2015 Volvo S60 Polestar

Polestar Performance has been around since 1996, but until recently, it only did two things: manage Volvo motorsports operations and run a specialist consumer-facing side that built concept cars and boosted Volvo's turbocharged production cars by 15 to 60 horsepower. Five years ago, it fulfilled its long-held desire to engineer an actual production car, first creating the C30 Polestar Performance Concept, a showcar that led to the C30 Polestar Limited Edition.

That foray led to the berserker, 508-horsepower 2013 S60 Polestar Concept that Auto Motor und Sport called "a hard slap in the face to the Germans," and that model led to the limited-edition S60 Polestar production car just for Australia, a car reviewers swooned for, with one comparing its chassis finesse to the Ferrari 458 Italia.

All of which is to say, Polestar has a good start for a motorsports and tuning company to make good on its production car dreams. The 2015 Volvo S60 Polestar and V60 Polestar keep that momentum going, and beautifully at that.

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The Polestar-fettled C30 arose from the question, "What would happen if a race team got to design a road car?" These latest two blue devils came from a brief charging the division with developing not a race car for the street, but a street car with racing overtones: a car with precision handling that delivers driving involvement and driver confidence, one able to be exploited in all weather and all seasons on all roads.

The Öhlins dampers are where the magic lives.

Both sedan and wagon start with the T6 R-Design trim as donor vehicles. Changes have been made throughout the car, but the heart of the matter – or better yet, the four legs of the matter – are the Eibach springs coiled around Öhlins dampers. The springs are 80-percent stiffer than the standard units, their fitment requiring additional stiffening of the bodyshell. That's done with a carbon-fiber-reinforced brace spanning the front shock towers, a slender piece of engineering so quietly integrated into the engine bay that it escaped our notice until someone pointed it out. Our American eyes were expecting a big ol' chunk of metal decorated with perfect welds and half-inch bolts because, well, America. But Polestar is not just a motorsports company, it's a Swedish one, which probably makes it four times more likely to not be flashy.

The Öhlins dampers are where the magic lives. Polestar told us that these two models are the first non-supercars to be fitted at the factory with Öhlins (the Lamborghini Aventador employs them), and the only car to use dampers with Öhlins' Dual-Flow Valve technology. Originally developed for racecars, a tiered valving system allows the damper to absorb big blows without letting the chassis get unsettled, as it might when a wheel hits a steep kerb at speed. The dual-flow bypass means that it has a second valve that works for rebound, so after the wheel gets beyond the bump, the damper gets it quickly down on the ground again. The capabilities mean Polestar can fit the stiffer springs and contain body roll while maintaining suppleness, and engineers told us they chose this set of purely mechanical dampers because they couldn't find any electrically controlled dampers capable of responding as well to really high-frequency bumps.

2015 Volvo S60 Polestar

Polestar cars receive 350 hp at 5,250 rpm and 369 lb-ft from 3,000 to 4,200 rpm.

From the factory, the dampers come on their medium setting, but can be adjusted to be ten stops firmer or ten stops softer. The adjustment knob can be turned with your fingers, but only up front; you can lie on your back beside the front wheels and reach the knobs just behind them, but the rear dampers require some finagling to get to, so Polestar recommends taking your car to the dealer for tweaking the aft quarters.

The turbocharged, inline six-cylinder gets detail and software changes to add a bit more power and improve drivability. Instead of the standard R-Design's 325 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 354 pound-feet of torque from 2,100 to 4,200 rpm, Polestar cars receive 350 hp at 5,250 rpm and 369 lb-ft from 3,000 to 4,200 rpm. The boost comes courtesy of, literally, extra boost: the twin-scroll turbo capable of 1.2 bar is fitted with a larger compressor wheel and the intercooler is 13 millimeters deeper.

The resultant sound and fury runs to the rear through a 2.5-inch stainless full-flow exhaust system with twin 3.5-inch tail pipes. Get above 4,000 rpm and a bypass valve shuts the muffler out of the proceedings and things go purposefully gruff out back.

2015 Volvo S60 Polestar

The model-specific 20-inch Polestar wheels wear 245/35ZR20 Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber all around – themselves enough to let the world know this is no ordinary Volvo – and customers in harsher climates can opt for 19-inchers and three snow-tire choices. The great-looking wheels hide ventilated 14.6-inch discs in front with six-piston Brembos, and 11.8-inch discs sit in back with single-piston calipers and Brembo pads. The rear brakes aren't changed from the R-Design car because, cue the engineer, "We didn't need to." If they aren't enough advertisement, though, sharper aerodynamics provided by the new front bumper with splitters on the corners and the rear spoiler and diffuser will leave no doubt.

The Polestars' mpg numbers are unchanged from the standard Volvos.

It often doesn't take more than a few hundred meters of southern Swedish B-roads to expose omissions in engineering, and in our two days of hard driving, we found that the S60 and V60 to be almost free of them. As much as we enjoy the barking ball of anger that is a high-horsepower supercar, we enjoy it just as much when we find a car with half the power that knows how to use everything it's got. The engineering tasks are just as difficult, albeit in different ways that are equally worthy of respect. Said another way, you can throw a lot of resources at cars that are paid for with wire transfers from trust funds and investment-house accounts, but you've got to be just as clever – if not more so – to build a car that's equally fun yet priced for a crowd that considers APR more important than sheer HP.

Polestar software provides throttle mapping with more linear power delivery, and the company has put in many hours honing the software that controls the six-speed Aisin Warner paddleshift automatic and Haldex all-wheel drive. In Drive, the transmission seeks the highest gear in order to preserve fuel economy, so the Polestars' mpg numbers are unchanged from the standard Volvos. From behind the wheel, the only giveaway that you're not driving a standard car is the noise coming from that wide rubber as it trammels coarse Swedish road surfaces.

2015 Volvo V60 Polestar Launch Control | Autoblog Short Cuts


Shift over to Sport and make either car prove itself, though, and the tires can't be heard over the fun you're having. Quicker shift times and reflexes mean the gearbox will drop down as many gears as necessary in order to answer the need for speed, Sport mode gets the Haldex diff to split the torque 50/50 front and rear and a gyro works with various sensors to hold lower gears through turns.

The Polestars' 350 hp is a perfect amount to do what you want a driver-centric B-road car to do, yet it's not enough to get you in major trouble unless you forgot to pack your brain.

These overall tweaks and the massive acumen of that uprated suspension are what gets things all working beautifully – both the S60 and V60 are balanced in every way they need to be. What's more, Polestar has made its changes without increasing the weights of the donor cars: the S60 weighs 3,893 pounds and has a 60/40 front-to-rear weight balance (note: the rest of the specs in our Vital Stats box above reflect the sedan), and the V60 weighs 4,043 pounds and has a slightly better weight balance because 120 of its additional pounds are in the back. Of course, 350 horsepower isn't a lot for a performance car that hovers around the two-ton mark; the current BMW M3 with the dual-clutch transmission has 425 hp and weighs 3,595 pounds, or for a more unlikely comparison, the 2015 Chrysler 200 we recently drove has 295 hp, but only weighs 3,473 pounds.

The Polestars' 350 hp is a perfect amount to do what you want a driver-centric B-road car to do, yet it's not enough to get you in major trouble unless you forgot to pack your brain. The suspension's ability to keep each wheel on the road makes it feel like every last equine has its hooves down. Pounding, lumpy surfaces don't send the car skittering across the pavement, and combined with the Haldex tuning, the grip coming out of turns is phenomenal. The electrically assisted power steering doesn't call attention to itself with dead spots or artificial feel, and brake pedal feel and actual stopping performance – aided by a larger brake booster and new main cylinder – never jolts the driver into some disappointing reality, even on twisty foreign roads with the occasional kinked-up surprise just over a blind crest. These aren't a slacker's sports sedan or wagon, as you don't get through a stretch of bends and think, "That was easy." If you get it right, you get to the end and think, "I did that. And that was fun."

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In the middle of a testing day for competitors in the Swedish Touring Car Championship, we got to run the cars around the Knutstorp Ring. It's a tight, twisty circuit that goes up and down just about everywhere except the main straight and has the slowest track corner in all of Sweden, but with each car limited to a top speed of 155 miles per hour, there was no need for a Monza. Turning ESC off loosens up the traction control and allows these Volvos a bit more leeway with four-wheel drift, which they will do progressively and happily. We had to shift for ourselves to get the gear we wanted – contrary to its road behavior, Sport always kept us in a gear too high coming out of corners, but those vastly stiffer springs kept body roll in check when snaking through inclining, declining and off-camber bends.

What you get is not a brutish shunt into the horizon, but a serious lunge off the line.

Another ESC-based trick just for these two cars: launch control. You can use it with the ESC on, but doing so on low-traction surfaces means the car will work to tamp down the wheelspin – and the fun. Dive into the My Car menu, turn off the ESC off and you'll get the system at its finest. Press and hold the brake pedal and then press the accelerator all the way to the floor, the turbo will load up with about 0.6 bar of boost, at which point you'll want to jump off the brakes. The Haldex system can send 100 percent of its torque to the rear wheels, and what you get is not a brutish shunt into the horizon, but a serious lunge off the line. That's how the S60 Polestar gets to 60 miles per hour in 4.7 seconds, the V60 in 4.8. After a cold start, you have to wait until the engine gets to operating temperature to use it, but once everything's loosened, it's in play for good. When we asked one of the engineers how many times in a row you could use it, he shrugged and said, "Until you're tired."

As for the interior, it's a comfy place to be, with just enough Volvo not to scare off any uninitiated passengers (or the wife), just enough extra nubuck and Rebel Blue cross stitching – along with an etched shift lever– to let you know this is something different. Much like the rest of the package, in other words. And speaking of packages, these cars come fully loaded.

2015 Volvo V60 Polestar

Polestar says these two models "mark the start of an extended production car model range." For now, however, the whole world will only see 750 of these, with 120 coming to the US starting this summer. Our mix will be 80 wagons and 40 sedans, and while other countries get four color options, US buyers can have either Rebel Blue or Sapphire Black.

Yes, this might be considered Volvo showing quite a bit of cheek, but we think that's exactly what it should be doing when it can do so like this.

Pricing hasn't been revealed, but we've been told that it will be "15-20-percent above a similar S60 or V60 T6 R-Design." After playing around with the Volvo configurator and loading up an S60 R-Design T6 AWD to arrive at $53,345 and a V60 R-Design T6 AWD for $53,385, a 20-percent premium on this totally unscientific pricing method should put you around $64,000. Cheap, no. But if we're talking family haulers, equip a $45,000, 300-horsepower BMW 335i xDrive sedan the same way, and you'll run the fare all the way up to $63,375, and you won't touch the performance or exclusivity of the Polestars. The BMW does, though, offer the choice of a manual transmission. Or you can just squeeze through the entryway to the M3, then face the financial cliff of optioning it up. Yes, this might be considered Volvo showing quite a bit of cheek, but we think that's exactly what it should be doing when it can do so like this.

When auto journalist Chris Harris drove the S60 Polestar Concept, he said it was "a study to see if Volvo can get back into the fast-car market." After driving these latest creations, the answer is not only, "Yes, they can," but begs the questions, "What are you waiting for, and why are we only getting 120 of them?"