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2017 Volvo S60 Polestar review, track drive

14th Apr 2017 3:02 pm

The carmaker most famous for safety has launched a 367hp sports sedan. A drive at Kari Motor Speedway tells us what it’s like.

  • Make : Volvo
  • Model : S60

WHAT IS IT?

Polestar is certainly not a name most Indians will have heard before, not even the enthusiasts. It isn't quite as recognisable a name as M-sport, RS or AMG, but in essence, that’s what it is. It was Volvo’s motorsport arm – and had been for years, building touring race cars – but has only recently been acquired by Volvo as a sub-brand to make fast road cars. That too, at the moment, it only makes two – the S60 Polestar sedan, and its station wagon sibling, the V60. No prizes for guessing which one is being launched here.

The car certainly wants you to know it better. It’s only available in three colours – black, white and this signature Rebel Blue – and it really stands out with its 20-inch wheels and functional aerodynamic addenda that includes bumper and sill extensions, and a boot lip spoiler. It’s also very low to the ground, unlike the standard car; no ‘rough road package’ here, we get the S60 Polestar in the same spec as the rest of the world. All this really complements the S60’s sleek shape, which, for one of the oldest cars in the segment, still looks amazing after all these years.

On the inside, there’s quite a bit of carbon-fibre trim, a bit more chrome, blue contrast stitching and a lot of Alcantara trim everywhere – from the seats to the door pads to the steering wheel. Other than that, the cabin is standard S60 spec, which means it’s rather well-designed, but is also starting to show its age. The digital dials still look really cool, but the infotainment system is now decidedly last-gen, especially if you’ve ever used the new touchscreen in the S90 and XC90. Still, it’s a comfortable place to be, especially in the new, heavily bolstered front seats. Rather than being firm and punishing like on some sports sedans, they’re supportive, but also superbly plush.

What’s also worth noting is that though this is the performance variant, it’s still a Volvo, and so you get every single safety feature as the regular S60, including Blind Spot Warning and radar-guided emergency braking (which, hilariously, fired up a few times while we were going flat out on the track). It’s also got all-wheel drive, which is just as much about providing a safety net as it is getting the most out of the powertrain. Speaking of which…

 

WHAT'S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?

Those who have heard of Polestar will remember that the S60 was launched globally with a 3.0-litre in-line six. However, in the new version, as part of Volvo’s commitment to using only four-cylinder engines in its cars, is a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine. However, it is supercharged and turbocharged, and so it produces 367hp and 470Nm of torque, which Volvo says makes it good for 0-100kph in 4.7sec with launch control. Power gets through all four wheels via an eight-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox. Though it’s generally front-wheel biased on the road, engaging Sport mode via the gear lever shifts it to 50:50 and can then split more to either the front or rear as the conditions (including your throttle and steering inputs) demand.

As with most of these ‘twin-charged’ motors, the supercharger is there to eliminate lag at low revs, and the turbocharger takes over thereafter, once it’s spooled up. It’s a similar setup to what Volvo used in the 306hp S60 T6 (which this car replaces in the India model range, incidentally), except with a larger fixed-geometry turbocharger. It’s very effective, even when you aren’t doing full-bore starts, with very little hesitation off the line. Of course, the true test will come when pottering around with traffic out on the public road. And it has to be said, this motor makes a nice, unique sound. In Sport mode, flaps in the exhaust open up for a much louder rumble, and you always have the shrill shriek of the supercharger somewhere in the mix.

On our brief drive around Kari Motor Speedway in Coimbatore, power felt ample but not excessive, and we did get the sense that the four-cylinder motor was working hard to deliver the goods. For driving flat out, a highly strung four-cylinder simply can’t match the effortlessness of a higher-displacement six-cylinder motor, even though similar power outputs have been achieved. Still, it had to be said that power was on hand when required, especially while pulling out of corners.

The suspension is a very interesting thing indeed. The regular car’s entire setup has been scrapped for a set of high-performance adjustable Ohlins springs and dampers. However, unlike most modern cars, you can’t just switch from Comfort to Sport at the press of a button. These are manually, not electronically, adjustable, which means you have to open the bonnet to access the front struts, jack the car up to access the rear struts, and then twist a knob at each corner. This seems like a lot of tedium for most Indian buyers, but Polestar engineers assured us that the ‘comfort’ setup would be fine for most situations, and only hardcore track users need ever adjust them; and these are the types of owners that wouldn’t mind doing so. The reason for this setup, they say, is because Ohlins offered the ideal package for the car, but they also admit that cost, complexity and weight were added factors.

Again, a full road drive will be necessary to give you a proper verdict; on Kari’s bumpy surface, I was certainly being tossed about on the S60 Polestar’s stiffest ‘track’ suspension setup, with the 20-inch wheels certainly having played their part too. Body control in this setup is incredible and – going by the regular S60 – I even have a hunch that, in the comfort setup, it will not roll around like a boat. The other incredible thing is the steering. It’s electrically assisted, but for all the weight and feedback it gives you, at least in Sport mode, you’d swear it was hydraulic. The only dynamic drawback in the mix is that the car always feels heavy, both when you’re accelerating, and when you’re going through corners. But again, a drive on the road will validate this better.

 

SHOULD I BUY ONE?

The S60 Polestar, from this very brief glimpse, seems to be at a somewhat unique place in the pantheon of performance luxury sedans. The power and performance put it in the league of mid-range models like the Audi S5 and Mercedes-AMG C43, but the chassis setup is so serious and focussed, it is on par with (perhaps a little more hardcore than) the M3s and C63s of the world. And then the price – Rs 52.5 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) – puts it right back into conventional luxury sedan territory, and just about Rs 10 lakh more than the ‘regular’ petrol and diesel rivals. For the performance on offer, it’s incredible value. And remember, this, like all Volvos, is a full CBU import, and the company is only bringing 30 units to India this year. Though we’ll have to wait until we get it on the road to give you a complete review, as it stands now, the Volvo S60 Polestar is a performance bargain and a nice niche offering for those who want something different from the usual crop of German offerings.

GAVIN D’SOUZA

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