2013 Volvo S60 Polestar review (video) – Australian launch

When it comes to performance cars, Volvo has almost always stood back and been the quiet achiever, especially in the past few years, with understated, contemporary, fairly powerful yet modest offerings. The 2013 Volvo S60 Polestar changes that. It is the first bespoke Polestar production vehicle ever made, and Australia has been selected as the first market to sell it (so far).

2013 Volvo S60 Polestar Australian launch

While performance Volvos are hardly rare, the company is looking to take on much more serious sectors of the market with this new S60. And to do so, Volvo enlisted the help of its official motorsport partner; Polestar. The team of just 35 employees have worked tirelessly over the past 12 months to create the car, and potentially the foundations of what could be an all-new era for the Swedish company.

It all started in 2006 when Volvo begun offering customers of its higher-end turbo models a tune-up option, an option of which is still available today. With the reliability and piece of mind of a factory-backed warranty, the option involves a Polestar-optimised engine computer to boost power and torque. This then provides a more thrilling drive, but, in a way that doesn’t ruin the respected driveability and economy of Volvo products.

The option package has been highly successful for Volvo in Australia. A local dealer recently told us that many top-variant buyers – T5 and T6 and so on – are selecting to go one further by ticking the Polestar option box.

As an extension of that, Polestar and Volvo Australia decided to do something a little bit crazy, and a little bit special for the fans and for the enthusiastic engineers within Volvo and Polestar. Enter the S60 Polestar. Just 50 will be made, derived from the astonishingly quick S60 Concept car.

Although the company says it isn’t looking to take on any specific competitors with the new S60, during the Australian launch in Brisbane, specifications and figures were presented to media stacked up against vehicles like the Audi S4, Lexus IS F, and the two German hot shots (the BMW M3 and Mercedes C 63 AMG). Most of these rivals are more powerful, however, the S60 is being pitched as “a driver’s car for all weather conditions”.

Prices are steep for the special edition, starting at $109,950. For that sort of cash, you are getting a product that’s quite exclusive compared with its nearest competition, and a few overseas holidays cheaper than those as well.

2013 Volvo S60 Polestar – THE SPECS

Engine: 3.0-litre turbo inline six
Output: 257kW@5700rpm / 500Nm-plus@2800-4750rpm
Transmission: Six-speed auto
Drive type: Revised Haldex all-wheel drive by Polestar
Wheels: F and R: 19×8.0, 235/40
ANCAP: Five stars (36.34 out of 37)

Kerb weight: 1684kg
Power-to-weight: 6.5:1 (kg:kw)
Official fuel economy: 10.2L/100km
Economy during test: 14.5L/100km
Fuel capacity/Type: 67.5L/91 RON (min)
Power efficiency: 25.2kW:L/100km
0-100km/h as tested: 4.9 seconds
Priced from: $109,950

2013 Volvo S60 Polestar rear

2013 Volvo S60 Polestar – THE PACKAGE

The S60 Polestar is based on the fully loaded S60 T6 R-Design, adding lots of unique touches, such as a bodykit with proper aerodynamic enhancements that reduce lift and increase downforce at high speed, as well as a whole host of mouth-watering mechanical tweaks that turn the otherwise suave Swede into a cracking and properly quick sports sedan.

The engine is based on the 3.0-litre turbo inline six ‘T6’ engine. It comes with a larger Borg Warner turbo, a larger intercooler, a Polestar tuned engine computer, and a 2.5-inch full-flow exhaust system with 3.5-inch tailpipes.

As a result, the raspy unit produces 257kW of power and over 500Nm of torque, adding 33kW and over 60Nm to the regular T6 figures.

Aside from the engine enhancements, the Polestar special edition comes with a very comprehensive sports suspension setup including Ohlins 20-click adjustable dampers front and rear. There’s also 76 chassis revisions underneath, such as new bushes, larger sway bars, springs which are a whopping 80 per cent stiffer, and a carbon fibre front strut tower brace.

Other major mechanical enhancements include uprated brakes with Polestar calipers clamping 336mm front and 302mm rear discs, as well as a tweaked AWF21 six-speed auto transmission. As much as we would love to see it, there is no manual option.

As for the rest of the car, the Polestar version uses the same interior as the S60 T6 R-Design, with comfy leather sports seats, Volvo’s modern ‘floating dash’ layout with a very user-friendly set of instruments and controls, and the same 380-litre boot capacity.

Standard equipment includes Volvo’s Premium 10-speaker sound system and satellite navigation, a seven-inch colour interface, auto wipers and headlights, and the full suite of safety appointments; Driver Alert System (Lane Departure Warning, Active High Beam Control, Forward Collision Warning and Road Sign Information), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) and Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake, and Queue Assist with Pedestrian Detection.

The only main option is an electric sunroof, which will set you back $2650.

2013 Volvo S60 Polestar interior

2013 Volvo S60 Polestar – THE DRIVE

So, is this a ‘driver’s car for all conditions’? And, can you really feel the difference between this and the top spec S60 T6 R-Design which is around $40k cheaper? To answer those questions we first have to address a few points.

This is Polestar’s first car. The team, including Polestar Swedish Touring Car driver Robert Dahlgren, endured countless testing hours to find the right balance with the car. Volvo has openly said that it is not about outright power. Instead, the engineers focused on overall balance and calibration.

With this in mind, the S60 is subtle when standing next to its nearest rivals. It does offer superior performance in some areas, and although the enhancements, on the face of it at least, may seem discreet over the T6 R-Design, you can definitely notice and appreciate the changes going on from the moment you get in.

Fire up the engine and you’ll be greeted with the sweet sounds of a cheerful yet anxious inline six breathing through that deep, roaring 2.5-inch exhaust. It sounds fantastic, and unmistakably ‘tuned’ in nature. Give the throttle a gentle pat and the revs become snappy, and eager to climb right up past 6000rpm. So far so good, then.

The S60 Polestar feels and behaves just the T6 when simply driving around the city traffic and suburban streets. Sure, there is more baritone in the exhaust, even on idle, but it’s well mannered and it respects the neighbours.

The gearbox, the brakes, and the engine are friendly and far from intimidating, and you don’t need a neck and arms of steel to feed it through stop-start conditions. This kind of calm nature is an important characteristic that is etched into all Volvo vehicles, and is likely going to be welcomed with open arms by its customers.

As a first for a mainstream production car in this segment (that we are aware of?), the Ohlins suspension is adjustable in two ways, with 20 options. The setting that was used during our test drive was dead in the middle for the front and rear. We found it to be supple enough for ordinary roads, but also firm and supportive enough for energetic driving styles.

The best part about it, if you don’t like one setting, chances are, you can easily find a setting that suits your preference. Both the front and rear dampers have a gold knob – on the top for the rear and on the bottom for the front – which requires a one-hand twist to toggle between the 20 different damper rates.

The suspension is one the best setups we’ve encountered. It really stands out, not only in this class, but across all levels of factory automotive suspensions. It also does a superb job of keeping the S60 flat and focused around corners, despite being capable of soaking up some of Australia’s pock-filled roads.

In terms of grin-inducing performance, the engine power offers incredible force, propelling the S60 from 0-100km/h in just 4.9 seconds. This is partly thanks to the flawless Haldex all-wheel drive system, which simply does not let any wheel spin away torque, no matter how much pressure you put it under, but also thanks to a launch control system. Yep, launch control on a Volvo. The system works by allowing the driver to build revs and turbo boost while resting on the brake pedal and accelerator at the same time. Then, it’s just a matter of stepping off the brake to be rocketed towards the horizon.

Disappointingly, every aspect of the S60 Polestar is enhanced to a level playing field throughout the car, except for the brakes. They are uprated over the regular T6 items, but not upped high enough in our opinion. This is a bit of a shame as the rest of the car is so very well balanced.

Under normal driving conditions, including the odd emergency stop, the brakes work as they should. They won’t exactly catapult your eyeballs from their sockets with savage deceleration and g-force, like the multi-piston/cross-drilled setups do on rival vehicles, however, under enthusiastic driving conditions, conditions of which the rest of the car has been built and engineered so wonderfully for, the brakes aren’t an equal match. They tend to overheat pretty soon into an active driving stint, with some fade and dropping of the pedal.

The only other area that could be improved is the six-speed auto transmission. Polestar boss Hans Baath told us during the Australian launch event that he and the team would love to provide a six-speed manual option like what is seen in the concept version. Due to the lack of market demand for manuals, he said it simply wouldn’t be a good business case to go down that track.

It’s not that the auto transmission fails in any way. It does fall short of providing an exciting driver experience though. There’s no flappy paddles, which would boost interaction and driver involvement considerably we think, and the ‘box doesn’t change gear particularly fast. With a more advanced unit, we could see 0-100km/h times fall even lower.

2013 Volvo S60 Polestar driving

2013 Volvo S60 Polestar – THE TRACK

During the Australian launch event, we were fortunate enough to be given some time on the Lakeside racing circuit near Brisbane.

For a car that’s relaxing and fuss-free on the road, the S60 Polestar is surprisingly capable on the track. Turn in is sharp enough to be active and playful, while traction and sheer corner-exit acceleration is brilliant.

With such a high level of traction on hand, you can execute turns at high speeds and jump onto the power very early without much drama. This gives you lots of confidence in the car’s ability.

The rear dampers were firmed up for our track stints, and you can feel the difference from the road setting. With the rears a bit tighter, purposely shifting the weight around is easier and you can get back onto the power quite early. In these conditions, you can feel the rear of the car being pivoted around the corner, almost like a rear-wheel drive.

Perhaps the most enjoying part of the car on the track is the engine torque. It gathers speed so effortlessly, bringing the revs up from low in the range with no effort. Because of this, you often find it’s more suitable to hold off on downchanging, instead letting the engine pull through in third gear as opposed to second, for example. Down a shortened main straight, we were nudging 180km/h with no trouble.

About the only letdown on the track is the brakes. Remarkably, they didn’t completely overheat and give up. The pedal drops noticeably, but the stopping performance remains decent. If it only had some multi-piston calipers with larger discs, the car would be an absolute weapon on the circuit.

In saying that, we can’t help but wonder how many of the 50 buyers will actually take the car to a track day. Still, it is good to know most of the package has been prepared for such duties.

2013 Volvo S60 Polestar-Lakeside QLD

2013 Volvo S60 Polestar – THE VIDEO

2013 Volvo S60 Polestar – THE VERDICT

For us, we would have liked to see better brakes, as mentioned, and a more engaging transmission. Even though Volvo is probably never planning to take on the BMW M3 and Mercedes-Benz C 63 directly with this car, in some areas, particularly from point to point through a greasy mountain road, the S60 is without doubt a quicker package. And for that reason, it’s a determined contender that deserves to be capable, equally in all areas.

Volvo Car Australia managing director Matt Baird said during the launch that there is room for further tweaks. Without going into detail he said additional option packages may be introduced a bit further down the track. If that’s the case, we could see things like uprated brake options, engine power boosts, and possibly even a manual transmission making their way onto the option’s list.

The S60 Polestar is a great effort by Volvo and Polestar in the performance car segment, especially for an initial step. The car manages to take Volvo’s core qualities and characteristics, and blends them seamlessly with the strong motorsport heritage of Polestar.

Aside from it being an exceptionally quick sedan, the exclusivity alone makes it a very attractive proposition in our opinion. Who knows, it maybe a good investment opportunity – a collectable for the future?

– Excellent Ohlins adjustable suspension setup
– Cool and contemporary design, inside and out
– Despite being a performance model, it still embraces Volvo’s spirit in safety and technology
– Tractable, versatile, and useable engine power and torque
– Not bad fuel economy for a performance machine; official 10.2L/100km

– Brakes aren’t up to the level of performance of the engine and suspension
– ‘Conventional’ six-speed auto is a little boring
– Rather expensive for a Volvo?

2013 Volvo S60 Polestar Australian launch-Lakeside

2013 Volvo S60 Polestar – THE COMPETITORS

Audi S4
3.0-litre supercharged V6 – 245kW-440Nm – 8.1L/100km – 1705kg – $120,400

Lexus IS F
5.0-litre V8 – 311kW-505Nm – 11.4L/100km – 1700kg – $126,800