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The Volvo-Polestar folks are experts in leaving impressions. A few years ago, I drove the S60 and V60 Polestar vehicles, and to this day, they linger in my memory for their brilliant styling, aggressive performance and popping personality in comparison to their more reserved stablemates.
I wish those memories were only positive, but I still recall the criticisms I had with the vehicles as well. Indeed, they were stiff and uncomfortable, two traits that were not as ominous of a flaw as the vehicles’ outdated looking interior and the unrefined six-speed transmission.
All these memories came flooding back to me when I was handed the keys and saw the 2016 Volvo V60 Polestar I was testing. The good came first, even before setting foot in the vehicle. I was reminded of the wagon’s beautiful body, one that is an uncompromising cargo hauler, rather than some lifted appliance called a crossover or sport-utility vehicle. The eye-catching blue paint finish glows in the sun and even in the shade, earning attention everywhere it goes. The tasteful accents and trim are familiar too, like the big 20-inch wheels and huge exhaust exits.
It all comes back like reuniting with your best friend after an absence. You can recognize each other immediately on sight, but upon catching up, you find things are slightly different, like the Volvo’s new wheel design, and reworked front end.
Step inside and the familiar feelings, even those bad ones you wish would have changed by now are still there. The interior of the Polestar remains unchanged from the last meeting and looks like what you’d find in a Volvo from a decade ago. This is a huge contrast to the interiors of the Volvo XC90 and S90, which are clean, modern and sexy. Instead, the dashboard in the V60 Polestar features a mess of buttons that’s so cluttered and spotlights a completely unnecessary and unsightly dial pad. Surrounding this pile of buttons are four knobs, and above this is the tiny infotainment display, another dramatically old sight, and one that’s not fit for sore eyes. Not only do competing cars feature huge and useful infotainment displays, but Volvo’s own cars like the S90 and XC90 are praised for their huge screens and slick interface.
While the infotainment and dash layout are a disappointment, there’s no denying how good the seats are in this vehicle. Soft, supportive and luxuriously upholstered with smooth leather and suede-like Alcantara, these seats are a highlight of the interior. Another appreciated element of the interior is the focused gauge cluster, which features relevant information that’s easy to find. The aggressive looking, red-tinted sport theme for the digital gauge cluster is cool too, with a nice central tachometer.
Fire up the V60 Polestar, and your memory gets a quick jolt in the way the engine burbles to life. This is a new voice. Where the old car also featured a distinct sound signature thanks to its turbocharged six-cylinder engine, the new model is also unique sounding, but different from its past iteration. Under the hood you’ll find a twincharged four-cylinder engine instead of a turbocharged inline-six. Twincharged means that the motor is force-fed two ways, like it went to two Thanksgiving meals in a single day. But instead of turducken, this engine sports a supercharger and a turbocharger. It also means the little 2.0-liter engine is stuffed with power. This thing pumps out a whopping 367 horsepower, which for reference, is even more than what the rugged twin-turbo EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6 in a Ford F-150 pickup truck would put out!
The small but mighty engine is paired to a new eight-speed automatic transmission that’s an important part of the package. Not only will the eight-speed help keep fuel consumption low but it is more refined. When driven conservatively, the car slushes gears together nicely, in a way that’s fitting of a premium car, like a Volvo. However, when driven hard, as a car with that sleek body and luminescent blue paint begs be driven, the car snaps into gear with the focus of Bruce Lee when he’s practicing his jeet kun do. Or maybe more like Jean-Claude Van Damme in Bloodsport. It’s fast, violent and a complete blast in action.
So there are all these good memories of the old Polestar and a dash of new tricks, with a different engine and better transmission. There’s also the same BorgWarner full-time four-wheel drive system here from before and that’s well designed, ensuring that powerful engine and quick transmission has traction to go with it. Throw the car in gear and put some weight on the right-pedal and this car does this marvelous thing: it moves. Quickly, too.
Now that we’re all up to speed with the running gear of the new Polestar, let’s quickly get over the (still saddening) lack of a manual transmission.
Without the old model to drive back to back with this new one, I’m left with just my memories to compare this car to, but I swear this model is faster than before. Let that sink in for a moment – the last version of this car claimed a compartment in my memory banks for being damn fast, and here is the new model feeling faster than that. It caught me off guard and left me with my jaw unhinged, as feral noises emerged from both the exhaust pipes and my own windpipes. Every intersection turns into a distant memory as the traffic signal turns from red to green. Every gap left between this car and the one in front of it turns into mere feet as it blasts down the highway. Roll onto the throttle are you’re met with a quick, sharp downshift and a wave of thrust. Highway speeds are achieved from a standstill in just four and a half seconds.
The twincharged engine is a real piece of work, as the supercharger masks the turbo lag that’s normally associated with small displacement turbocharged engines. In this car, you open up the throttle and the car responds accordingly, ramping up to highway speeds and beyond without a second thought or needing to catch its breath. At some point during my weekly test of the car, I uttered the cliché “I can’t even…” in response to a highway merge that felt like it took just an instant. Simply put, the Polestar is that fast and leaves just that kind of impression.
Hit the brakes and the car brings the fun down like a harsh buzzkill. If the powertrain is Superman, then the brakes are Kryptonite. With six-piston Brembos at the front and rear wheels, it’s that kind of perfect balance that keeps you and the car out of trouble. The V60 Polestar is a great ally when the roads turn to curves because of its upgraded Öhlins shocks. They’re still stiff, yes but when you find some lovely fresh pavement, the car just shines. Now you can appreciate the sharp handling that comes with those custom-tuned shocks. And you should know that the steering is well weighted and provides a decent amount of feedback. It’s not sports-car-like, but it’s certainly better than what we’ve experienced with the latest crop of BMWs. This Volvo does a better impression of the “Ultimate Driving Machine” than even that German automaker claims.
I’m not ashamed to say that I fell in love with the Volvo Polestar vehicles the first time I drove them, but my latest fling in the new vehicles left me senseless. I turned from an admirer to a Belieber, the type of person who screams in joy when thinking about it. I’m clearly not the only one to feel that way. The last crop of Polestar vehicles came in limited supply. And while more vehicles are being produced, it’s still a limited number, at just 1,500 globally. The extra cars are much appreciated by fans like me.
Well, at least the fans that are wealthier than I am will appreciate it; the Polestar is not a cheap car, coming in at over $60,000. In Canada, that price is just around $70,000, and you’re entering some dicey territory there. See, as fast and fun as the Polestar is, it’s not quite up to the level of a true Mercedes-AMG, Audi RS or BMW M product, all cars that are just a few thousand dollars more than this Volvo. Those cars boast more power, superb dynamics, and longstanding fan bases of their own, not to mention much better interiors.
The Verdict: 2017 Volvo V60 Polestar Review
However, those cars are common, while the Polestar is exclusive. Indeed, it’s far from perfect, but the driving experience is pure joy. The new running gear augments an already gorgeous and practical wagon, maintaining its high position in my mental rankings of awesome cars.
This review first appeared on autoguide.com