Volvo absorbs Polestar for greater competitive heat
The irony of a carmaker from the mostly frozen reaches of Sweden demanding a hotter outcome from its models is not lost on Iain Robertson, who suggests that snaffling up Polestar is not a marriage made in Hell (which happens to be in Norway)!
As Alpina is to BMW and AMG is to Mercedes-Benz, Volvo has joined the ranks of the homemade supercar by buying its sometime tuning ally, Polestar. The Chinese-owned but stoically Swedish brand may have shunned media-created perceptions over its ‘premium’ branded status, for reasons that I applaud, but it is not averse to pitching a competitive line-up of models against those automotive rivals that comply with market perceptions.
To fill you in on the details, Polestar has been in existence since 1996, although its association with Volvo has been more recent. Although sales claims for the conjoined brands are conservative, which is typically Scandinavian, Polestar Racing, which made its name and reputation through racetrack successes, will retain its independence and focus on its competition aspirations, while the engineering division will develop new, high performance variants for Volvo, in a range that will grow from the present S60 and V60 models.
Rebel Blue is a paint colour that became synonymous with Polestar and possesses as much relevance as Bugatti Blue, British Racing Green (for Jaguar) and Rosso Corsa (for Ferrari). Yet, before you think that paint finish is a frippery, the links to motor racing are historically relevant and make the high performance models from those manufacturers stand out from their rivals. Motorsport will always be regarded as the ‘mosh-pit’ for automotive excellence and associations with it, especially of an ‘active’ nature, pay brand dividends.
Yet, Volvo and Polestar together create a somewhat more intense sense of purpose. After all, Volvo is renowned as a manufacturer of realistic, real world motorcars. Designed and developed in Sweden, they possess intrinsic qualities about which perceived rivals might only dream. There is no avoidance of the facts. Sweden is renowned for its attendance to environmentally focussed, high quality engineered, style-centric conservatism. The Swedes are direct, frank, independently minded and family-orientated. They tend not to crow about their achievements, as they prefer their produce to reflect their attainable ideals.
While I am certain that the 3.0-litre, six-cylinder T6 engine that powers the V60 Polestar and develops a most acceptable 350bhp is only an ‘enhanced’ specification that produces around 116bhp per litre, a specific figure that can be trounced royally by several hot hatches, it assumes a Rolls-Royce-like ‘adequacy’. Is there a need for more? In truth, no. The object of the car is to continue a Volvo tradition for ‘fast estates’, which reflects the 123GT and 850 T5 among others, albeit within modern and highly accessible parameters. After all, Volvo is not in the frame for producing cars of limited competence. This V60 needs to deliver on the frozen roads of the wintry north, as it will on smooth Teutonic tarmac, a summery drive on the parched and snaking routes of the Mediterranean, or the Third World damp roads of the United Kingdom.
That it does so is one almighty feather in its Scandinavian bobble-hat. Driving through a six-speed fully-automatic transmission (with augmented gearchange timing and paddle-shifts), it is not quite BMW M3 quick and Merc’s AMG A45 would eat it for breakfast but it is sustainable and is as easy to drive as any granny-mobile. In fact, it is the matching of race-bred components, which some observers might regard as ‘over-engineering’, that makes the V60 Polestar so beguiling. Rest assured, this car is a technological tour de force.
Its ‘chassis’ is tuned to perfection, complete with (Swedish) Ohlins dampers and springs. The six-pot brake callipers, developed in conjunction with Brembo, provide assured stopping capability. Not excessively raucous (more internal than external noise), the large-bore (2.5 in) stainless steel, Polestar branded exhaust system ensures speedy egress of waste gases from the engine, while the all-wheel-drive system provides traction regardless of weather, or surface conditions.
You might expect the ‘rubber-band’ 35-profile tyres, mounted on particularly attractive, Y-spoke, 20-inch diameter alloy wheels, to provide a bone-jarring ride. It is firm, of that there is no doubt, but the suspension has been designed to make the ride quality as compliant as it can be, within the constraints of its high performance potential. Boasting a 0-60mph time of just 4.7 seconds and a fairly typical, EC-agreeable, 155mph top speed limiter, the V60 is scarcely a slouch. I would venture to suggest that it is a zesty licence-loser, after testing it on a mix of winding lanes and A-roads around the South Cotswolds, where three-figure speeds appeared on the TFT speedometer with alarming alacrity.
Its speed-sensitive power steering reacts as swiftly as any focussed sports machine ought to and lane changes, even on questionable tarmac surfaces, are not so scalpel-sharp that you need to make minor corrections all the time, as you might in some equally sporting competitors’ models. The ‘feel’ behind the steering wheel is confidence inspiring and the surge of mid-range power, aided by a healthy 369lbs ft of torque, is relentless, when engaged, which makes overtaking a progressive delight. When the blue-illuminated gear knob is slid across the gate to ‘manual’ mode and the paddles are flipped up and down the ratios (without, thankfully, the nannying ‘auto-shift’ so prevalent in German products), the car assumes the hairier, yet eminently controllable character that Polestar warrants.
The driver’s seat is an exceptionally comfortable and surprisingly relaxing place, from which to conduct an automotive symphony of Brandenburgian proportions. All members of the orchestra fall to hand safely and readily. There exists a tautness to their delivery that is both thrilling and enchanting in equal measure. There are few surprises but the sheer excellence of reproduction is crystal clear. The V60 Polestar possesses a clarity of purpose that hefts it musically someway above the best performances from Germany, the UK, or even Japan.
The rest of the interior is equally focussed, with comfort uppermost in the designers’ intent. Yet, the boot is accessible, well-shaped, despite the virtual coupe-like profile of the car, and spacious. Okay. It does not fit into a load-lugging mould as the old 940, or even the eminently practical 850, but it is a lot roomier than some ‘lifestyle’ estates sold today and the easy-fold rear seats more than double the available space, should it be required. However, every element, from the soft-touch dashboard and door cards, to the blue highlight stitching of the seats and leather aspects of the trim, as well as the (pseudo) carbon fibre fascia panels embodies tangible premium quality, which goes some way towards amortising the fairly steep £49,785 price tag.
The car is loaded to the gunwales with every imaginable comfort, safety, information and entertainment packaging and it is the model’s relative rarity that will help it to retain a moderate time-served value but, apart from the in-demand XC90, Volvo is not exactly renowned for strident residuals. Mind you, these are early days in its market pitch, which might mean that the company can perform a minor miracle to effect a justification for the more than £20,000 hike over a standard and perfectly acceptable V60 Cross Country model. Financial aspects are always a consideration, whether acquiring a new model for business, or private, use.
However, the heart plays a vital role in making that choice. Were I to have access to a £50k pot, would I contemplate a V60 Polestar? Well, it would suit my needs. It does everything that it promises and delivers to a fault. I could live with one very easily but the parsimonist in me might just consider it to be a bridge too far. Mind you, as much as I covet one, a BMW M3, Merc A45 and Nissan GTR also fall someway short of what I consider to be realistic for my daily requirements.
Conclusion: Living with a V60 Polestar would be an automotive delight. It is not overstretched and feral, like some ‘breathed on’ performance models, despite offering a visceral nature to its performance curve. Yet, if you can live with its Official Combined 27.7mpg (a more realistic 20-25mpg) and CO2 rating of 237g/km, it would be no less costly than one of its aforementioned rivals. With only 125 examples to be sold this year (around 200 in a full year), it is its rarity that gives it a solid and emotive place in the specialist new car scene.