As I sat in the pit lane of the Auto Club Speedway, going over the instructions from Swedish Touring Car champion Thed Bjork, I had a moment to wonder what the heck I was doing. I was about to drive a Volvo wagon … on a racetrack. It sounds like a bad joke, but the reality is that this V60 is no ordinary car. It’s a Polestar.
The car is a compromise between performance and year-round livability.
Polestar may be a little-known name in the automotive world, but that should and will change. Founded in 1996 as a motorsport team, Polestar has had a shocking string of successes as Volvo’s motorsport partners.
That hasn’t been enough to satisfy Polestar, however. Its boss wants to make the company of just 45 employees into a force to challenge the likes Mercedes’ AMG and BMW’s Alpina. To this end, Polestar has become not just the motorsport partner of Volvo, but also now its official performance partner.
As I would soon learn, the motorsport-trained nut jobs at Polestar have turned the sensible and comfortable Volvo S60 and V60 into track taming, M3-fighting monsters that are still comfortable enough to handle the daily commute.
On the road
When the Polestar engineers and race team sat down to redesign the Volvo S60, they asked themselves what kind of car they wanted. Apparently, at heart I am a Swedish racing driver, albeit a particularly untalented one, because it turns out we want many of the same things.
The car is a compromise between performance and year-round livability. In short, this is not a car meant for one sunny Sunday a month, but for every grueling February commute. To achieve this, Polestar focused on getting the car to be as responsive as possible.
Other automakers, when faced with this conundrum, usually resort to backbreaking suspensions made from Wolverine’s bones and steering twitchier than a meth addict. Polestar has done something a bit cleverer.
The suspension is completely redesigned, starting with 80 percent stiffer springs and active dampers, like those on a Lamborghini Aventador … only more advanced (you read that correctly). These dampers not only help keep the wheels in contact with the road, they also compensate for the ride stiffness with blow-off valves. Combine that with what are without question the best seats in the business, and the car is extremely livable.
The brakes work very well, but the pedal is spongy and not communicative.
On the mountain roads of California, just outside Big Bear, I was given a chance to see what he meant when I was confronted by that most dreaded of all sights: a Toyota Camry doing 15 mph under the speed limit squarely blocking my path. After about a mile of the Camry ignoring numerous turnouts, my rage was building.
To judge by the sound coming from the exhaust, the V60 Polestar was angry, too. So, when a passing lane appeared, I was ready to try out every single one of those horsepower. Slapping the car into sport-mode, I blew by the Camry in a cloud of turbo noise and fury. With my foot welded to the floor, I awaited the moment that the acceleration would fall off. The inline-six had other ideas, however. Before I realized it I was going far faster than I care to admit and I had to get on the brakes … hard.
That revealed the Polestar’s one real weakness. As we at DT have discussed in previous reviews, the S60 and V60 lack brake feel, and while the Polestar has been fitted with massive Brembo brakes it, too, has the same problem. The brakes work very well, but the pedal is spongy and not communicative. That first time I put them to the test, I was honestly a little worried. The big Brembos came through fine in the end, but it wasn’t until I drove the car on the track that I was really able to get past the lack of feel.
On the track
At the Auto Club Speedway, I was really able to put the Polestar to the test in ways that would not have been safe or legal on the public roads. I am glad I did; there is a lot more to the car than its road-going fury.
V60 Polestar combines the raw thrill of motorsport with all the style and comfort that we have come to expect from Volvo.
On the track, this makes for some real fun. In tight corners it is possible to break the rear end loose. Thanks to the trick dampers and their blow-off vales I was able to use the curbs on a tight chicane to literally kick the back end of the car around. This was incredibly fun, but perhaps made me a bit overconfident in my driving ability, which wasn’t quite up to the next challenge.
Following the tight chicane was a sharp complex corner that caught out me out, but revealed an excellent quality of the car. Hammering along from the Chicane I braked far, far too late into the corner. I was off the racing line and still traveling too fast, in some cars this would have been a disaster. In the Polestar it led to a four-wheel skid as the car understeered. I was able to recover long before I reached the edge of the track simply by easing back on the controls and giving it a bit of throttle.
This simple sequence of corners showed off the real character of the Polestar. A car that can take drivers to the limit of their talent, but won’t try and kill them once they get there. The only “normal” car that I have been in that combines the same sort of ferocity and control is the Subaru WRX, but that is far less livable.
Maybe the most exciting thing, about this already very exciting car is that it is just the beginning. Volvo and Polestar have only brought 120 of these cars to the United States and nearly all of them are spoken for. Polestar reps say they are hoping to bring more over in the upcoming year, and that there will be more Polestar special editions coming. Both Volvo and Polestar hope that the tiny company can become the AMG to Volvo’s Mercedes. I hope so, too.
There is some room for improvement, but the Swedes are off to an excellent start. The Volvo S60 and V60 Polestars are distinctive and very exciting cars that combine the raw thrill of motorsport with all the style and comfort that we have come to expect from Volvo.
While it may be impossible to buy, as they’re all sold out, the loaded price of $60,000 for the V60 makes it a real alternative to the CLA 45 AMG or the BMW M3. For me, the choice is already obvious: Polestar.
- Fiercely powerful inline-six powerplant
- Unique styling
- Precise handling
- Comfortable and quiet cabin
- Poor brake feel
- Extremely limited availability
- 415-hp Polestar-engineered powertrains coming to 2020 Volvo V60 and XC60
- Google and Volvo helped Polestar craft its answer to the Tesla Model 3
- Electric luxury sedan face-off: Polestar 2 vs. Tesla Model 3
- Unrestrained by heritage, Polestar sets its sights on becoming a digital brand
- 2020 Volvo V60 Cross Country first drive