2016 Volvo S60 Polestar | First Drive
* Sparkling performance from turbo six-pot
* Surprisingly nimble and surefooted
* Seems a bargain at AED220k
* Looks a tad too understated
* Low-budget interior
* Fiddly infotainment system
Volvo is hardly a brand that comes to mind as a purveyor of high-performance products. More than likely, you think of Volvos only in the context of the V70 wagons that are part of the Emirates Chauffeur drive fleet that one encounters on an almost daily basis in Dubai.
True, there is also a small number of XC60s and XC90s to be seen around town, but even these are utilitarian, family-friendly models that don’t exactly set the pulse racing.
However, the brand is now growing its ambitions, and the first evidence of this is the S60 Polestar, which is the fastest road car to date from the Swedish manufacturer. Who or what is Polestar, I hear you ask? The brief answer to that is that it’s a motorsport specialist that has prepared all of Volvo’s race cars since 1996 (many readers may not be aware that Volvo is highly active in motor racing around the globe).
The two firms extended their partnership from 2009 onwards as Polestar started carrying out engine optimisations on Volvo road cars, and the relationship was further strengthened in 2013 with the launch of the S60 Polestar – a go-faster offering that’s been given the full treatment. It’s got a tricked-up engine, suspension, brakes, wheels/tyres and interior.
So, is Polestar Volvo’s answer to Mercedes-AMG and BMW’s M Division? Volvo and Polestar execs are quick to pour cold water on this notion, saying their offering was conceived to unleash its full performance envelope – which is sizeable – in all weather conditions. This was obviously a key criterion, given what the climate is like in its home country.
The good news for us – and I promise you it is good news – is that the S60 Polestar will launch in the Middle East in September this year, priced at what seems a remarkably competitive AED220K, and that’s with all the trimmings.
So what do you get for the money? For starters, the 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo engine has been uprated to eke out 344bhp and 500Nm, with a deep-throated soundtrack provided by the pair of 3.5-inch tailpipes. The S60 Polestar isn’t bullet-fast, but 0-100kph in 4.9sec is pretty damn quick all the same… especially for a Volvo.
But it’s not just the magnitude of performance that counts, it’s the ease with which it can be laid down, even on a damp Ring Knutstorp, a twisty, gnarly little racetrack in the south of Sweden. Although just over 2km long, there’s numerous elevation changes, blind crests and off-camber corners. Just the sort of place where a car with flaccid dynamics would be sorely exposed.
I expected the S60 Polestar to not fare particularly well here, especially as it weighs a lardy 1.8 tonnes and is derived from a donor car that’s hardly a class leader in terms of chassis excellence. But a hat tip is due to the Polestar crew here, because what they’ve achieved is little short of black magic.
The addition of 80 per cent stiffer springs, race-derived Öhlins shock absorbers and 20-inch Polestar wheels has transformed the chassis into something that’s unrecognisable from the original. Chasing down multiple Swedish touring car champion Thed Björk (who is piloting an identical car), I’m frankly quite alarmed at how resolutely the Polestar is sticking to the damp tarmac, and how darn quickly we’re managing to circulate the perilous little track.
The S60 feels beautifully tied down, and the generous 500Nm torque quota means there’s enough punch to scoot out of tight corners, with the Haldex all-wheel-drive system providing ample traction to ensure there isn’t any wheelspin or excessive stability-control intervention (I had turned it off in any case).
Repeatedly hauling up the 1.8-tonne beast isn’t an issue either as the six-piston Brembo calipers clamp down hard on the 371mm ventilated discs, even after sustained hot laps.
Among the other tweaks the Polestar gets are a bespoke front spoiler/splitter, along with a new rear spoiler and diffusor, and they’re all designed to help the car stay planted at high speed.
All told, the S60 Polestar is a far more capable car than I had imagined. And the Dh220k pricetag seems almost impossibly cheap for a vehicle with this level of performance, not to mention its generous interior space. The only real gripes are an interior that looks a tad low-rent, and an annoyingly fiddly and time-consuming interface for controlling the infotainment system and car settings.
However, the biggest problem the company’s Middle East suits will encounter is getting the message out that here is a Volvo with the ability to put a sizeable grin on your face – if you take the opportunity to actually get behind the wheel and give it the beans. I suggest you do exactly that.