2015 Volvo S60/V60 Polestar First Drive
Witness the Evolution
“So, who do you consider your counterparts?” I asked Johan Meissner, Polestar’s PR pro. We were sitting at an expansive rustic dining table inside an ancient Swedish castle. A mix of Polestar personnel and media sat beside us.
“I am not sure that we do at this point,” he said coolly after a brief hesitation. “What do you think?” Just as he paused, so did I.
For the last two days I had been rotating the nubuck-wrapped wheels of Polestar’s first series-made vehicles over hundreds of miles of southern Sweden’s curviest roads. These were, without question, the sportiest, quickest, most bitchin’ production cars ever to carry a full Volvo warranty. And of course they didn’t suddenly appear from the North Sea.
“They are the result of a five-year journey,” CEO Christian Dahl explained at a meeting. The journey began when Dahl established the Performance side, or road car side, of Polestar’s “pure race team” at the start of 2009. Roughly half of the outfit’s 35 employees were tasked with increasing the performance of Volvos with retuned ECUs.
Polestar began experimenting with more comprehensive enhancements a year later. It churned out high-powered, aggressive-looking concepts that earned positive attention from media, dealers, and customers. A pilot program of 100 S60 Polestars was launched in Australia. Our senior features editor, Jonny Lieberman, drove one last year; Randy Pobst tried one out too. The program was well-received by the public.
“We gained a lot of interest and a lot of people wanted us to build the cars for them,” Dahl said. “But that wasn’t really doable and feasible for us. What we wanted was to build a car that could be built in the factory, and that could be serviced by all Volvo dealers.”
They then determined their customer base and general philosophy for the vehicle.
“People like ourselves,” the CEO said bluntly. “If you take a walk on the parking lot outside Polestar during the summertime, you’ll find some really interesting track-day cars. But these are cars designed for one purpose. It was clear to us that that kind of car was not possible for us to build for the larger audience.
“A car for active driving has to deliver active driving, precision, and give the driver confidence. That’s general for any car that’s interesting to any active driver. But what we wanted to do was to design it for real life, for all situations… we wanted to ensure that it works for all weather, for all roads, for all seasons, not to make a semi-race car.” He explained that more than 50 changes (which created 250 new part numbers) were made to Volvo’s R-Design cars, and that the most critical changes dealt with handling. Eighty-percent stiffer Eibach springs suspend each corner on the V60 to cope with added weight. Ride height was dropped by a mere 0.11 inch.
Unique Öhlins shocks using the brand’s Dual Flow Valve technology fit snugly inside the German coils. The valves give the damper fluid an easier, consistent path to flow through during compression and rebound activity, resulting in improved vehicle stability and grip and the smooth, immediate absorption of high-frequency bumps and crevices.
If owners desire, they can adjust a damper’s stiffness with five negative or five positive “clicks” of a knob on the end of the shock’s body, though Volvo won’t actively advertise this when the cars go on sale later this month. Appropriately matched bushings and control-arm mounts compensate for the additional strain the tauter springs and dampers bring to the chassis. A carbon-fiber front strut bar and 15-percent-stiffer front and rear anti-roll bars enhance balance.
Polestar installed massive 14.6-inch six-piston Brembo front calipers with HP1000 pads up front and HP2000 pads rear. (The regular caliper and disc remained out back; no dramatic performance advantage was had with a Brembo iteration). Sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber wrap the handsome Polestar-only 20-inch cast wheels (the same tires used by compatriot Christian von Koenigsegg on his hypercars, Dahl pointed out). A new master cylinder ensures proper pressure with each pedal stab.
The T6 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six got some love too. A new Borg-Warner twin-scroll turbo with a larger diameter compressor was attached, as was a 0.5-inch thicker intercooler and free-flow 2.5-inch exhaust. Power jumped to 345 horses and 369 lb-ft of torque (from 325/354), the latter of which is available at just 3000 rpm.
Engineers quickened the AWF21 six-speed automatic’s shift times, and with Sport mode engaged, tuned them to be even faster. (No times were given.) Recalibration of the electronically assisted, speed-sensitive steering (three “steering force” modes: Low, Medium, High), Electronic Stability Control (less restrictive in all circumstances), and throttle were implemented as well. The Aisin-Warner ‘box included a new Curve Hold Functionality that restricted gears changes while cornering.
Haldex’s AWD now has a clearer rear-wheel drive bias with ESC turned off. (Power is split 50/50 front/rear in normal conditions; 100 percent can be sent aft with loss of grip.) It also directs more power to the rear as higher lateral g-loads build in corners, and sends power backward on abrupt takeoffs, or while – get this – launch control is used. Yes, a Volvo with launch control. And there is no limit to the amount of times launch-crazed drivers can successively use it. With no limited-slip differential, power can’t be distributed side-to-side.
Visually, Polestar’s creations are stunning. It’s an uncomplicated, potent, mildly aggressive ensemble of front splitters, diffusers, and spoilers shaped within Volvo’s wind tunnel, and it resulted in engineers doubling the downforce generated by the S60 at 155 mph. The final forms are representative of Swedish culture’s knack for creating highly functional and attractive but simple shapes.
Designers kept it low-key inside, too. Blue stitching accents the standard R-Design seats, steering wheel, and floormats. Nubuck covers the doors; carbon fiber with a matte clearcoat replaces the standard center console’s plastic. Nothing major, but just enough to make you aware that it’s special.
Then I drove. My index finger pressed the S60’s start button and a type of growl that was vastly uncharacteristic for anything brandishing an Iron Mark spewed from behind my head. It enticed me, it intrigued me, and it could not have more appropriately set the tone for the day.
Then speed happened. I’m talking smooth, instant, pure speed. The type of momentum expected from a German sledgehammer, not a Scandinavian beauty queen.
Polestar says the S60 will get to 60 mph from a stop in 4.7 seconds. And I don’t doubt it. Shifts in normal mode were quick, but throw the stubby shifter a half-inch to the left – or fan either paddle behind the wheel – to get into Sport mode, and, well, gears get knocked off at a pace you’d expect from cars developed in Affalterbach.
The S60 isn’t svelte. In fact, it’s a largish sedan with an unfortunate predisposition for carrying most of its weight in front of its driver. I fully anticipated I’d be scrubbing forward progress and curbing steering angle in an effort to combat its tendency to plow. Not exactly. Tossing the helm off-center, then sawing left, right, left again, only made the suspension’s strong points clearer. Every change of direction led to calm, polished reactions, not to mention produced astounding surefootedness and poise. Understeering into the lush Narnia-esque forest was a silly notion, because the car I danced as purposefully and smoothly as some four-wheeled athletes of much smaller dimensions. It was baffling. It was alien. But it was awesome.
The car was able to hold gears amid my all-out esses attack, allowing me to preserve my focus and the car’s rapid pace. Decibels from the pipes spiked, gaining rambunctiousness with each RPM above 4000, the determined threshold where baffles open completely. (It’s quite loud when standing outside.)
The six-piston clamps bit consistently and predictably. So did the Michelins. The dependable adhesion of the rubber, combined with a near absence of body motion courtesy of Öhlins’ and Eibach’s expertise, had me repeatedly triple-checking the insignia between my hands.
Though firmer than usual, the ride comfort suffered little. Miles upon miles of Swedish countryside were explored that afternoon, and neither my back nor my glutes paid a price. However, on rougher asphalts, the cabin filled with un-Volvo-like road noise – a small trade-off for big grip.
It was an identical audible affair when hustling the V60 as strenuously as the S60. The wagon felt heftier, but just barely. I found it to be no less entertaining than the sharper four-door. The 3800-pound wagon’s lack of much body roll could only be described as impressive, uncanny, and special.
It may just take a smidge longer to get to the next curve (0 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds) in the V60, and when it’s reached, it will provide your fingers, feet, and backsides with a vaguer comprehension of its chassis’ minute reactions. Its throttle required further tip-in at low speeds to get going. Steering, too, had an artificial feel to it; less communicative, but no less weighty, than that of the S60. Shifts were just as snappy. And like the S60, no internal modifications were made to the standard car’s transmission. Again, 3800 pounds. Wagon. Sticky. Speedy. Volvo. Yes. Please.
With its first two production models built and refined by a handful of dedicated brains using sophisticated components and lots of motorsport know-how, the little race-team-turned-car-specialist from Gothenburg has evolved Volvo, a global giant, for the better, prescribing its conservative, safety-focused identity an edgier, attractive, fresh, and athletic soul that new customers the world over will undoubtedly adore. The one significant caveat is that only 750 individuals (120 in the US; 80 wagons, 40 sedans) will experience Volvo’s evolution firsthand -- that is, until the next batch arrives.
Meissner might be correct. With Polestar under its belt, Volvo might have no contemporaries.
|2015 Volvo S60/V60 Polestar|
|BASE PRICE||$50,000-$55,000 (est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUTS||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan/wagon|
|ENGINE||3.0L/345-hp/369-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC I-6|
|CURB WEIGHTS||3600 lbs sedan; 3800 lbs wagon (mfr est)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||182.5 x 73.4 x 58.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.7-4.8 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||19/28 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||177/120 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.87 lb/mile (est)|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||May 2014|