When you’re a relatively small player in the global automotive market, it might seem risky (or even pointless) to invest valuable assets in a performance model that could become an epic fail. However, a halo model capable of running with the BMW M3, Mercedes C63 AMG and Audi RS4 could conceivably alter perceptions and turn around company fortunes.
This is the quandary faced by Volvo. Recently unleashed from Ford ownership to be scooped up by Chinese manufacturer Geely, it aims to increase sales significantly, but how can they do that?
The safest route is to produce cheaper cars for the largest segments and markets. But there is another way. And one that’s infinitely more fun.
How about introducing a performance model that stands shoulder to shoulder with the aforementioned heavyweights? A car with the adrenaline-pumping performance of an M3, the grip of an RS4 and the sound of, well, a Porsche 911 racecar, if we’re honest!
This is what we discovered when visiting the customer training center inside the Volvo manufacturing center in Gothenburg, Sweden. As one of the only two US publications invited, we’d been offered an exclusive preview of the S60 Polestar.
Regular readers will know this Swedish company from our Volvo C30 track test in the 9/12 issue and road test in 11/11. It built the bright blue 450hp C30 AWD to celebrate its involvement with the same model in the World Touring Car series.
The company additionally provides performance software for most Volvo T5 and T6 turbo engines, available directly from your dealer without affecting the factory warranty. It even trains Volvo technicians in Sweden, and has been Volvo’s motorsport partner for many years.
To coincide with the start of the new TTA Elite Racing Series, in which Polestar has entered four S60-based racecars, the company decided to build a second concept based on the S60 T6 AWD platform. “The performance road car concept is a spinoff from our work evaluating and developing the S60 for racing,” said Polestar managing director Hans Bååth.
As with the previous C30, Polestar claimed its S60 could be put into production either as a limited-edition or mainstream high-performance model. As such, it probably wouldn’t get the full 500hp T6 engine fitted here, and the suspension might not be as hardcore, but Polestar makes a convincing argument for a much-needed Volvo sports sedan.
When the C30 concept was introduced in 2010, many Volvo fans had apparently requested one of their own, but its custom bodywork and AWD engineering made it prohibitively expensive.
This time around, they wouldn’t make the same mistake. In fact, Bååth told us there were enough parts to build ten cars for an undisclosed price. Estimates put it anywhere from $100,000 to three times that amount. But a production version need not cost that much. Early adopters would be paying for custom engine and chassis work, one-off carbon fiber panels, and to have the body dipped in the rust prevention process at the factory.
The close relationship between Volvo and Polestar sees technicians developing new software upgrades in the carmaker’s powertrain department, and able to work at every level of production. As such, the S60 Polestar was designed with production in mind.
Although an independent company, Polestar makes a persuasive case for a range of high performance Volvo sports models, similar to AMG or BMW M. Perhaps all it needs is enough customers requesting such a model from their local dealer…
That said, Polestar will sell you software for an existing model, and is reportedly introducing a range of hardware, such as exhausts, suspension and wheels, later in the year.
Following its public unveiling to a crowded pit area at the Gothenburg City Track during a round of the TTA series, we were invited to Volvo’s test facility to experience the car for ourselves.
Originally intended as passenger laps alongside Polestar touring car ace Robert Dahlgren, we’d come a long way not to drive ourselves. So when nobody was looking, we took a few laps.
The test track was a wretched combination of decreasing radius corners, blind brows and double apexes that would make any car understeer. This, and a lack of familiarity, made our initial laps torrid. However, we remembered our experience in the C30 Polestar where the faster you went, the better it performed.
Having been warned this example was the only complete prototype and already sold to an affluent Swede, it was unnerving to take it by the scruff, but when we did, the experience was wondrous.
Under hard acceleration, its 500hp caused the all-wheel drive system to torque steer slightly. “It used to do it more,” Dahlgren admitted, “but we’re constantly working to reduce it and alter the power application. When we first started, the power would arrive in a big thump, causing the chassis all kinds of problems, but we’ve improved the delivery with electronics to help the drivability.”