If you're a serious European car fanatic, your heart probably went aflutter the second you saw this high-performance wagon. You realized the bright-blue beastie you're ogling is a turbocharged 2015 Volvo V60 Polestar, so its performance pedigree precedes it. If you really know your Swedish speed merchants, you've noticed the Polestar cues and that pushed you over the top. You need one. Sorry to burst your lingonberry, but Polestar is only importing 120 of these 345hp, all-wheel-drive Volvo S60 sedans and V60 wagons for 2015. And worse yet, they're all sold.
The mission of the Volvo Polestar S60 and V60 is threefold. One, to satisfy those Volvo enthusiasts who just aren't satiated by the standard R-Design. Two, to be halo cars and attract buyers into Volvo showrooms who might then purchase something more feasible. And three, to rival machines wearing an M, S, or AMG badge. Just like those brands, Polestar cars are purchased straight from dealerships and are covered by a full factory warranty. But Polestar is not just a brand name within Volvo. Starting as a race team, Gothenburg-based Polestar is a separate tuning company that has become the official tuning partner for Sweden's only car manufacturer.
The beginning of these cars can be traced back a couple of years to the Polestar S60 Concept, which is even more extreme, rare, and expensive. The Concept was built on a standard S60 but featured carbon-fiber bodywork with flared fenders, a giant turbo, manual transmission, and a suspension that was almost stiff enough to shake the fan out of even the most fanatical. It was focused, hard-edged, and uncompromising and one of the best sedans I've ever driven. On smooth roads and in decent weather, that is.
Polestar took the lessons learned from building a handful of the Concept and applied it to models better suited to prime time. To start, the only unique bodywork components are the splitters on the front bumper, and the spoiler and diffuser at the back. The fenders are steel and the flares (while still curvaceous) are the same as any Volvo sedan or wagon on the lot. It's under the skin where most of the action is happening.
Our drive route consisted of mountain roads twisting up and down Southern California's Bear Mountain, plus neither scenic nor smooth freeways on our way to Auto Club Speedway. The Volvo feels right at home on the switchbacks traversing the mountain, as the scenery transitions from desert brush to needled pines. The Öhlins dampers are on the stiff side, allowing the Polestar to transition quickly from side to side. Steering is quick and slightly heavier than I would expect in what is ultimately a family hauler. The firm effort helps it feel stable on center, with good buildup on turn-in. The front end reacts instantly to commands, pointing into turns with the rear following. It doesn't have the rotation of a lightweight sports car, but it rewards smooth, deliberate movements.
Braking is strong, with more travel in the pedal than is preferable, but—unlike a lot of cars with track-based brake packages-engagement is easy and predictable. No grabbiness or dead spots in pedal travel here; well done, Brembo.
Response from the 3.0L inline-six is well matched to the rest of the car's personality. The twin-scroll turbo spins up quickly and the engine's ECU seems to have a good relationship with the six-speed automatic, which is the downfall of too many high-tech powertrains. Peak torque of 369 lb-ft comes on a bit late by modern standards, at 3,000 rpm, but the engine is strong at anything above 2,200. On mountain roads, keeping the engine humming along between 3,000 and 4,500 rpm seems the best bet.
On track, the fun starts at 4,500 rpm and continues all the way up to the 6,500-rpm redline. On the mountain, I never felt like I could get anywhere near the car's potential, mostly for fear of jail time. On the infield short course, however, the limits are easy to approach, surpass, and then reel in again. The Polestar tends toward understeer at the limits, but with ESC in Sport mode, the Haldex all-wheel-drive system sends more power to the rear axle and provides a more neutral feel with big throttle applications.
Away from public roads with ESC in Sport mode is where this car comes alive. Spring rates are 80 percent stiffer than a standard R-Design and the antiroll bars are 15 percent stiffer. There are 30 levels of damping adjustment, and I'm driving just to the soft side of the middle setting. The dampers have a racing-style knock-off valve, which means I can live out my fantasy of bouncing a Volvo wagon over the red and white curbing just like the 850 British Touring Cars days. I learn pretty quickly that dancing off the curbs is the quickest way to get rotation mid-corner. If you think this is reckless, my curb-assisted cornering was all done under the guidance of three-time Swedish Touring Car champion, Thed Bjork.
Auto Club's infield is a short, technical track. The front straight allows for a decent taste of the Polestar's speed. The six-speed automatic could almost use another ratio or two, although the turbo's powerband tends to fill in some of the difference. I find the brake pedal travel long on the road, but the extra modulation is nice to have on the track. The six-piston calipers will haul the car down from speed with huge power, but the chassis plays a major part, too. Polestar has upgraded the control arm bushings and front damper top mounts, so deflection is minimal. Even under the heaviest braking loads, the car doesn't move around. Trail braking into turns is easy, but only works to lengthen the straights and not necessarily to get the rear end moving on turn-in.
While I wonder how many of these will ever see a track day, both the S60 and nearly identical V60 are more than capable. Besides capable, the thought of seeing a bright-blue wagon thundering around at an open track day is just plain awesome.
We also had the chance to take the V60 out for instrumented testing. We normally like to compare a vehicle's test numbers to something else in the same class. At this point, Volvo is basically on its own. The Audi S4 is no longer available as a wagon in the United States. The Mercedes E63 is roughly $30,000 dearer and a Golf R Sport Wagon is bound to be another Euro-only dream for North Americans.
So, Polestar Wagon, party of one, your test begins now. The ultimate family hauler got from 0 to 60 mph in just 5 seconds flat. If we must compare something, that's three-tenths faster than the last S60 R-Design we tested. Polestar claims the S60 version is slightly faster due to weight, so it's certainly in the top of the 4-second range. It continues the three-tenths theme in the quarter-mile, running 13.5 seconds at an impressive 102.6 mph compared with the S60 R-Design's 13.8 at 101.3 mph. Those huge, sticky Michelins and big Brembos took 3 feet off the stopping distance: measuring just 108 feet from 60 mph to standstill.
To our surprise, these numbers only added up to a tenth of a second advantage in the figure-eight. The Polestar V60 turned in a 25.5-second lap at an identical 0.74 average g. The V60 is roughly 157 pounds heavier than the S60 in question, but we were expecting a bit more—and we think we could have got it. With factory vehicles, we test them as they are sent to us. If we had been able to play with the dampers (a job Polestar recommends to leave up to dealers), we're pretty sure we could have lopped off at least a couple of tenths by working out some of the understeer. So the performance is there, you might just have to work for it if you are lucky enough to own one.
It says something about the level of refinement and development of Polestar vehicles when my chief complaint is the seat won't drop low enough. Any car with sporting intentions needs a seat that will drop down nearly to the floor to allow taller drivers to sit upright while helmeted. Swedes are not short people and they've been wearing protective headgear (horned or otherwise) for a few thousand years. The complaint is minor, but something to think about if you're over 6 feet.
My other complaint is that I can't have one. Even if I could swing the 60 grand, the dealer doesn't have any to sell me. The encouraging thing is that those who are lucky enough to be getting a Polestar are choosing the wagon over the sedan, two to one. Does this mean more fast wagons for the States? Well, maybe from Volvo, but I'm not sure 100 cars this year and a few hundred in future years will make other manufacturers rush for a piece of the action. The instant success of this model will certainly inspire confidence in Polestar working its magic on other Volvos in the near future. I will be anxiously awaiting a tuned plug-in hybrid wagon. Just make sure that seat goes a little lower.