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Exclusive First Test: Volvo S60 T6 AWD with Polestar 325-hp Software Upgrade

by Stuart Fowle, photos by the author

Jul 20, 2011 - 9:09:41 AM

We should probably start with a quick recap. Back in April, Volvo debuted the 2012 S60 and XC60 US-spec models at the New York International Auto Show with a very special surprise: the company had found a way to tweak the standard T6 engine, which makes 300 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque, to an even more impressive 325 horsepower and 354 lb-ft. In June, we were able to confirm that the change came thanks to Polestar, Volvo’s STCC racing partner and factory-supported tuning firm in some countries. Then we confirmed that the US would become one of those countries and that Polestar will offer the same software change through Volvo dealers here. That will happen later this year at a price rumored to be around $1500.

In the meantime, we were offered an opportunity to test a prototype version of that software in our own S60 T6 AWD project car. We’d be fools to turn down that chance, so yesterday we met with Volvo of North America’s Midwest Field Technical Specialist at our local dealer and he forked over the goods. Or more accurately, uploaded them.

The process only took a few hours at the dealership, most of which was actually spent updating the rest of the car’s software to the latest version and dealing with a software recall announced last month. The Polestar software, we’re told, takes very little time.

Before we went to the dealer, we did actually make one other stop. With our Racelogic Driftbox in hand, we headed to our favorite deserted roads to run 0-60 mph numbers for our stock S60. With a full tank of premium fuel on board, we managed an uncorrected 5.8 seconds on an 80-degree morning. We say “uncorrected” because most of the numbers you’ll see in major magazines are standardized to certain weather conditions and all use a “one foot rollout” technique as well. We don’t have a full battery of equipment and really, we’re only concerned with the change between before and after anyway, so that’s why we say our numbers are uncorrected. Car and Driver, for reference, turned a 5.5-second time in its S60 road test. And it’s also worth noting that with the car in gear, the car only allowed us to brake-torque up to 2000 rpm. The resulting launches aren’t incredibly hard and it felt like if we could have had 1000 more revs, the times would be a bit quicker.

polestar-t6-readouts.jpg

After leaving the dealer, we headed back to our same road and ran a few more runs with the hotter engine management. This time around, we managed 5.5 seconds to 60 mph, an impressive drop of 0.3 seconds. Assuming the jump is universal, that means a time of 5.2 seconds using the C/D test time as a starting point. Not bad at all for a 3900-pound sedan. For comparison though, the same magazine managed 4.9 seconds out of both the 3600-pound, rear-drive BMW 335i and the 4000-pound, all-wheel drive Audi S4. Both, however, had manual transmissions and could be launched harder.

As a result of the mellow standing start, the 0-60 times only tell part of the Polestar software’s story. In merging and passing situations, the S60 T6 was already a very strong performer, but now ours is an outright muscle sedan. As soon as the transmission kicks down a gear (which happens with urgency with the shifter bumped into sport mode) the torque is immediate and seemingly endless. We wouldn’t call the overall performance shocking versus the standard 300-horse car, but the change is certainly noticeable. And you know you’ll beat every other S60 from stoplight to stoplight.

Volvo will officially debut the software here with the launch of the 2012 S60 and XC60 R-Design in the next few months (we’ll be getting a turn in that car in just a few weeks) and the rollout will continue after the R cars get a few months of exclusive performance. Those two models will continue to be the only two getting the performance bump free of charge, however. Owners of other models will have to purchase the software and have it installed at a dealer, with the upside being that all standard warranties will be preserved. While we’re hearing an estimate of $1500 and fall availability, Volvo won’t confirm either at this point.

The other thing we can’t say at this point is what the software does to fuel economy, though we have been told to only run premium fuel from here on out. Hopefully by the time we run our next monthly S60 update, we’ll have a few tanks of fuel behind us with the Polestar boost. The cost of entry won’t exactly be cheap, but the performance return is excellent and keeping your warranty, that’s pretty useful as well. We’ll bring you more impressions of the new software in the coming weeks and months and hopefully, we’ll be able to bring some official announcements soon as well.