dampers (manually adjustable), stiffer anti-roll bar, and carbon fibre-reinforced front strut bar have all been tuned to accommodate the larger wheels.

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The S60 Polestar’s turn-in is noticeably more snappy compared to its more plebeian S60 siblings, but the electric power steering is best left i normal or comfort mode. Like many other systems out there, Sport mode felt artificially heavy to me.

The firm ride pays huge dividends in the handling department but does compromise ride quality quite a bit. While the larger and stiffer anti-roll bar does help to quell understeer, the S60 is still front weight-biased and therefore tends to push in the corners when driven hard.

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But that doesn’t mean that you can’t “throw” the S60 Polestar into a corner with the same speed, comfort, and enthusiasm that you can in a BMW 3-series or Mercedes C-Class.

Wrap-Up

Although it may seem that Volvo is having an identity crisis and wants us to believe it’s making sporty cars, the S60 Polestar is truly is an entertaining car to drive.

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Does it compare with an AMG Mercedes or BMW M? Perhaps not. While the Polestar is sharp, it lacks the same feedback and chassis dynamics of its established German rivals.

But keep in mind that it is also significantly cheaper and much more rare than anything in the same price range from das Fatherland.

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Overall, this is indeed a radical departure from the sensible Volvo products we’re all used to in North America. But yet the S60 Polestar still follows the rich heritage of safety that Volvo has always stood for, and adds a soupçon of dynamic handling and stirring performance to it.

It’s a ride that I will definitely miss dearly when its limited production run concludes.

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Andrew Ling
Andrew is a proud car and tech geek who has worked in Surrey for over the last 10 years. He comes from a communications/marketing background and has worked for automotive-related companies such as Edmunds.com, BenzWorld.org since 1999. From track driving, to rally driving to autocross, he has done it all! When he’s not reading about the latest automotive news, he can be found outdoors snapping pictures at various events around town.
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