Volvo’s got something pretty much no one else has — a high-performance compact wagon.
It’s the Polestar version of the V60 wagon, 367 horsepower and all.
You may not have heard of Polestar.
It is to Volvo what M is to BMW and AMG is to Mercedes-Benz. It means speed. And it’s smart policy, putting speed in a wagon — and not only because it gives Volvo something to sell that no one else is selling.
Smart — because the thing that Volvo used to sell — safety — is something everyone sells now.
All new cars have to sell this now. And more to the point, everyone has to buy it. Because the government has mandated it. Air bags, back-up cameras, crumple zones, yada yada yada.
Every new car has all the things — or at least most of the things — that used to be unique to Volvo’s cars — or which Volvo usually had first or more of.
And that’s why it’s smart to start selling something else.
WHAT IT IS
The V60 is Volvo’s entry-level compact wagon, similar to the Audi A3 wagon, BMW 3 wagon and the no-longer-sold-here Mercedes C-Class wagon.
The Polestar version of the V60 is turbo and supercharged. Which gets not far from 400 hp out of just 2.0 liters of engine. And gets you to 60 in about 4.4 seconds.
Which isn’t similar to anything you can get in a compact-sized Audi, BMW or Benz wagon.
Such speed does not come cheap, of course.
The Polestar-ized V60’s base price is $61,600 — a $20k and change premium over the $38,250 Volvo asks for the standard-issue version of the V60.
But when you’re the only one selling wagon speed, you can pretty much name your price.
For 2018, the Polestar package includes a new aero package that increases downforce at high speed by 30 percent. The package consists of side skirts, an air diffuser and a rear spoiler — all made of real carbon fiber. In addition, there are new glossy 20-inch black wheels shod with Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tires and carbon fiber end caps for the side mirrors, along with blue-contrast stitching for the interior.
These cars also come with a cinched down sport suspension and Ohlins shocks, with Brembo high-performance brakes all around (14.6 inch ventilated discs up front and 11.6 inch ventilated and slotted discs out back) launch control and an “active” exhaust — more on this below — with twin bazooka 3.5 inch tailpipes.
Production of the 2018 V60 Polestar will be limited to 1,500 examples.
Wagon speed — and wagon practicality.
Almost four times as much room for cargo (43.8 cubic feet) vs. a similarly sized sedan, such as Volvo’s S60 (12 cubic feet).
Very few people know about Polestar and what it means (unlike BMW’s M and Benz’s AMG). Which means using the V60 P’s speed is easier to get away with.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Back seat is tight (33.5 inches of legroom; BMW 3 wagon isn’t as speedy but has 35 inches).
Center stack is busy — lots of small buttons.
$60k-plus is a lot to pay for a small wagon — however speedy.
UNDER THE HOOD
All V60s are powered by a 2.0 liter four cylinder engine — but the Polestar version of the engine is unusually powerful. And the source of its power is unusual, too.
It makes 367 hp at 7,000 RPM and 347 ft.-lbs. of torque at 5,100 RPM. That’s a 122 horsepower upgrade from the standard V60s’s version of the 2.0 liter four (240 hp) and — to put things in perspective — output comparable to V8s twice its size.
Or even three times its size, almost.
The current Dodge Challenger RT’s standard 5.7 liter V8 as a for-instance. That’s nearly six liters and so nearly three times two liters. But it only makes 372 hp, just five more horsepower than the Volvo’s little big man.
And the Challenger RT — a two-door muscle car — not nearly as quick.
Despite its V8 and muscle car strut, the Challenger takes a slow-in-comparison 5.1 seconds to get to 60 vs. 4.4 for the flour-cylinder-powered Volvo wagon. How hilarious is that? It’s almost like Justin Bieber taking the belt from Floyd Mayweather.
Scratch that. From Mike Tyson.
In his prime.
The Polestar four’s spectacular power is made by a double dose of force-feeding. The incoming air is compressed by both a supercharger and a turbocharger. Why not just two turbos? Because with a supercharger to start the party, there is no wait for the party to start.
Superchargers are driven mechanically, by the engine — not by the exhaust. Thus, they produce boost instantly, in tandem with engine revs. Turbos don’t build boost until exhaust pressure builds — which takes a moment or two because combustion has to happen first. This results in a brief lag in between the flooring of the accelerator pedal and actual acceleration.
Other car companies have tried to address the Lag Issue by using a pair of smaller, staged or “twin scroll” turbochargers that build boost sooner. Which they do. But it’s still not immediate. Only a blower can do that. But blowers cost horsepower — remember, engine driven — just like an AC compressor — whereas exhaust-driven turbos produce power for free — or nearly so.
Volvo’s solution is to use one to complement the other.
The supercharger builds immediate boost — but it’s not a huge supercharger, so it doesn’t put a lot of drag on the engine and cost a lot of horsepower. The turbo kicks in to pick up where the blower leaves off.
Combined, the result is immediate — and big numbers — power from not much engine. And with no lag at all.
The mighty mouse engine is paired with a specially calibrated eight-speed Geartronic automatic and heavy-duty all-wheel-drive system, both unique to the Polestar-ized V60.
Also unique is an “active” exhaust that — under full throttle — becomes an open exhaust. An actuator opens a flap that bypasses sound-quieting restrictions in the muffler, allowing the engine to exhale freely through the twin 3.5 inch tips. When you back off the accelerator, the sound backs down, too.
Not that you’ll want to do that often.
Gas mileage — if you’re interested — is 20 city, 27 highway.
ON THE ROAD
There is something to be said for a speedy wagon. And that thing is . . . stealth. Almost better than a radar detector or knowing the local judge (and having the negatives of him with the goat). Wagons don’t attract much attention and when they do, it’s easy to feign innocence. “I was going how fast,” officer?” Deniability is more plausible. Good luck trying that line from the left seat of an AMG Mercedes or BMW M. Besides which you are more likely to have to deal with such a situation simply by dint of driving the AMG’d Benz or the BMW M.
Those things are radioactive — and not only when it comes to cops.
Other drivers are incited by the sight of them. They will edge forward just enough to keep you from being able to exploit a gap in traffic. Or they’ll ride your tail. Or want to race. This loses its amusement value quickly; leaves you stressed and paranoid. It’s a good thing these cars usually have great stereos and seat heaters. It takes the edge off.
Well, the Polestar’d Volvo has those things, too. Plus the less contumacious presence — especially if you don’t order the neon blue paint — which makes it so much easier to make use of its essence.
Which, per above, is immediate.
Which is unusual.
While turbo lag has been greatly reduced, it’s still present in every turbocharged car I’ve test driven — which is literally hundreds of them. There is no getting around this; it’s the nature of the thing. The Pause is most noticeable when you floor the accelerator from a dead stop, as when launching from a traffic light. You can almost see the sequence of events. The throttle opens, the engine sucks air, burns fuel — the exhaust pressure builds…and then comes the boost.
Unless you’ve got a supercharger there to bridge the gap.
The wagon lunges forward like an angry Rottweiler, the supercharger deferring to the turbo once the engine is up to speed. Volvo won’t spill, but total boost is probably in the neighborhood of 30 pounds total. The blower providing around 5-6 lbs. of that — maybe less. Just enough to cover what would otherwise be a pothole in the power band.
If you listen closely, you can hear some blower whine, but Volvo mutes the sound effectively — sadly. They all do this, which is odd given that people who buy high-performance turbocharged and supercharged cars are usually people who like the sounds made by turbochargers and superchargers.
Regardless, Volvo has proved there is, indeed, a replacement for displacement. And that mix-and-match turbo-supercharging is a savvy way to have the best of both without the liabilities of either.
The only hair in the soup being price. Adding a turbo and a blower adds bucks to the bottom line. But, on the other hand, the V60 Polestar is a special car and you are definitely getting something extra for your money.
Such as the capability to smoke a V8 muscle car in your four cylinder wagon — with a plausible it wasn’t me, officer look on your mug.
The ride is a little stiff but it goes with the car and the seats serve as effective countermeasures. They are superb; almost everyone who has driven a recent-issue Volvo will tell you this. They’re so good, you might want to buy the car for that reason alone.
AT THE CURB
It’s weird about wagons.
For reasons that don’t make sense, they don’t sell well in this country.
Notwithstanding that they make a lot of sense. Especially in relation to sedans.
The V60 wagon — which serves as the basis for the V60 Polestar — is based on the S60 sedan; they are basically the same cars, excepting the additional cargo space you get with the wagon. Which is a lot of additional space: 43.8 cubic feet vs. just 12 in the sedan — and it’s even less than that in material terms because it’s isolated space, separate from the rest of the car’s interior — whereas with the V60 not only do have the additional space, it’s connected to the rest of the car’s interior — which makes it feasible to make maximum uses of every bit of it.
There is also the wagon’s under-the-radar profile to place in the Plus column.
These admirable attributes have not swayed American buyers. Which explains why there are not many wagons at all in the American market, especially in the higher end market — and no high-end compact performance wagons at all. BMW doesn’t sell an M version of the 3 Series wagon in the United States; it is only offered here with the base V60-equivalent 248 hp 2.0 liter gas engine or a turbodiesel engine. The twin-turbo 3 liter six that is available in the 3 Series sedan is not offered in the 3 Series wagon.
Audi’s offering — the A3 Sportback — is a hybrid.
Mercedes doesn’t offer wagon in this class at all. (The $106,950 to start E 63 AMG wagon is in another orbit.)
This is a good thing for Volvo, of course.
It also makes up for some of the V60 Polestar’s deficits — including its cramped back seat. As comfortable as the driver and front seat passenger seats are, the lack of legroom in the second row italicizes the fact that this is a compact wagon.
The BMW 3 wagon might not be able to keep up with the V60 Polestar wagon, but it makes up for this in some ways by not making you make a second trip. It has 53 cubic feet of cargo space — 10 cubic feet more than the Volvo — and it has almost two inches more legroom in its second row.
But, horses for courses.
The Concorde was not known for its spacious seating or cargo hauling abilities, either. What made it sexy was its four afterburning Olympus turbojets and Mach 2 cruise capability.
Same deal here.
That goes for amenities, too. The Polestar V60 comes standard with everything that’s optional in the lesser V60s — including an excellent Harman Kardon 12 speaker audio rig — as well as a bevy of additional functional and aesthetic upgrades that aren’t available in the lesser V60s. These include all the performance enhancements already discussed as well as carbon fiber interior panels and blue cross-stitching for the leather seats and steering wheel. There is also a Polestar-specific gauge cluster, with a large central tachometer, backlit in red.
Two not-so-great things about the V60 Polestar.
The first is a function of its origins. The V60 wagon is a nice wagon but it’s an entry-level wagon. The Polestar enhancements are functionally comprehensive — you get much more than just a hotted-up engine — but the entry level shows through in areas such as the dashpad and door panels, which use the same material as the regular V60. These aren’t cheesy materials. The regular V60 is still an entry-level Volvo. But there is a big difference in look and feel between an entry-level Volvo like the V60 and a higher-up-the-food-chain Volvo like the V60’s bigger brother, the V90 wagon.
The other thing is the Polestar’d wagon’s center stack controls. They are small and tightly bunched up. On the other hand, there is something to be said for buttons — individual and visually otherwise accessible — vs. a Byzantine series of menus that one must scroll endlessly through to find what you’re after.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Volvo still sells safety, of course.
But it’s no longer the only thing they sell.
I’ll drink to that!
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos
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The Eric Peters Car Review is sponsored by the NMA Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting your interests as a motorist and citizen through the multi-faceted approach of research, education, and litigation. The Foundation is able to offer this assistance through tax-deductible contributions.