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Volvo leverages the power of software to build more dynamic cars

Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

Showing there’s much more to in-car technology than an infotainment system and driving aids, Volvo has asked sister company Polestar to prepare a software update that makes its cars more dynamic to drive when the occasion calls for it. The firm started offering the upgrade as an extra-cost option on a majority of the cars in its portfolio in August.

Volvo designed the two modular platforms that underpin every recent addition to its lineup with front-wheel drive in mind. Buyers who want more traction can pay extra for all-wheel drive, and that’s where Polestar’s update comes in. It takes full advantage of the all-wheel-drive system’s variable torque distribution function to send more of the engine’s power to the rear axle. It stops short of making the car fully rear-wheel drive but it changes the way it drives; powering up the rear wheels sharpens the steering response, gives the driver better control while cornering, and improves traction when accelerating out of a corner.

Overall, the upgrade promises to make Volvo’s unique breed of luxury cars more engaging to drive without sacrificing an ounce of the comfort they’re known for.

“We are always fine-tuning the driving experience of Volvo cars, and this upgrade makes all-wheel drive both smoother and more dynamic,” Henrik Green, Volvo’s senior vice president of research and development, explained in a statement.

The car’s electronic brain automatically transfers more power to the rear axle when the driver puts the drive mode selector in dynamic, or when the driver turns off the electronic stability control (ESC) system. Other Polestar-developed upgrades — including a sharper throttle response, quicker gear changes, and an increased engine output — come together to create a Volvo that appeals to the heart, not just the mind. In the 1990s, achieving similar results would have required a long list of hardware changes. In 2018, it’s all done electronically.

At launch, Volvo’s all-wheel-drive optimization option is available on 90-series models (like the XC90 and the V90 Cross Country), 60-series cars (including the XC60 and the brand-new S60), and the XC40 (pictured), the company’s entry-level crossover.  It’s compatible with all models built on the CMA and SPA platforms since 2015, a company spokesperson told Digital Trends. Volvo hasn’t talked about pricing or market availability yet.

Update: added Volvo quote about compatibility.

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