Driving Volvo's V60 Polestar, the racy wagon that sheds the blues

Driving Volvo's V60 Polestar, the racy wagon that sheds the blues

Pop quiz: What is “Polestar?” A) A reality show for fisherman. B) A Polish singing competition. C) The upper-echelon of Las Vegas strippers.

The answer, of course, is none of the above; Polestar is Volvo’s official racecar builder and tuning partner. And as we discovered during a recent road test, that is a pretty cool thing as well, one that can inject a whole lot of hastighet (speed) into Volvo’s stylish, safe V60 wagon.

But before we go there, let’s talk about “619 Rebel Blue." While the V60 Polestar is also available in black, after seeing it in this exclusive, high-energy hue, we can’t imagine it in anything else. The body’s numerous mods—some subtle, others not so subtle—are flattered by the color, particularly the deep front splitter and the long, sculpted spoiler that cantilevers off the rear window. Blacking out the window trim and mirror caps, and snugging the body low over a set of gorgeous 20-inch wheels wrapped in Z-rated Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires.

Certainly, Polestar’s signature blue is not a color that many cars, especially station wagons, can pull off. And seeing one constitutes a special occasion, as only 80 V60 Polestar wagons and 40 S60 Polestar sedans were brought to the U.S. last year, all of which sold out quickly.

So it’s rare. And blue. It’s also fast; Polestar took the 3-liter inline-6 that powers the 325-hp V60 R-Design and dialed up the boost, resulting in 345 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, distributed to all four wheels via a Haldex all-wheel drive system. A six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters is tasked with the shifting, and features separate sport and manual shift modes.

This is not a timid powertrain; when the power arrives, especially at midrange revs, it does not let up. Volvo says that the Polestar can rocket to 60 mph in just 4.8 seconds on its way to a stratospheric top speed (for a Volvo, anyway) of 155 mph. Straight-line grip is outstanding, with nary a whiff of torque steer from the front wheels, thanks to the all-wheel drive system’s rear axle bias and torque vectoring.

Click image for full gallery
Click image for full gallery

For all of its might, however, the V60 Polestar could be more cohesive as a performance machine. Even in sport mode (activated by moving the shift lever to the left) the power rush comes only after a fair amount of turbo lag. Sport mode also livens up throttle response, but then the transmission tends to hold gears a touch too long and shifts with unnecessary roughness. Manual downshifts are not executed with rev-matching like we’ve come to expect in performance cars these days, and the exhaust note, while certainly rowdy, remains coarse and not always pleasant. Subjectively, the powertrain lacks the refinement of BMW’s N55 turbo inline-6 that powers the 435i Gran Coupe—arguably this car’s closest competitor—and BMW’s eight-speed automatic is far superior.

The handling story is also rife with inconsistencies: lateral grip is impressive up to about eight-tenths, but unless you romp hard on the gas, understeer becomes a force to reckon with. The Polestar’s 80 percent stiffer springs and high-performance Öhlins shock absorbers make for a surprisingly brittle, kids-will-drop-their-juice-boxes kind of ride. Perhaps most egregious for the enthusiast driver is the steering, which is loyal but lifeless. On the upside, the V60 Polestar sure can stop, thanks to massive 14.6-inch front brake discs with six-piston calipers that scrub speed with eyeball-sucking force.

While the price of the 2016 V60 Polestar hasn’t been announced yet, we can expect it to stay close to the $61,825 Volvo charged for the 2015.5 models. Sure, that’s a bunch of coin for a Volvo wagon—indeed, the V60 Polestar is the most expensive Volvo wagon in history—but the price includes the best of everything offered on lesser V60s as standard, including a powerful Harman/Kardon audio system and heated seats, front and rear. The Polestar also tosses in bespoke goodies such as sport front seats, black leather and Alcantara upholstery, contrasting stitching in—you guessed it—Rebel Blue, and a gorgeous, backlit Polestar shift knob.

We should note that S60 and V60 Polestars represent only the second street-legal collaboration between Volvo and Polestar (a C30 Polestar was offered for 2013 model year), and despite its dynamic shortcomings, the V60 Polestar is chock full of charisma. Based on the speed with which the first run of S60 and V60 Polestars sold out, it appears that we may underestimate the amount of enthusiasm (and enthusiasts) that exists for the Volvo brand. We look forward to seeing what Polestar and Volvo do next. Whatever form it takes, one thing is certain: it will look best in Rebel Blue.