Meet Volvo’s 2017 Polestar V60 and S60
With its brilliant new turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, the Volvo Polestar takes dead aim at the Audi S4.
- Test Drives
What's up with Volvo? The crazy-like-a-fox Scandinavian company (which, full disclosure, happens to advertise on The Drive) has clawed its way back from a nearly disastrous dalliance with Ford Motor Company and emerged, rather suddenly it seems, as one of the more exciting automakers out there.
Exciting? Volvo? Among the unwashed, Volvo is perceived as a frostbitten brand so subdued that its most significant race car, the 1985 Volvo 240 Turbo, was nicknamed “The Flying Brick.” But watch the YouTube clips of this beast bounding on three wheels over curbs in Adelaide and Brand's Hatch and tell me that shoebox ain't racy.
This year, a time when almost every luxury carmaker is experiencing a surfeit of design chops, efficiency, power, and speed—all buoyed by an economy strong enough to support record growth among carmakers—it's Volvo that comes with something that none of the Germans, Japanese or even Americans have: the element of surprise.
When the completely new XC90 SUV hit the streets earlier this year we were surprised at the exquisite lines and sublime interior—for ages Volvo seemed proudly, stodgily anti-sex-appeal. We can also report that the soon-to-arrive luxury sedan, the S90, is equally sharp. This is a company that has studied the busy cockpits in BMW and Mercedes and used some sort of Scandinavian witchcraft to brew a potent antidote.
But can Volvo make the same leap in performance? The 2017 Volvo S60 and V60 Polestar represent the top performance trim in Volvo's fleet. I spent two days hammering both the S60 sedan and the V60 wagon across rainswept mountains outside Marseilles and around the Circuit Paul Ricard, a very fast Formula 1 testing track nearby. Equipped with a new twincharged (that is, both supercharged and turbocharged) inline 4-cylinder engine that pushes out 367 horsepower, each of these new Polestars make for very enticing alternatives to the German entries.
In Marseilles, the fleet of test cars came in an enchanting, ethereal Rebel Blue available only on the Polestars. According to Volvo, the performance trim includes 60 distinct upgrades from the base package models, including a new active exhaust system and a turbo compressor that's boosted from 60 to 64 millimeters. There are sexy, 20-inch wheels capped with 245mm Michelin Pilot Super Sports.The 8-speed gearbox is entirely novel, and I approve of it wholeheartedly: it's smooth, it's quick, it transfers horses well. Polestar's super secret "Sport +" mode—engaged by bringing the car to a stop, moving the console shifter into the upshift position, and tapping the upshift paddle twice—disengages the ESC, stiffens the dampers, and holds the engine above 4,000 RPMs to maximize throttle response and overall pleasure.
Now, about that engine: Volvo calls it a Drive-E, and it's the same new block that was dropped in the XC90 T6. But this version, available only on the Polestars, has a new turbo bolted onto it, a new camshaft, and a handful of other upgrades that gooses power output from 345 to 364 horsepower. That's racy as hell in an engine small enough to fit in my dorm-room refrigerator. On the mountain roads outside Marseilles, in between rain lashings from a low-pressure front passing over southern France, the roomy V60 wagon felt overpowered at times, though never far from my fingertips. Somewhere in between the BMW M2 and the Audi S4 is the Polestar's sweet spot.
Today, Polestar is a fully-realized version of what M is to BMW and AMG is to Mercedes-Benz. The S60 and V60 are next on the list of Volvo's refreshed lineup, which also includes the XC90. The Gentlemen of Gothenburg have quietly embarked on a brand refresh so dramatic it might actually bring the fight to the big guys. The 1,500 Polestars they're rolling off the factory line this month are a clever component of the brand rebirth.
Audi, the ball is in your court.