2017 Volvo V60 Polestar Road Test Review

  Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc.

Equal parts performance and pragmatism 

European performance car fans should prepare themselves for a lot more Polestar in coming years. While not exactly new, the Polestar name is about to become a much more prominent fixture within the Swedish brand's concurrently metamorphosing lineup.

Like some better-known performance sub-brands, Polestar has its roots in motorsport. It began as Flash Engineering in 1996 under the leadership of Swedish Touring Car Championship (STCC) winner Jan 'Flash' Nilsson, with the purpose of contesting Volvos in the same series, initiated by a Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) built 850 Super Touring sedan. A TWR-constructed S40 Super Touring was entered in 1998, whereas a Prodrive-sourced S60 S2000 hit the track in 2003.


After more than 100 STCC wins spanning nearly a decade, Christian Dahl, who originally joined Flash as chief mechanic in 2001, purchased the team halfway through 2004 and rebranded it Polestar in 2005, a name that was formed to conjure images of Sweden's cold northern regions (north star, north pole) as well as the duality of pole position (first off the line at the start of a race) and the more obvious star of the race or racing series.


From race track to the road 

Polestar Racing continued to compete and win with the S60 S2000 until 2009 when a C30 S2000 became the basis for the next-generation STCC challenger, which was the same year they started modifying Volvo road cars under their separate Polestar Performance brand. The first street-spec car was the one-off 405-horsepower all-wheel drive C30 Polestar Concept in 2010, complete with a 4.6-second sprint to 100 km/h and the audacious sound of straight exhaust, followed by the S60 Polestar Concept in 2012, which produced 508 horsepower and hit 100 km/h in 3.9 seconds before attaining a top speed of 299 km/h (186 mph). These garnered so much interest that production cars ensued in 2013, including the S60 Polestar, and the V60 Polestar in these pages.


Volvo purchased Polestar Performance and the Polestar brand in 2015, whereas Polestar Racing remained in the hands of Dahl, who rebranded it Cyan Racing (after the unique "Rebel Blue" colour scheme used for the Polestar racing/road car livery and branding). Volvo changed that branding this year that will result in a completely new silver double-V logo with the points facing each other (think "><"), ditching the cyan blue hue that carries forward as Cyan Racing's livery. The V60 Polestar tested here keeps the original four-pointed star logo, which is just fine by me. Of course, I'm looking forward to driving whatever Polestar comes up with under its "new, separately-branded, electrified global high performance car company," said Volvo in a recent press release, but until then I'm plain grateful to get some seat time in this ultra-impressive V60 Polestar while still available.


The only serious performance wagon in its class 

I've covered the 2017 V60 at length in a previous review, along with its lifted and beefed up V60 Cross Country sibling, so I won't go into too much detail about the general car this time around. To the uninitiated, the V60 is a five-door sport wagon version of the S60 sedan in the premium compact D-segment, which means it currently has very little competition. Certainly there are premium-branded wagons, but they solely service the pragmatic side of the market already doted upon by Volvo's less sporting albeit very competent V60.

There are two alternative V60s available, featuring the same 2.0-litre Drive-E four-cylinder engine noted earlier, the base T5 model (sans supercharger) capable of 240 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, which is along the lines of its two European rivals, and the T6 AWD sporting 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, which thoroughly and completely overwhelms both German offerings.


As for V60 Polestar, it's one particularly exclusive five-door. Volvo produced just 485 worldwide for its 2015 introduction model year (out of 735 total S60/V60 Polestar production), and then sent 15 to Canada (plus 15 S60 Polestars). Volvo Canada continued to provide both models for the 2016 and 2017 model years, this being one from the latter.

One of the reasons for the history lesson is to point out the key difference between old and new S60/V60 Polestars, the first two model years housing Volvo's once ubiquitous 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six behind its blue-badged egg-crate grille, good for 345 horsepower at 5,250 rpm and 369 lb-ft of torque between 3,000 and 4,750 rpm, and the new one sporting a particularly rev-happy four-cylinder.


Ultra-advanced engine tech like nothing else in the industry 

Like every vehicle in Volvo's current lineup it's a 2.0-litre direct-injection four with turbocharging, the previously noted difference being a supercharger strapped on as well. To be clear this isn't the only differentiator, as Volvo offers its turbocharged and supercharged 1,969 cubic centimeter four in the previously noted V60 T6 Drive-E AWD and higher end trims of its other nameplates too, while so far it's not plug-in-electrified as done to its 400-horsepower XC90 T8 AWD and soon its 2018 XC60 T8 AWD, but rather the Polestar squad has boosted the basic design with plenty of its track-proven performance tricks.


For starters the Polestar cars get bigger turbochargers, a larger air intake, a higher-capacity fuel pump, new connecting rods, and revised camshafts, whereas the new eight-speed automatic (it was previously a six-speed) has been reworked to improve shift response while still keeping it acceptably smooth. Like the previous model all-wheel drive is standard, aiding at-the-limit handling as well as performance off the line, especially when conditions are slippery, but the new four-cylinder reduces the V60's weight by 20 kilos, which not only aids manoeuvrability in all situations, it helps the family hauler hit 100km/h in just 4.9 seconds. Other upgrades include new lightweight 20-inch five-Y-spoke diamond cut alloys with tiny Polestar badges within their silver-painted pockets that beautifully frame new 371-mm slotted brake discs, plus it gets specially calibrated electro-assisted power steering.


Fabulous five-door styling joins a stylishly upgraded cabin 

I absolutely adore the exclusive Rebel Blue paintwork, this colour helping keep the look of this ultimate V60 as it as fresh as it ever was. The blue-badged glossy black grille insert and delicate detailing in the lower fascia are frontal highlights, the corners of the latter filled out with a sporty set of LED fog lamps. Blackened mirror caps house LED turn signals, while the best is left for the rear end design, where a large upswept body-colour roof top spoiler and a gloss and matte black functional diffuser pull eyeballs from top to bottom, the latter highlighted by a fat stainless exhaust pipe at each side. The standard V60 taillights incorporate curving LEDs that work well in a sport model, this not really looking like a traditional wagon per se, but really more of an elongated five-door hatch. Either way this wonderfully unique super-wagon doesn't lack any visual wow factor.


After crossing over the "ENGINEERED by polestar" aluminum treadplates things are pretty much identical to the regular V60 inside, except for fabulous leather bolsters and Alcantara detailed sport seats with stunning blue stitching, the latter also found on the sport steering wheel, shifter boot, door inserts, and armrests, these last two also finished in the plush man-made psuede material. Also unique is the shifter knob that includes a crystal-clear insert with Polestar's square blue badge at its base. Very cool. The surface treatment of the floating centre stack is unique to, with a patterned metallic graphic that adds a sporty textured look.


The regular V60 already offers a high-quality cabin, with soft touch surfaces in all the expected areas and fabric wrapping all pillars front to back. Volvo even finishes the door skins in soft synthetic right to their very bottoms, but it doesn't do the same with the lower dash, which is hard plastic including the glove box lid. Highlights include plenty of satin-silver trim, albeit not too much, plus a sporty set of metal pedals with rubber inserts. A functional but smallish infotainment interface gets fitted within the aforementioned floating centre stack, although a sportier version of the V60's already impressive configurable TFT primary gauge cluster is quite the treat, and thanks to a racy red colour scheme beckons the road ahead effectively.


Performance that thoroughly lives up to its sporty styling 

The powertrain follows the rest of the car's enticing yet not overbearing theme, its exhaust note noticeable but hardly impetuous. The rear pipes let off a low purposeful gurgling sound at idle, become considerably more rambunctious at takeoff, and then downright menacing as revs start to rise. The standard shift paddles exact quick response from the eight-speed automatic gearbox and near 370-horse four-cylinder finds voracious speed in an instant. I love the feel of a high-strung turbo-four, its great gobs of torque found deep down low in the rev range, with max twist at 3,100 rpm yet plenty from just 1,500, and never letting up as the big centre-mounted digital tach spins to its rightmost region. The car reminds me of Volvo turbos from the past, although it's much, much faster and wholly more gentrified.

High-speed stability is superb, the V60's five-door upright body style inherently aiding aerodynamics and the aforementioned extras improving its slipstream effect further, keeping wind noise to a minimum while adding a bit more rear downforce. To that end it hugs fast-paced corners tenaciously, madly biting into tarmac thanks to a well-sorted chassis and 245/35R20 Michelin Pilot Super Sport performance rubber underneath. Truly, while the V60 Polestar might immediately grab attention for its potent drivetrain, its forte is at-the-limit handling.

So much fun yet practical too 

Then again what I like best about this sport wagon version is its unique performance-practicality combination. It's ridiculously fuel-efficient for such a formidable machine at just 11.8 L/100km city and 8.5 highway, comes filled with the types of luxury and convenience features one would expect from a top-line premium D-segment car, and is large enough to comfortably accommodate two generously sized adults up front, with the backseat doing likewise including one in the middle when needed, not to mention plenty of luggage in behind.

Like the regular V60 the Polestar's cargo area is wonderfully accommodating and finished beautifully with high-grade carpeting on the floor, seatbacks and sidewalls, plus a stylish polished stainless protector plate at the very back. Chromed tie-down hoops can be found at each corner, although Volvo covered everything with a rubberized cargo mat. Remove that and a flip-up cargo partition is revealed, complete with handy grocery bag hooks, while last on the practicality list is a shallow carpeted storage area with separated sections under the load floor. The seatbacks fold 60/40 and lock into place firmly, although the 20 percent section at centre folds flat individually to allow skis down the middle and simultaneous availability of the more comfortable outboard seats.

I was only underwhelmed under the hood where the engine isn't as exciting to look at as it should be, the plastic cover devoid of any Polestar branding and therefore far too bland for such a thrilling performance machine, although a slick looking carbon-fibre strut tower brace subtly sits atop the front bulkhead.

A pragmatic yet passionate choice 

This said the Rebel Blue colour scheme is too brazen to brand the V60 Polestar with sleeper status, but it's the one to own even if the blindingly blue blur created in its wake attracts attention from local constabulary.

It's a car for those who fly in the face of status quo norms, and considering its reasonable $69,000 price tag provides an entirely new level of exclusive value to a lucky few. To those who make the twofold pragmatic yet passionate choice to purchase a V60 Polestar, I can promise they'll never feel shortchanged when a suitable road lay ahead. I can also promise to feel a bit jealous that they get to enjoy it for a great deal longer than my test drive allowed.


Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press 
Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press 
Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc.

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