First Test: 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design with Polestar
Hot Blooded: Turning the Safe Crossover Into into a Fun Canyon Canyon-Carver
The Volvo XC60 probably isn't on the shopping list for many guys. It looks good, but in that respectable, "the PTA would approve" kind of way. It's known more for safety than for fun. But since the XC60 went on sale in 2010, Volvo has added some fire to it, starting with the R-Design option in 2011 and then, for 2012, the latest example of Volvo's partnership with Polestar.
The XC60 was already an impressive vehicle. When it first came out, it bridged the gap between Volvo's beloved station wagons and the larger XC90 sport/utility. It follows the current design motif of the company: beautiful, sleek Scandinavian styling on the outside and an equally attractive interior. Volvos are known for safety, and the XC60 is loaded with safety goodies. The cabin is plenty luxurious, but also manages to provide function. If there was anything the XC60 lacked, it was offering a little something for enthusiasts.
Volvo has taken small steps to fix that. It is starting to close the wide chasm between the perception in North America that Volvo is a conservative company and the reality that it has a serious presence in road racing in Europe. The first step was the optional R-Design package for 2011, which added stiffer suspension and unique styling cues, but no increase in horsepower or torque. Which brings us to 2012, and the second step: Polestar performance.
Polestar has been Volvo's motorsport partner since 1996. It is Volvo's AMG, and helped design touring cars for the FIA, STCC (Swedish Touring Car Championship), and World Touring Car Championship. Though few Americans are familiar with Polestar, the name is well known in Sweden: The Polestar C30 has become the most successful race car in Volvo's history.
So how does all that relate to this XC60? Clearly, Polestar can't make an XC60 race car for sale to the public, but what it can do is apply some of its knowledge of race engineering to consumer vehicles. In this case, the Polestar treatment adds 25 hp and 30 lb-ft of torque to the XC60, for totals of 325 and 354, respectively. For T6 engines like in the XC60, the upgrade costs $1495 p at the dealership (as of 2012, it comes with R-Design XC60s); those who didn't buy the Polestar package can get the upgrade after the fact; owners of a 2011-2012 R-Design can bring their crossover in for the upgrade. It consists of an ECM tune that recalibrates throttle mapping, adjusts spark timing and fuel mixture, and increases turbo boost. And this may be the best news for XC60 owners: The upgrade doesn't affect fuel economy or emissions, and is covered under Volvo's warranty.
The combination of R-Design and Polestar kick gives the pretty crossover some attitude. The suspension damping was increased by 10 percent, which results in a firmer ride; it and the faster steering ratio make the vehicle more responsive -- and more entertaining -- in turns. We discovered that on some fun mountain roads in Arizona, before setting out on the I-10. The XC60 felt planted and confident, and was terrific fun in tight corners. It doesn't handle as well as a BMW, but it sure is a lot of fun. When accelerating out of corners, throttle response is better than in the pre-Polestar models, making it a breeze to burn through straight road before reaching the next twisty bit of highway.
If you look at a map of the southwestern U.S., the drive from Phoenix to Los Angeles seems pretty boring. Granted, it is six to seven hours of mostly straight-line driving, but you do get to pass such landmarks as Sore Finger Road in Salome, Arizona, the Agriculture Inspection station near the state line, and the dinosaur statues in Cabazon, California. OK. It's a boring drive. However, the lack of tourist landmarks along the way meant plenty of time to focus on the XC60 R-Design with Polestar.
On the long, lonely stretch of Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Los Angeles, where traffic was surprisingly light and (as far as I know), there weren't too many state troopers or traffic cameras. Throttle response proved just as good out there, where it was very easy to go too fast quickly. Our tests at the track confirm that the XC60 R-Design with Polestar is quick. There, it got to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds and through the quarter mile in 14.3 seconds at 98.4 mph. Its ride was firmer over rougher stretches of the Interstate, but it wasn't unreasonable and was worth it for the upgrade in handling. The interior of the Volvo was a classy combination of off-white and black, the seats comfortable yet plenty supportive.
We did have a complaint about the XC60 though, one that hasn't changed since the crossover came out: The electronics. Some of the navigation system's controls were counterintuitive, others were difficult to access. Another electronics glitch was with the blind-spot information system. On several occasions on the drive, there were notices that the system needed service, which shut off less than a minute later every time, and at least twice, there was a warning that the blind-spot camera was blocked. (How? By what?) Those also disappeared after less than a minute.
What the new performance upgrade does is whet our appetite for what could be with this vehicle. If this is a successful enough upgrade for the XC60, maybe there could be a more dramatic option, one with electronically adjustable suspension that is softer on the open road and firmer -- and perhaps lower -- on canyon two-lanes, with even more dramatic power increases. Yes, this would reduce fuel economy and is somewhat irrational, but now that Polestar's involved, we can dream, can't we?
|2012 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$52,675|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||3.0L/325-hp/354-lb-ft turbo DOHC 24-valve I-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4246 lb (59/41%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||182.2 x 74.4 x 67.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.7 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.3 sec @ 98.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||121 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.80 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.1 sec @ 0.68 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||17/23 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||198/147 kW-hrs/100 mi|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.01 lb/mi|