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Polestar Volvo C30 - Pole Position

We track-test Polestar software for the Volvo C30 T5, as well as the 450hp AWD C30 Polestar, and check out other Volvo offerings.

Greg Emmerson
Aug 16, 2012
Epcp 1209 01+polestar volvo c30+cover Photo 1/16   |   Polestar Volvo C30 - Pole Position

“I can’t believe they think we’re all porn stars!” laughed Andreas Naeslund, Polestar’s North American Sales Manager as he looked back at european car’s first encounter with its 450hp, AWD C30 back in the ec 11/11 issue.

The story was entitled “Pole Dance” and it was introduced as “Deviant behavior from the land of blue movies”, so we guess he had a point!

We were standing on the main straight at Streets of Willow; one of Southern California’s more technical race tracks on a surprisingly mild day. We were there on the promise of laps in the C30 Polestar (a car so blue our cameras fail to do it justice). However, the real purpose of our adventure was to test Polestar’s factory-approved software for the latest C30 R Design hot hatch.

While the blue C30 was built by Polestar to showcase its talents as both a race team and OE performance partner to Volvo, the regular C30s represent what we can buy from the showroom floor and are, therefore, more relevant to us all.

Epcp 1209 04+polestar volvo c30+polestar c30 Photo 2/16   |   Polestar Volvo C30 - Pole Position

At our disposal were two cars – one totally stock C30 R Design and a second with Polestar software. Currently, the C30 is the only R Design model from Volvo not offered with Polestar software as standard equipment. That said, anybody could walk into a Volvo dealer and have their 2008-12 C30 T5 ECU flashed. It’s claimed to optimize power and torque without increasing fuel consumption.

C30 R Design
The C30 flies under the hot hatch radar, making it a great alternative to the regular GTI or A3 options. It boasts a strong 227hp, 236 lb-ft from its 2.5L five-cylinder turbo engine. With a starting price of $24950 for the C30 T5 and $27450 for the R Design, it’s a little pricier than the VW but you probably won’t see two on the way home!

Driving to the track in the stock car, we were surprised by the suspension – it was very compliant, far more forgiving than a GTI or most German offerings. This didn’t bode well for the track session, especially when the car seemed to wander slightly in high-speed freeway turns, and we decided it would benefit from aftermarket suspension to give it a tauter ride.

Fortunately, its track manners weren’t as unruly as we’d expected. The compliance allowed it to ride the curbs and, provided you didn’t ask too many things at once, the chassis coped well under track conditions. While the brakes never felt particularly firm, neither did they coem close to overheating despite countless laps.

In stock trim, we saw a best lap time of 1:38.05", which is certainly respectable. However, we were pushing the car hard and wondered what improvement the software could bring.

Epcp 1209 05+polestar volvo c30+c30 Photo 3/16   |   Polestar Volvo C30 - Pole Position

On the street, the Polestar flash certainly made a significant difference to throttle response. Sixth gear acceleration was effortless from any speed, making the stock car feel slightly pedestrian in comparison.

Neither car could be described as slow. The stock T5 hits 60mph in 6.2sec while returning 21/30mpg. However, the Polestar version has it licked by a country mile while still returning the same MPG, and without voiding your dealer warranty.

Polestar’s factory seal of approval is well deserved. The power delivery was smooth and uninterrupted. It was undoubtedly as good as anything we’ve sampled.

On Track
With its extra urge, we were glad of the no-cost option Volvo-approved Pirelli P Zero Rosso tires fitted on both cars. They would have been a handful on all-seasons!

As it was, we were experiencing excessive wheelspin (DSTC off) in the slower corners, highlighting the need for a diff. With traction control on, even the stock car was hindered around the tight track, but the penalty for deactivation was a flurry of wheelspin exiting each turn before the tires finally hooked up.

We had a chance to run laps in the tuned C30 with the stock car in pursuit. It was fun to watch it disappear in the rear-view as we exited each corner. By the end of the lap we were almost 2sec ahead, recording a best time of 1:36.1".

Epcp 1209 07+polestar volvo c30+tail light Photo 4/16   |   Polar opposites: C30 R Design has 27hp software upgrade, while blue C30 Polestar has 450hp and AWD

That’s a considerable margin for software that “only” adds 23hp and 37 lb-ft. Where else could you find that sort of improvement for the $1295 a dealer will charge you? And without sacrificing your warranty or MPG…

As we previously stated, we’d look for aftermarket suspension and possibly a brake upgrade to make the 250hp C30 R Design with Polestar software an even more capable track car. This would definitely bring the shy Swede into the limelight.

The new software makes the C30 an even more engaging car to drive, creating a better experience for the enthusiast driver; although anybody would appreciate the effortless power delivery, especially on the freeway.

Epcp 1209 06+polestar volvo c30+racecar Photo 8/16   |   Polestar Volvo C30 - Pole Position

Polestar Racing

The company dates back to 1996 when it was originally called Flash Engineering after owner Jan “Flash” Nilsson. They raced the Volvo 850 in the British and Swedish touring car championships (STCC) prepared by Volvo.

As the team grew it was given technical responsibility for Volvo’s one-make S60 championship in 2001, and by ’03 they were building STCC touring cars rather than getting them from Volvo.

In 2005, with Christian Dahl in command, the company changed its name to Polestar Racing and strengthened its link with Volvo. It continued to run the S60 series and led Volvo’s Formula Renault program.

The following year they moved to Gothenburg and took over the manufacturer’s school education program. The team also began building its touring car engines in-house, having previously been supplied by Volvo.

Epcp 1209 11+polestar volvo c30+andreas naeslund Photo 9/16   |   Andreas Naeslund: C30 bodyguard. We did what he said!

In ’08, Polestar was asked to develop the C30 for motorsport alongside its continued STCC involvement. The following year, Polestar launched its Performance Power Optimizations for Volvos, having been named the carmaker’s Official Performance Partner.

By 2010 they’d won the STCC, had prepared the C30 for World Touring Cars (WTCC) in 2011, and built the Volvo C30 Polestar you see here.

Last year, saw Polestar entries in the WTCC, STCC and new Scandinavian touring car series. It also expanded its Performance products into other countries including the USA and Germany.

2012 sees Polestar transfer from the STCC to the new TTA Racing Elite Series with the S60. It’s also rumored we will see a second Polestar-built road car, possibly based on the same S60 platform.

Epcp 1209 12+polestar volvo c30+rear view Photo 10/16   |   Polestar Volvo C30 - Pole Position

As Volvo’s performance and racing partner, Polestar works closely with the factory, even having personnel involved at the development stage on new models. It currently offers a range of software tuning available either from North American Volvo dealers as an approved accessory, or as standard equipment on most new R Design models – the North American market is unique in offering Polestar software on new models. For more information visit or

Volvo C30 Polestar

Epcp 1209 14+polestar volvo c30+full view Photo 11/16   |   Polestar Volvo C30 - Pole Position

Built as a demonstration of the company’s ability to combine its road and racing expertise, this is how Polestar imagined a high performance C30 could look and feel.

The concept uses the Volvo V50 all-wheel drive system, necessitating a shorter driveshaft. Complete with a Haldex Gen-4 controller plus Quaife diffs front and rear, the drivetrain also received an 850 flywheel and Sachs clutch. This was to cope with the extra power of the 2.5L T5 engine that was extensively modified using the rotating assembly and exhaust cam from the Volvo S60R, while the intake cam and valve springs were from naturally aspirated models.

An uprated KKK K16 turbo was mated to a Volvo diesel intercooler, larger injectors and a modified intake system. It also uses a 3" Ferrita stainless exhaust with race cat and in this configuration the engine generates about 450hp at 23psi boost pressure – a 50hp increase over our previous drive in EC 11/11.

The Polestar race team worked with its partners Öhlins and Brembo to ensure the chassis could transmit this power to the ground. The team’s drivers were then enlisted to fine-tune the set-up before we got our hands on it.

With its custom bodywork and stunning leather/alcantara interior, the C30 Polestar looks more like a show concept than a track car, but the Swedes were kind/foolish enough to bring it along to our C30 R Design track day. With it scheduled for Jay Leno the next day, we promised not to push too hard but were allowed some exploratory laps.

Epcp 1209 13+polestar volvo c30+gopro Photo 12/16   |   Polestar Volvo C30 - Pole Position

Under the watchful gaze of its minders, the C30 Polestar seemed reluctant to turn. When you got on the gas, it was quick but not mind-blowing. It just didn’t seem like 450hp…

Then the Swedes went to get us some lunch and we were alone, unsupervised. Grabbing lower gears, the engine started to perform. That awesome five-cylinder growl echoed off the hillside as we searched for the 7800rpm rev limit – allowed for 3sec before it drops to 7500rpm for safety.

Grabbed by the scruff, the turn-in became much sharper. Those Quaife diffs needed some torque to transfer… Suddenly we had massive grip out of the turns to match the braking power into them, and our lap times were tumbling.

Without wanting to drive at 10/10ths, we recorded a respectable 1:30" around Streets of Willow – equivalent to a stock E92 M3, but clearly there was more to come if we were prepared to risk the Scandinavian ire.

The Volvo C30 Polestar is hugely entertaining and a stunning example of what can be achieved with Volvo parts and some imagination. We understand there’s a new concept coming, possibly based on the S60 and hopefully related to the stunning new TTA racecar that was announced earlier this year.

Epcp 1209 15+polestar volvo c30+interior Photo 13/16   |   C30 Polestar interior is surprisingly luxurious for disguised racecar. Trunk eve has helmet and champagne storage!
Epcp 1209 16+polestar volvo c30+convertible Photo 14/16   |   Limited edition 250hp Volvo C70 Inscription

Volvo News

In addition to the software for the C30 R Design, Volvo recently announced a raft of model updates designed to entice the enthusiast driver in particular. First among them was the XC60, the second most popular model sold in the US behind the S60, and another reason why the brand is growing at such a rate.

As the original crossover, it attracted early adopters who display remarkable loyalty for its unique combination of versatility, design, performance and off-road ability. It competes with the Q5, X3, GLK plus Infinity and Acura models, but can claim to be the only true crossover in this SUV-populated market.

The XC60 range is updated for its third model year and is headed by the T6 AWD R Design model that starts at $43700. Like most of the top models in the US it gets Polestar software in addition to a unique bumper design, sportier steering ratio, 10% stiffer suspension and 20” wheels.

The 3.0L six-cylinder T6 engine is boosted from its stock 300hp to 32hp, while torque jumps from 325 to 354 lb-ft. Again, this is all done without affecting fuel economy or servicing schedules.

Of course, you can still get the entry-level 240hp XC60 3.2L model that starts at $33300 in 2WD layout. And while its gets all the XC60’s practicality, you should jump into the T6 AWD model at $39450 to get the four-wheel drive package and Four-C active chassis. Once you have the T6 engine, you can add the Polestar software yourself for $1495 fitted…

Epcp 1209 17+polestar volvo c30+station wagon Photo 15/16   |   XC70 gets a number of updates and this T6 AWD version boasted 325hp with Polestar software

We had a chance to do some soft-roading in the XC60 T6 AWD R Design and it took everything in its stride. The sporty suspension designed to sooth its occupants at high-speed in this 325hp cruiser was magnificently adept at soak up bumps and ripples, while its ground clearance made light work of gradients, potholes and worse.

The Polestar software alters boost, timing and throttle response maps and is apparent above 2500rpm, where it delivers a significant shove, particularly in the mid-range for sharper acceleration out of corners. In fact, 0-60mph is reduced from about 7.1sec to an impressive 6.6sec. Below 2500 it’s relatively docile, ideal for towing or trails.

It’s an incredibly versatile machine with huge performance levels that will keep a smile on your face, while the cool Swedish interior is such a delightful place to be with its soft leather, warm wood and high technology.

We also tried the XC70 T6 AWD. There’s no R Design option on this model, but its 3.0L T6 engine had the optional Polestar software to boost it to the same 325hp.

Again, we found ourselves on dirt trails and again its combination of power, adaptability and comfort were a revelation. This was our first experience behind the wheel of Volvo’s off-road wagon and we were converts, instantly understanding why it generates such a loyal following. It adds luxury to Subaru Outback formula to create a charming and immensely capable alternative to conventional SUVs.

The final new model was the Volvo C70 T5 Inscription. This FWD convertible starts at $40450 and adds $3900 for the Inscription package, which comprises Polestar software as standard, developing the same 250hp/273 lb-ft as the C30. It also receives exclusive 18" Midir wheels with black spokes and polished faces, plus a gloss-black grille, active Xenons, LED DRLs, aluminum pedals and a leather-covered dash with contrast stitching. The car is only available in Black Sapphire metallic or Ice White and only 2000 examples will be available annually – represented by just 500 cars coming to the US in 2012.

Epcp 1209 18+polestar volvo c30+suv Photo 16/16   |   Volvo XC60 R Design boast same 325hp T6 and great manners both on- and off-road
By Greg Emmerson
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