Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
Long before Volvo and Tom Walkinshaw Racing took the bold move of entering an estate-bodied car in the 1994 British Touring Car Championship, the words ‘Volvo’ and ‘estate’ had been forevermore espoused.
Prior to the BTCC effort, which yielded some promising results before rule changes effectively outlawed the car for 1995, Volvo estates were seen to be the preserve of antiques dealers and school runs. They were as safe, tough and reliable as they were dynamically uninspiring, but Volvo’s BTCC antics in the mid-Nineties as well as a series of hot T5-based versions did a lot to rid Volvo of that badge.
For over 20 years now, when Volvo has announced a performance version of any of its cars, those of us who crave performance and handling have been paying close attention. Nowadays the T5 moniker which preceded those cars has gone and been replaced with Polestar. Created in 1996 as Volvo’s motorsport partner, Polestar became Volvo’s official performance division. As such, the S60 and V60 were its first official road-going offerings.
There’s no question that the mighty Swedish marque has come a long way styling-wise from its early estates. Despite piling on the performance with the V60, Polestar has refrained from any shouty styling cues. In fact, fans of the ‘sleeper’ look – which gives away few clues as to a car’s performance – will appreciate the V60 Polestar’s treatment. The roof-mounted spoiler and rear diffuser apparently deliver all the downforce necessary to compliment the Haldex four-wheel-drive system and keep all four paws in contact with the blacktop as much as possible.
To help harness the V70’s performance, shorter springs have been fitted which hunker the car down over its Polestar Motorsport 20-in rims, behind which lurk some Polestar-branded brake calipers which are wrapped around some massive 371mm brake discs. Add to the mix the oh-so-subtle Polestar badging and it’s clear that Volvo preferred a look which requires the more well-informed petrol head to spot its enormous performance potential.
Having stuck for over a couple of decades with five-cylinder motors for its flagship performance cars, nowadays Volvo makes use of the unusual configuration of a transverse straight six. A swift ask around the GRR office to name other cars with a similar layout reveals the Wolseley Six as well as some earlier, less performance-focused Volvos and perhaps the Volkswagen VR6 motor (which may not be a ‘pure’ straight six, but resembles one more than it does a vee) but that’s about it.
It displaces three litres and, aided by a twin-scroll turbocharger, produces a peak of 345bhp at 5,250rpm and 369lb ft of torque at 3,000rpm. Seemingly every reviewer who’s tested one for acceleration has managed the 0-60mph sprint in under 5.5 seconds, although in terms of daily driving it’s the stout swell of mid-range torque that will make the greatest impression. Providing the rev counter is somewhere near the 3,000rpm mark, plenty of overtaking urge is served up with the merest flexing of one’s big toe on the throttle pedal. The accompanying straight-six snarl is a tad muted due to the compressed air it’s forced to breathe, but the song it sings is smoother than the off-beat five-potter.
This is a very fast estate car, but it has the handling to match the brawn. Turn-in is as sharp as you could wish for and the well-sorted (Ohlins) damping and springing allows for just the right amount of body roll. Those huge brake discs and powerful Polestar calipers are more than up to the task of scrubbing off all the speed you’ve piled on, and once the car has rotated mid-corner the Haldex four-wheel-drive hauls you out of the corner without any drama. Despite this stellar cornering prowess the ride and general behaviour around town is very good. Ultimately the six-speed transmission is perhaps not quite as sharp as it could be when brisk progress is required and inevitably some would prefer to trade some handling ability for a slightly less-firm ride, but aside from that the whole dynamic experience is whinge-free.
Only 750 V60 Polestars will be produced and just 125 of those are earmarked for the UK. It isn’t cheap at £49,995 and it isn’t quite perfect, but as a plausible rival to the atomic-powered load-luggers from Germany it does a fine job. Quite simply it’s faster, sharper and just plain better than every Volvo estate car that’s come before it.
Price of our car: £49,995
Photography by Ben Miles