If you hadn’t noticed from Volvo’s “naughty” S60 ad campaign from last year, the company wanted you to know that its midsized sedan, with its turbocharged six and all-wheel drive, could hang with ultimate driving machines and made progress through technology. In a series of commercials featuring the new S60 in full-on hoonage mode, complete with a hard-driving guitar soundtrack, Top Gear-esque quick edits and the sound of tires begging for mercy, you’ll eventually get the message that, no, this is not your father’s Volvo.
At the end of the commercial titled, “The Slalom Test—Naughty Level 2,” the question is posed: “Want it even naughtier?”
Yes, we do, Volvo, because we’re a little jaded.
Well then, say hello to Polestar. Unfortunately, Polestar isn’t what you get when you combine a pole dancer with a porn star. (Sometimes they do both, don’t they?) Polestar Racing is essentially Volvo’s equivalent to AMG or BMW M and, according to the literature, is known more formally as Volvo’s “Official Racing and Performance Partner.” Since 1996, Polestar has raced Volvo 850s, S40s and S60s in regional and worldwide Touring Car racing series, with titles in both the Swedish and Scandinavian Touring Car Championships in 2009 and 2010.
They’ve been racing the C30 since 2008, so they know it inside and out. This one was built to showcase Polestar’s expertise and promote their line of Performance Power Optimization products. Volvo gave them free rein to create a vision of the ideal roadgoing C30.
And instead of just building something naughty, Polestar got raunchy. They took a turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder and replaced the pistons and con rods with beefier pieces. Then they added a KKK 26 turbo and put in a bigger intake cam and larger intercooler to create an engine that puts out 400 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque.
That much power would be useless going through just the front wheels, so Polestar also took the Haldex all-wheel-drive system from a V50 and then adjusted the power distribution to get it to handle the way they wanted. Thinking even that wouldn’t be enough to keep things under control, Quaife differentials are used front and rear. A reinforced Sachs clutch sends power through the six-speed manual gearbox, and the exhaust is a 3.0-inch stainless steel custom piece of work.
Stepping into the stiff clutch is like doing your last rep on the leg press machine with just one leg. Pressing the starter button is a lot easier and fills the interior with the booming, unfiltered, worble-n-woofle of the inline five. The shifter is light and gears are easy to find, but engagement with the clutch is either on or off.
Once on the move, it’s easy to modulate the power. As you feel your way around the throttle’s travel, you’re rewarded in kind. It’s more than willing to knock your head back and plaster you to the seat, if that’s how you get off. Or you can play the sadist by punishing the tarmac and scaring your passenger. Master or servant, giver or receiver, it doesn’t matter.
The turbo comes on shortly after 2000 rpm and its power curve is fatter than a deep-fried, triple-bacon-and-cream cheeseburger. It’s juiciest at mid revs and sets the car up perfectly to explode out of corners using all four of its tires. For this, Polestar set up the suspension with Ohlins coilovers, ultra lightweight 8.75x19 BBS Forged Individual wheels and the new Michelin Super Sports in 235/35. It’s a combo that produces astonishing levels of grip and stability, letting you dive hard and fast into turns without protest. After the apex, it’s just a matter of pointing and shooting.
For brakes, Polestar went with Brembo six-piston calipers and 15-inch discs in front and four-piston calipers and 13-inch discs in rear. They’re classic Brembo: firm pedal, hard-biting and fade-free. Polestar also put in a faster steering rack. It was direct and quick, but there were times, especially mid-corner, when I was trying to hold the line, the steering went light and lifeless when it should’ve been resistant. On a production car that’s a no-no, but on a concept car it’s an idiosyncrasy.
The interior is covered in various grades of suede by Swedish tannery Tärnsjö Garveri. Rough gray suede covers the dashboard, smoother suede of the same color covers the racy Recaro seats and black suede covers just about everything else. Body mods include canards to direct air over and around the front bumper and a hinged wing over the glass hatch. The front fenders get a little flare from extensions that are not unlike the SLR 722 GT racecar’s.
Credit Volvo for letting Polestar build what’s essentially an RS Cosworth on the Barry Bonds steroid program, an update of the Lancia Delta Integrale or the reincarnation of the Sport Quattro. Their C30 is the definition of car porn: titillating, lustworthy, addictive, but ultimately unobtainable.
Now, being that the Haldex also fits the C30, how about a limited run of all-wheel-drive C30s with a T5 turbo tuned to 300 hp to give VW’s Golf R some competition? Wouldn’t that be naughty?
From Hollywood to Goodwood
Polestar Marketing Director Hans Baath on being here and there with volvo
ec: You had a whirlwind tour of the US with your C30 and then got on a plane to the UK. What were some of your experiences over here that stand out?
HB: Before leaving for the US we knew that there is a substantial interest for Volvo performance cars and parts, but we were really surprised over the enthusiasm we received over the car. This is a one-off concept car, which is not for sale, but we got some really tempting offers.
ec: There have been a small number of tuners in the US that specialize in Volvo. What will make your efforts stand out, in particular the scene in California?
HB: We are of course aware that there are other enterprises working with Volvo cars in different ways. All of them with a slightly different orientation, focusing on different levels of performance for different customers. Polestar is Volvo Cars’ official performance partner and focuses on delivering products developed in close cooperation with Volvo engineering. For the customer this means that when buying a Polestar product it comes with a full Volvo factory warranty, all data is measured and validated by Volvo, and so on. No other tuner apart from Polestar can offer that.
ec: The most common question has been if something like the Polestar C30 will see production. How realistic is that possibility and if not, could you go the route of a company like Ruf and how it handles its Porsche upgrades?
HB: It is a bit too early to make any prognoses about production of Polestar cars. The C30 is our first edition and we need to cover more ground before making any commitments. However, from a technical standpoint the C30 is based on off-the-shelf Volvo parts, meaning production would be fully possible.
ec: A invitation to run up the driveway at Goodwood is considered to be the ultimate. How did this come about?
HB: Here we must thank the people at Volvo Cars UK for their great work. The UK is a country with a special taste for performance hatchbacks, and especially after Jeremy Clarkson’s enthusiastic Top Gear testdrive the interest for Polestar and the C30 has been massive. Volvo Cars UK has channeled the requests from the organizers to us and we tried to cover as much ground as possible.
ec: How many runs did you make, how was the car received by the public overall and what positives will you take from the appearance at Goodwood?
HB: We did six runs in total, four with ex-Volvo/Polestar STCC driver Alexander Storckenfeldt and two with present driver James Thompson, arriving on Sunday having raced in the STCC in Sweden on Saturday. The car ran in the Super Car class and it really stood out among the Ferraris, Lambos and Porsches. I personally think that the reason for the car being so recognized and well received is that it is just what you would not expect from Volvo. The characteristic five-cylinder turbo engine sound and the amount of grip produced by the Haldex all-wheel drive are both genuine Volvo attributes, but in the Polestar C30 they are expressed in a way people are not used to. This car is a not-so-Volvo Volvo.
2011 Volvo C30
2.5-liter I5, dohc, 20-valve, turbocharged
Six-speed manual, Quaife differentials
Suspension Ohlins coilovers
Brembo assemblies, six-piston calipers with 15-inch rotors (f), four-piston calipers with 13-inch rotors (r)
Wheels and Tires
BBS Forged Individual alloys, 8.75x19
Michelin Pilot Super Sport, 235/35
Peak Power: 400 hp @ 6000 rpm
Peak Torque: 376 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.6 sec.
Top Speed: 155 mph (limited)