2016 Volvo V60 Polestar
– Great-looking wagon
– Excellent engine
– Superb handling
– Not as practical as a wagon
– As pricey as the Germans
– Limited steering feedback
Very few people take wagons seriously in our region. Largely relegated to fleet duty, the concept of performance wagons is a firmly European concept. There’s still something inherently cool about unleashing a fast wagon on unsuspecting roads, although it doesn’t quite work in our market, where the last thing anyone wants to do is have their pricey super-wagon be mistaken for an airport taxi. The ones available here from other premium German manufacturers are too expensive. But Volvo has thrown their hat in the ring with a much more palatable alternative.
The compact Volvo V60 is the wagon version of the S60, and the one we’re driving here is the Polestar variant. Polestar was a Volvo racing-cum-tuning specialist company that was recently bought up by Volvo. Polestar ECU upgrades have been available for regular Volvo models, but the S60 and the V60 are the first cars to get unique Polestar models straight from the factory. Externally, you can identify Polestar models by the little blue badges on the grille and the tailgate, aside from the stunning wheels, the subtle body kit, the dual exhaust tips and the rear spoiler. And we especially like the V60 Polestar because it looks more like a hot hatch than a wagon.
The cabin is trimmed in premium materials, mainly textured soft-touch surfaces and leather/suede upholstery. The design is dated though, with an older small-screen infotainment system and an entire telephone-style keypad below that, not yet benefiting from what Volvo came up up with in all-new models such as the XC90. Some cool elements include a crystal-style gearshift knob and the “floating” center console with storage space behind it.
Tech features are decent, with the multimedia system controlled by a knob and buttons on the dash, integrating the stereo, navigation and driving mode settings. It’s quite fiddly to use and we never fully figured out all the functions. There is also an info screen within the gauge cluster which is more helpful. Other features include power front seats, HID headlights, LED tail lamps, strong dual-zone a/c, smart key and all the usual Volvo safety bits, such as a full set of airbags, ABS, ESP, whiplash-resistant headrests, blind-spot monitor, tyre-pressure monitor, adaptive cruise control with auto braking and more.
Cabin space up front is good, with well-bolstered body-hugging seats while the rear bench offers average legroom for a compact car. Out back, the boot floor is big enough, but the sloping roofline cuts down on vertical space and rearward visibility, while the floor space is wasted by a space-saver spare tyre that’s simply thrown in there and tied down loosely. Not the most practical of wagons then, but still more useful than a hot hatch, like Volvo’s own V40.
Powered by a Polestar-tuned 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-6, it’s the last car you’ll find this engine in, before Volvo switches permanently to 4-cylinder engines only. Pity, because the turbo inline-6 is an amazing engine, making 350 hp at 5250 rpm and 500 Nm of torque from 3000 rpm. That puts this car somewhere in the league of the BMW 340i rather than the M3, in performance and in price. However, this Volvo extracts that performance with much more panache, offering 30 more horses and an engine growl that sounds a bit like a slightly-quieter Ferrari 488 GTB when the exhaust opens up on full throttle!
The car is very fast, as we managed a 0-100 kph time of 5.8 seconds in cool December weather. There’s tons of power available at any speed, accessible easily thanks to a responsive 6-speed automatic gearbox. Mind you, it doesn’t shift gears as quickly as a dual-clutch setup, but low-speed driving is smoother compared to, say, a Porsche saddled with a PDK gearbox. There are also paddle shifters, which operate with a tiny delay in responding to inputs.
The handling is sports-car good, with a great all-wheel-drive system and wide 245/35 tyres on 20-inch wheels making it feel as if it’s on rails. With neutral handling, tons of grip and no discernible body roll, it is pretty impossible to reach the Polestar V60’s limits on public roads. We even drove it in rainy weather, not even bothering to slow down for wet roads thanks to the traction of all-wheel-drive.
The steering is well-weighted, sharp and responsive but like all Volvos, feedback is limited. Like in the pricier Audi RS4 that’s afflicted with the same issue, it becomes tougher to figure out what’s going on with the front wheels, but it’s not a deal-breaker. The brakes are excellent, while the ride is firm but still perfectly bearable on most roads. Cabin noise never goes beyond moderate levels, while overall fuel consumption clocked in at 13.5 litres/100 km, so it makes for a pretty decent daily driver.
Let’s face it, the Volvo V60 Polestar isn’t the best driving experience money can buy. But it sure is immensely unique and fun in its own way, and we find it more interesting than the S60 Polestar sedan even. Aside from being a quasi-wagon, it kind of sounds like a Ferrari, is pretty darn fast and handles like an all-wheel-drive sports car. Is it expensive? Yes it is, but compared to similar German cars, it offers a lot more character.
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