What makes a great car? This is the question that the engineers at Polestar wanted to answer when they began the journey for their first production vehicles for consumer use. During the past six-years, the answer became quite simple. The engineers would build a car for people like themselves. With each concept car, starting with the Polestar C30, the engineers applied their lessons learned to the next. As a result, today’s limited edition S60 and V60 Polestar models are the best Volvo enthusiast vehicles to date.
Diehard Volvo 850R and P2 R owners have been disappointed by the lack of a true R halo vehicle. The R models offered drivers a more raw and visceral experience when compared to other trim levels. Right or wrong, the R-Design models were not accepted as true successors to the Rs even though they are better vehicles by almost every measure sans Brembo brakes and a manual transmission. The partnership with Polestar creates a modern raw experience that will delight R enthusiasts. Until a Volvo branded R returns, Polestar will sufficiently entertain driving thrill seekers.
For those not familiar, the Polestar models start with the R-Design offering and add roughly 240 new part numbers to the vehicle. The Polestar specific parts will not be available over the parts counter at your local Volvo dealership. Volvo and Polestar have setup stringent verification and validation processes to ensure the Polestar parts are for Polestar vehicles and not sold to enhance other Volvo models. After vigorous debate internally, the decision was to focus on complete vehicles and optimized vehicles (tunes). With continued success, they may consider accessory parts such as an exhaust or suspension package (springs and sway bars). Below is a breakdown of the major changes for the 2015.5 Polestar S60 and V60:
Upgrades include modifications made to increase rigidity of the chassis to provide for the 80% stiffer springs relative to the standard S60 R-Design. These changes combined with the tailored high performance Öhlins shock absorbers and 20” Polestar wheels wrapped with Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires result in superior grip and a precise, yet comfortable, driving experience. Unlike the electronic 4C shocks of the P2 Rs, the Öhlins offer a blow-off valve that releases pressure at a much faster rate on rough surfaces. The ride quality difference was noticeable better when compared to our 2006 Project V70R with 19-inch wheels in Sport or Advanced modes.
The brake system has undergone substantial modifications. Most visible are the 371mm ventilated front discs and six-piston Brembo calipers. The larger brakes require a minimum 19-inch wheel. Polestar will offer a winter wheel and tire package ready to mount. The brakes delivered massive stopping power on the track and coming down the mountain.
The six-cylinder turbo-charged T6 engine went through extensive development with a new twin-scroll turbo and intercooler to produce 345 HP at 5250 rpm and 369 lb-ft at 3000 rpm. The engine breathes through a 2.5-inch full-flow stainless steel exhaust system with 3.5-inch tips, generating an intoxicating symphony of sound while driving in Sport mode above 4000rpm.
The six-speed automatic transmission includes the new 60-series paddle shift system that together with the Polestar developed Haldex four-wheel drive programming takes the car from 0-60 in just 4.7 seconds and to a limited top speed of 155 miles per hour. The transmission programming, all-wheel drive and traction control systems have been recalibrated to maximize grip and deliver an active driving experience. Sport mode unleashes the recalibrations and optimal enjoyment for enthusiasts. Even though the Geartronic transmission shows its age when compared to modern dual-clutch competitors, it performs extremely well and the paddle shifters with Polestar’s unique programming make it the best iteration to date.
The interior offers unique Polestar details on the steering wheel, seats and more. The Nubuck textile (a synthetic fabric similar to suede) mixes with leather the same as the R-Design models except for the blue stitching and embossed Polestar logo. The center armrest is also Nubuck textile. The steering wheel has an insert of synthetic suede circling the front inner front side providing improved grip and feel. Previously, Volvo integrated a simple suede insert at the top of the 1998 V70R steering. The suede feels good while improving grip. The center console’s unique carbon-fiber pattern works well on the center stack.
From the exterior, the aggressive 20-inch wheels and sculpted front winglets are the most visible changes. Polestar claims wind tunnel testing demonstrates improved down force from the new rear spoiler and diffuser. Looking closer the subtle details emerge such as the black window trim and mirror caps. The addition of a side skirt would further differentiate the Polestar model profile. For those not intimately familiar with the Polestar models, the exterior changes may be too subtle to notice. In recent years, Audi used similar muted design cues on the S4 and while this may help keep manufacturing costs lower, discerning buyers may want greater differentiation with these performance vehicles.
The drive day began with a Volvo and Polestar product overview presentation to journalists. After a few questions, we departed downtown Riverside, CA for a drive up the mountain to Big Bear Lake. This part of southern California offers amazing scenery and a variety of roads and surfaces to put the Polestar cars through their paces. We started on Riverside Freeway (CA- 91) and after a few miles, it was evident that the large 20-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sports wanted to follow the pronounced grooves in the concrete and there was a noticeable tug on the steering wheel. This would be annoying in day-to-day grooved freeway driving. On asphalt these tangential vibrations and trailing were not observed. The varied road surfaces produced noticeable differences with the noise frequencies generated with the concrete being the most pronounced. Some early owners asked us to identify possible noises emanating from the passenger side foot well area. The only noticeable sounds were that of the tires. As a result, depending on your experience with performance tires, you may or may not notice the harmonics of the Michelin Pilot Super Sports.
On the freeway, the Polestar models were more comfortable than I expected. When I read the suspension had 80% stiffer springs, I was expecting a very harsh ride. I was pleasantly surprised with how compliant the suspension performed over potholes, expansion joints and other surface imperfections. This is a suspension and wheel combination that an enthusiast owner could live with on a daily basis. I also noticed that the speed at which I thought I was driving, 70mph to 75mph was actually closer to 85mph because the interior is still typical Volvo-quiet in “D”, normal Drive mode. To “fix” this, I entered “S”, Sport mode, and then manually downshifted out of 6th gear to provide a wonderfully aggressive audible reminder. Unfortunately, one of the journalists who experienced a similar sensation was pulled over and ticketed just a few miles down the road on 91, essentially killing his Polestar buzz for the rest of the day.
We made our way to Route 38 and entered the San Bernardino National Forest beginning our accent to Big Bear Lake. In spots, the road was challenging and offered variety of turns from off camber, decreasing radius and a few that were just blind right handers where I hoped there was not a stopped vehicle or bicyclist in the middle of the road. Overall the route highlighted the engineering that went into Polestar’s chassis configuration for real-world driving. There remains a little bit of lean that a larger rear sway bar would help reduce but on the whole, the adjustments to the Öhlins shocks are all an owner may need. From the factory, the shock settings are very good for the road but for the track, a firmer setting would improve handling. After a delicious lunch at The Pines Lakefront, located at the edge of Big Bear Lake, we descended the mountain on an equally curvaceous Route 18 and made our way to the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA. If you are in Southern California and have an afternoon to explore, I highly recommend this drive.
At the track we met up with the Polestar team with driver and STCC champion Thed Björk. Over the years, I have met a few professional drivers and engineers that had an inflated sense of self-importance and arrogance. This was quite the opposite of my interactions with Thed and the other members of the Polestar team who were very gracious, humble and accommodating. I shared lunch, dinner and drinks with the Polestar team and they are true car enthusiasts and normal guys who happen to travel the globe presenting and driving cars. This made the press launch and track experience all the more enjoyable. There were five journalists in my wave, so we had several hours to try both the S60 and V60 around the Auto Club Speedway course designed by the Polestar team.
After a slow lap with Thed explaining the course layout, I took the wheel and he offered some great advice after my first lap. While I was smooth through the turns, he told me to drive deeper with harder braking. Those adjustments allowed me to better set the S60 for maximum power off the apex. The paddle shifters felt great and delivered very quick shifts at redline. I used second and third gear through most of the course, hitting fourth for a brief moment prior to a quick left/right chicane and the main straight. Unlike the public roads, the course at the speedway highlighted a couple of things. The Michelin Pilot Sport tires delivered an incredible amount of grip and the Öhlins damper settings should be stiffer. Entering and exiting the chicane well over 80mph revealed a bit of sway in the body more so than on the curvy mountain roads. In Sport mode with the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) “disabled” via the Sensus Connect interface, the additional rearward bias of the Haldex system provided sufficient rotation under power to make the runs fun. After several laps on my own, I climbed in the back of a S60 while Thed was taking another journalist around the track.
Hitting 102 mph down the short straight the journalist in the front seat seemed a little unnerved that Thed had not lifted off the throttle with the impending sharp right hand turn. Personally, I was fixated on how attractive the frameless review mirror appeared. Volvo updated the rearview mirror for the 2015.5 model year. The shape is elegant and unobtrusive. But I digress; we entered the turn at 54mph thanks to the massive stopping power of the Polestar/Brembo 371x32mm six-piston brakes with HP1000 brake pads. Some who have driven the Polestar models in Europe complained of brake fade, I did not notice anything that caused concern. There were five journalists and Thed driving these vehicles hard for several hours with minimal cool down time. The brakes and tires continued to deliver lap after lap.
Thed drove the Polestar cars harder than any of the journalists but he maintained a relaxed composure and carried on casual conversation as we entered and exited turns. While the ESC was disabled, when Ted pushed the S60 to its limit, I could feel the electronics kicking in as the rear started to oversteer. Being in the vehicle while he drove solidified my assertion that this is the best performing Volvo vehicle to date and more than enough braking and handling for the majority of owners. As for power, enthusiasts will always want another 100hp but the 345hp moves the Polestar models with a sense of authority on public roads. I believe there is more power available from this particular Polestar engineered engine configuration but no one at the event would confirm or deny if the blame should be directed at the sun-setting Aisin-Warner six-speed Geartronic transmission or EPA ratings and emissions specifications that ultimately limited higher ratings.
The Polestar S60 may not be an ideal track car but it will certainly give your BMW and Audi friends a run for the money on track days. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the wheel. The suspension is very compliant on and off the track. I would dial the suspension a few clicks stiffer for track use but the factory settings are quite good and since most will not be driving on the track I doubt there would be a need for change. The S60 rear adjustments take about ten minutes and can be done at the track. V60 owners will take a little longer at the rear and Volvo is working on a solution to accelerate the adjustment process.
The answer to “What makes a great car?” is different for each driver. As a Volvo owner for more than 15 years, to include several R models, the Polestar cars set a new performance benchmark for Volvo. If you are shopping for a well-equipped R-Design and are debating whether or not spend a little more for the Polestar model, consider your potential weather conditions. Your winter wheel options are currently limited to a Polestar specific 19-inch wheel and tire package. We plan to test fit our 19-inch HEICO Volution VIIs to inspect clearances when the Polestar S60 enters the East Coast press fleet. I am certain Tire Rack and other vendors will identify alternative winter wheel packages to clear the massive Polestar front brakes.
If you have never owned a performance-oriented vehicle, a few of the Polestar enhancements may catch your attention. The exhaust system, especially in Sport mode is intoxicating but for those with sensitive ears it may appear loud. Polestar did a great job with the exhaust and most Volvo enthusiasts will love it but it may not be ideal for everyone. It is not intrusive nor is there a drone. The Michelin tires were noticeable when rolling across the concrete highways around Riverside, CA. Additionally, they had a tendency to follow grooves in the road surface.
The V60 is a smaller wagon than the P2 V70R and owners hauling large dogs may find the cargo space limiting. However, the V60 does offer enough room over the S60 to comfortably fit a set of four tires and tools for weekend track days. Years from now, the only noticeable maintenance cost beyond that of a S60/V60 R-Design will be with the exclusive Öhlins suspension components. Expect to pay a bit more for shocks and struts, similar to the 4C and Nivomat units on various other Volvo vehicles.
The limited edition Polestar S60 and V60 are available now in North America and they are wickedly fun. The price point is competitive in the U.S. market and the V60 is one of a handful of premium performance wagons offered on this side of the pond. The Polestar engineered and tuned six-cylinder T6 is the last opportunity to own a new six-cylinder powered Volvo. For enthusiasts on the fence, this is the Volvo worthy of replacing your Sonic Blue Metallic with Atacama leather P2 R.
The Polestar S60 and V60 deliver the best from Volvo for performance minded drivers. The Polestar cars are not just unique and fun, each is a fantastic Volvo and that is what makes a great car.
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