I’m driving slowly through a busy and rather posh Cotswolds village and I’m grinning like an idiot. The car windows are down, sunroof open, all to let the tall buildings lining the main road bounce the spine-tingling sound of six cylinders back towards my ears. It might strike the well-to-do pedestrians as a little bit boorish but when an engine sounds this good you have to make the most of it, and believe me, this engine and exhaust combo sound great. Do you know what the most surprising thing about this scene is? I’m driving a Volvo estate!
It’s the Volvo V60 Polestar and it proves that forging an enviable reputation for safety doesn’t mean you have to forget how to have fun. Volvo have got previous for confounding expectations, with their flying 850 estates in the BTCC and the highly respected 850 T5 R that followed them in the ’90s. So we shouldn’t be asking why they’ve produced a fast’n’furious road-going estate, we should be asking why on earth it took them so long to produce another.
What Is The V60 Polestar?
Let’s start by sorting out what the V60 Polestar isn’t. Firstly, it shouldn’t be confused with the ‘Optimised by Polestar’ models that feature the same blue badge on their boot lid. This is much more than a light tickle of an ECU. This Polestar has been thoroughly fettled by Volvo’s Swedish partners, the same team who helped Thed Björk win the 2014 Swedish Touring Car Championship in a race-tuned S60.
You should also avoid thinking of the V60 Polestar as Volvo’s riposte to the likes of the Audi RS4, BMW M3, AMG C63 or Jaguar XF-R. They all outgun the 350bhp V60 Polestar by a considerable margin but they also cost a lot more than the Swede.
Picture it instead as a rival for an S4, 335i or XFS and suddenly the Polestar looks like decent value. Upgrade those rivals so that they match the Volvo’s spec and they’ll be more expensive while offering no performance gain. Plus, the Polestar is the only one that can boast Brembo stoppers, bespoke Öhlins dampers and a tuneful exhaust.
So what is the V60 Polestar? It’s a delicious combination of turbocharged 6-cylinder petrol engine with all-wheel drive and a chassis tuned to to satisfy keen drivers, served in a family-friendly estate body.
In The Beginning
The V60 Polestar starts life as a fully-loaded V60 R-Design with T6 AWD powertrain. Then it’s transported to the Polestar factory where they start pulling bits off and stripping the interior.
The full list of changes is long and extensive but in simple terms you end up with an engine remap, new twin-scroll turbocharger and intercooler, a 2.5-inch stainless steel exhaust system, 371mm ventilated front discs with six-piston Brembo calipers surrounded by stunning 20-inch Polestar wheels, Öhlins dampers, springs that are 80% stiffer than standard, and a gearbox and Haldex all-wheel drive system that have been recalibrated to be more responsive.
Not forgetting the interior with new alcantara and leather coverings that use blue stitching to match the Polestar logo. There’s also a bit of faux-carbon trim on the dash to make it look a bit more ‘sporty’.
The quality of the engineering and testing shows that this is much more than a simple aftermarket tuner job. It’s a surprise that the Polestar doesn’t come with a higher price tag.
Talking of price, the Volvo V60 Polestar is yours for £49,775. There are no options to add, simply choose one of the four colours (Rebel Blue, Ice White, Bright Silver or Black Sapphire) and sign on the dotted line.
OK, so nearly £50k is a lot for a Volvo that’s going to depreciate faster than a Rolf Harris watercolour but you do have rarity on your side. There are only going to be 750 Polestars in total, with just 125 coming to the UK. It’s going to be one of those unicorn cars and only those in the know will be able to spot one on the road and appreciate the difference.
That difference is significant. This Polestar steers, corners and accelerates like no other road-going Volvo, even that legendary 850 T5 R. The steering is incredibly sharp, responsive and, surprisingly for a Volvo, actually gives you some clues about how much grip is available. Mind you, the steering lock is also terrible, a consequence of those wider tyres, and three point turns become five pointers.
It’s the same transformation with the chassis. The Öhlins dampers gift it incredible body control, even over bumpy lanes where 1,800kg should get unruly, while those stiffer springs really decrease the amount of roll through corners. The downside is a ride that occasionally crosses over to the wrong side of firm. It’s forgivable from the driver’s seat as you get to enjoy the benefits but passengers won’t be so keen on the fidgety ride and occasional thump.
Give it some beans and you’ll find the Polestar isn’t troubled by 500Nm of torque. Even in the wet it can find grip by shuffling the power front to rear, but if you’re brave enough to disable the electronic nannies you’ll find that it will happily send most of its power to the rear wheels. However, it’s not enough to make it feel like a rear-driven car and as soon as you breach the high limits of the Michelin Pilot Super Sports it will default to understeer in true Volvo fashion.
The only weak-spot in the Polestar’s armoury is the gearbox. It makes use of a six-speed torque converting box, which seems delightfully old-fashioned in a world of dual-clutches and 9-speed automatics. It can’t be faulted for its smooth changes and relaxed nature in stop-start traffic but it can feel a little slow to react when you ask it to drop a cog or two.
However, move the lever to the right and you engage Sport mode, and that gives you full manual control via the wheel-mounted paddles. It won’t even change up for you at the red line so you need to have your finger ready when pulling out of junctions. It’s a big improvement on the standard V60 but it’s not as slick as you’ll find in an Audi or BMW.
Sport mode also opens the baffles on the exhaust and lets the Polestar unleash its inner Brian Blessed. It’s one of the best six-cylinder tunes on the market and avoids the fakery that seems to have become the norm. Instead of resonators or piping engine sounds through the speakers the Polestar relies on proper engine sounds and stainless steel tubing, and it sounds all the better for it. Never intrusive, even on the motorway, it gives the V60 Polestar huge amounts of character.
Comfortable Family Estate
The beauty of the Polestar is that it is still a Volvo V60. So that means it has a classy interior with some of the best seats in the business, creature comforts and safety kit aplenty, and comes with a reasonably-sized boot too.
Despite the more fidgety ride this is still a comfortable car in which to cover big distances. Adaptive cruise, active xenon headlights, heated seats front and rear and a fantastic sound system give the Polestar a real split personality. Gentle cruising with the family sat in comfort and a boot-load of gear one day, high-rev hooning on your favourite roads the next.
There’s other kit to enjoy too. Satellite navigation, Bluetooth, reversing camera and even a compass built into the rear-view mirror. The Polestar really benefits from the donor car’s kit and helps it to feel like a £50k car.
The only thing that I found to ruin the atmosphere was a horrible drone from the tyres at motorway speeds, especially on concrete roads. If I was in a position to buy a Polestar I’d be looking for alternative rubber before long.
Go for anything but Rebel Blue paint and you’ll have a fairly anonymous looking motor with genuine Q-car appeal. Eagle-eyed observers will spot the hunkered-down stance, those big 20-inch wheels and the fatter exhausts, but to the casual observer the only giveaway will be the V6 howl as you rapidly disappear into the distance.
There is the not-so-small issue of fuel economy. Officially the Polestar will do 27mpg but you’ll have to do some very gently cruising to manage that. Expect mpg figures in the low 20s in mixed driving and you won’t be too disappointed.
The Final Reckoning
I really enjoyed my week with the Volvo V60 Polestar and, economy aside, it’s a car I would dearly love to own. As a daily driver it’s superb, with more than enough power for the road and a chassis that almost succeeds in disguising its sensible roots.
As a safe and practical family wagon it’s also spot on. It has that familiar feeling of security that you get from a Volvo, with the knowledge that there’s technology at work to keep you safe and a super-strong passenger cell surrounding you should the worst happen. That counts for a lot when you’re trying to justify a purchase like this to your other half. It’s not a self-indulgence, you’re looking after your family’s safety!
To my mind the Volvo also scores points for not being the obvious choice. Recommendations for fast estates inevitably favour something from Audi or BMW, but the Polestar offers a genuine alternative. It comes back to Volvo confounding expectations. Now you can avoid the German clichés and buy something a little different without sacrificing your own enjoyment.
Volvo have set low sales targets for the V60 Polestar but I really hope they reach them. The market for big, fast, thirsty estates is small but if Volvo and Polestar can make this work then we can expect to see a lot more of this partnership in the future. Who knows, maybe a Polestar-tuned XC60 could go hunting the Porsche Macan? Or how about a V40 with 350bhp to take on the might of the A45 AMG or M135i? That really is an enticing prospect.[table “68” not found /]
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