“Wagon” is to Volvo as “Jelly” is to peanut butter, and “Coke” is to rum.
And a Volvo wagon was almost the quintessential definition of the “family people mover” before it was replaced by the minivan, which was subsequently then replaced with the SUV.
Although wagons weaned in popularity in the early to mid 2000’s, they’re making their comeback.
Now I’m not referring to the large body-on-frame faux wood panelled American land barges from the 1960’s and 70’s. Partially driven by fuel prices and by the notion of wanting to differentiate from the now ubiquitous SUV, small European station wagons are making a comeback.
In true Scandinavian stick-to-itness, Volvo has carried on with what it knows best.
Oh but this Volvo V60 Polestar is as far removed from the Volvo station wagons of yesteryear. Those were vast motherships of Swedish origin with the style of an Ikea warehouse and even more space inside.
What is it?
If you’re not familiar with Polestar, this is the company who once ran Volvo’s Swedish touring car team. Think of them as Gothenburg’s answer to BMW’s M division or Mercedes-Benz’s AMG division.
Polestar is small but serious. They aren’t an in-house unit, unlike AMG or M, but they work alongside Volvo’s own engineers on performance projects. This expertise is felt in the bones of both the S/V60 Polestar.
Developed from 19 years of motorsport experience, and sharing DNA with the 508hp Volvo S60 Polestar concept car, the Volvo S60 sedan and V60 Polestar represent the first production road cars from Polestar in the Canadian market.
While you can purchase a Polestar-tuning software package on the S60 and V60, which essentially just pumps up the horsepower, this full-on Polestar model goes far beyond fettling with the engine management computer.
The V60 Polestar tuned limited edition wagon is likely not going to be driven by the typical high school teacher, nor is it going to be driven by people with straw in their hair and bits of breakfast in their beards (I kid, I kid).
Painted in the glinting Polestar-exclusive Rebel Blue colour that my test vehicle was spec’ed out with, this V60 couldn’t be more different than the 1990 Volvo 240DL wagon that my high school librarian used to trundle to work in day in and out.
The exterior tweaks are subtle, but Volvo fans are immediately going to notice the V60 Polestar’s front splitter, rear diffuser, tailgate spoilers and the 20” Polestar rims. My test car was wearing slightly smaller 19” Polestar rims on winter tires.
These upsized wheels are necessary in order to fit the upsized Polestar/Brembo 6 piston brake calipers and floating Brembo discs. While Volvo’s standard braking package has always been above average, these upsized units clamp down with such frightening authority that it feels like your face is being torn off!
Polestar’s upgrades are deep-running and plentiful in this department.
A new twin-scroll Borg Warner turbo combined with a freer-flowing exhaust and a larger intercooler push the 3.0L inline 6-cylinder’s output to 345 hp and 369 ft-lbs of torque, a 15 per cent hike (or 20 hp) over the standard Volvo V60 T6.
The engine is a tad lazy at lower RPMs but pulls strongly from 2,000 rpms onwards to the 6,500 rpms limiter. The responsive turbo whooshes delightfully when you put your foot down, growing louder but never coarse.
Polestar’s boffins also tweaked the paddle-equipped shifter for faster shifts, and re-calibrated the fifth-gen Haldex all-wheel-drive system. Slide the gearshift lever over to Sport mode and not only do the shifts pick up pace, but the all-wheel-drive system, normally front wheel biased, defaults to a 50/50 split when accelerating hard or when cornering aggressively.
The gearbox also interprets information from the stability control’s yaw sensors so as to continue to holding onto the right gear through a corner without upshifting. That being said, this is no dual clutch gearbox. Pulling the wholly unmechanical-feeling flappy paddles doesn’t reward with an instant up or downshift. Call it slightly delayed gratification.
Also, the downshifts can be slightly jerky as there is no rev-matching and the gearbox is slightly eager to kick down in Drive. Nonetheless, a solid 8/10 for effort here.
But never mind all of that. Perhaps the most rewarding part of all is that in Sport mode, the exhaust silencers are bypassed and your ears are treated to a raspy, throaty, and completely un-Volvo-like nasty straight-six growl. Arguably, I thought that it sounded even better than the straight-six setup in the BMW M3.
Ride and Handling
What good would the powertrain improvements be without the accompanying upgrades in the handling department. Polestar engineers sought to deliver an engaging, precise, but yet confident driving experience in all weather conditions.
The new suspension hardware consists of Polestar Öhlins shocks (of Swedish origin) and 80% stiffer Polestar springs (compared to the S/V60 T6 R-Design). Lift the clamshell hood and you’ll quickly spot the new carbon fibre reinforced front strut brace and stiffer Polestar front and rear top mounts for the shocks.
For starters, you will have no trouble believing the advertised 80% stiffer rating for the performance springs. This is one firm ride. But yet it feels natural, predictable, and buttoned-down regardless of whether you’re simply driving your day-to-day commute or on your favourite backcountry roads.
With the all-weather grip of the re-tuned Haldex system, I found myself hunting for more switchbacks simply to experience that tuning sweet spot time and time again.
Compared to the V60 T6 R-Design, there is noticeably more directness and road feel through the thick alcantara/leather wrapped heated steering wheel. The electrically assisted steering wheel is adjustable, though buried deep in the confounding infotainment system. Personally, I felt that Comfort mode had the most natural weighting for me.
Volvo says that much of this enhanced precision offered is largely thanks to the carbon-fibre strut tower brace. Since Polestar made no additional mechanical modifications to the electric power steering, this delicate-looking piece of hardware carries a great deal of the responsibility.
Like the exterior tweaks, the cabin upgrades are mostly restrained too. The V60 Polestar is a real sleeper and incredibly comfortable on a long drive.
The Alcantara/Leather sports seats are buttery-soft, but yet offer the right amount of support and padding. They’re instantly comfortable once you sink into them. There’s truly no other way to describe it. Other manufacturers should really take lessons from Volvo’s seating department.
As for the rest of the interior, there is a fair amount of grey-on-grey. But at least Volvo’s premium plastics and nicely grained soft touch surfaces still set up a long lasting quality feel.
The faux carbon fibre trim is interesting and compliments the V60 Polestar’s premium plastics and smart layout. Some may say that the transparent illuminated gearknob topper is incongruously brash for a Volvo, but I liked it. Brash be I.
Like other Volvo models, where the V60 Polestar falls short is in the infotainment system department. Its non-touch 7-inch LCD screen is on the small side by today’s standards and the user interface is controlled via two knobs. While you do get used to it after a few days, the learning curve is a tad steep.
At least Volvo has listened and the next generation XC90 SUV has what looks to be a huge leap forward in infotainment technology not just for Volvo, but the industry. Only time will tell.
Since the company’s very first wagon, safety has always been of paramount importance to Volvo.
As customers would expect and demand, the V60 Sportswagon takes this legacy to the next level. New advanced software, including more rapid vision processing and advanced radar technology have made it possible to extend the Blind Spot Information System to include a Lane Change Merge Aid and Cross Traffic Alert.
Volvo’s City Safety system, which scans the road ahead at lower speeds and applies full braking if necessary, is now operable at speeds up to 50 km/h. It has also been upgraded to recognize pedestrians and cyclists with full auto brake functionality.
To be perfectly candid, I had an emergency appendectomy three weeks before I had the V60 Polestar wagon on test. I was admittedly concerned that the firm ride would be incompatible with my doctor-prescribed rest and recovery schedule.
However in true Volvo fashion, the V60 Polestar it coddled and soothed the recovering patient in me, but yet satisfied the stir-crazy car guy in me. I felt utterly in love with this ride, even more so than the S60 Polestar sedan.
While the latter was great, the extra space, relative rarity of the wagon-form, and added convenience of the tailgate just ticked a few more boxes for me. I fully enjoyed the combination of the loutish blue exterior, the freight-train like engine, the ultra comfortable alcantara clad interior, and the everyday convenience of having a wagon’s cargo hold.
As an added bonus, and perhaps even a surprise, the 2015 V60 Polestar wagon won the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada’s Best Sports Car of the Year award.
Now here’s the bad news. Since the Polestar is a very limited production vehicle, most if not all of the units have already been pre-sold, no doubt to Volvo fanatics. Volvo Canada tells me that the allocation will be increased for the next model year so make sure that you run, not walk, if you’re interested in seeing one in the flesh.