We all love a fast estate car, so Tim Oldland tries Volvo’s latest offering…
There’s something about a fast estate car. The mix of performance and practicality is tempting if you have a family and cars like the Audi RS4 tend to take all the headlines. But I grew up in the 80’s/90’s and was a huge fan of the BTCC so one car sticks in my mind so vividly I can still hear its straight cut gearbox whining as it bounced over the curbs at Oulton Park – the 1994 Volvo 850 Estate touring car. It was so bizarre seeing this massive Volvo estate trading paint with the regular sights of the BMW 3-Series saloon, Alfa Romeo 155 and Vauxhall Cavalier, but trade paint it did and it did fantastically well too. Rickard Rydell and Jan Lammers made this big beasts dance around the track, often on two wheels, defying all laws of aerodynamics and established performance tuning. What a racing car.
Of course this race car was based on the T5 road car and in 1995 they released the T5-R, with 240bhp from the 2.3 litre 5-cylinder turbo engine and was a real sleeper, with most Having no clue that there was essentially a touring car lurking underneath. Fast forward to the modern day and there aren’t that many high performance estates that can fit the bill – Audi has the RS4 and RS6, while Mercedes offer a C63 Estate, but sitting quietly, just off the radar is another option, the left-field choice – the Volvo V60 Polestar.
As I’ve already mentioned I had a soft spot for fast Volvo estates, so I was like a kid in a sweet shop waiting for the Polestar to arrive and I wasn’t disappointed when it rounded the corner into view. To describe it as blue is doing it a disservice; it must be described in Daily Mail shocked capitals – VERY BLUE!!!!!!!! A bright hue (named Rebel Blue), that initially looks metallic but is actually flat and looks unbelievably bright even on dull grey days as we have so often in the UK. So, we’ve established it’s quite blue. The rest of the styling changes over the normal V60 are relatively subtle though, so if you were to spec the Polestar in one of the other three colour options (incidentally the only options available on the car) like grey it would certainly be a very subtle mode of transport.
The front end has a more aggressive bumper with a wide lower intake and twin chin spoiler protrusions below it. A little blue square badge on the grille gives away the Polestar tuning too, but the biggest giveaway are the massive 20-inch alloy wheels that fill the arches completely. At the rear there’s a larger rooftop spoiler, while two large exhaust pipes sit either side of a diffuser (which may or may not be useful). Of course these additions are on top of what is already a very attractive and sporty car in the V60, with its tapering window line and wraparound rear lights it’s certainly a far more stylish offering than the 3-Series or A4.
The interior is wonderfully quirky too, with the V60’s trademark floating centre console having a carbon fibre finish here and a clear, obviously Swedish layout to the dash. It’s certainly a breath of fresh air and far more interesting to be in than the rivals from BMW and Audi. Also included are a set of very nice leather and alcantara sports seats with a multitude of adjustments available to suit every shape. Of course the main benefit of the V60 is the cavernous boot which is just as useful here as in the regular model, and there’s plenty of room in the rear seats too.
Under the skin lies the real fun though, and the spec list is mighty impressive. Powering this fast wagon is a 3.0 litre turbocharged straight-six engine producing 345bhp and 369lb/ft of torque, which is sent to all four wheels via a six speed automatic gearbox. Performance is suitably brisk too, with 62mph coming up in 5.0 seconds dead on the way to the limited 155mph top speed. But those numbers aren’t what the V60 should be about, after all they are nowhere near the RS4’s numbers; the Polestar is much more than the sum of its parts.
Whereas I would have loved to hear a 5-pot warble, on start up the Polestar doesn’t disappoint on that front – the big six fires up with a blare of fruity revs and settles down to a lumpy burble. By the gear lever is a button for the active exhaust and when pressed opens the valves all the time – I’d describe this as essential – and it means you get a full on aural assault from the exhaust when pressing on. What I didn’t expect though was the cacophony of other noises that invade the cabin. If you put your foot down there’s a momentary pause as the twin scroll turbo spools up, then you’re launched towards the horizon with a huge WHOOSH of turbo sound, including a delightful chirp when you back off. It really is quite a silly noise, and utterly addictive, you find yourself flicking the steering wheel mounted gearshift paddles down a couple of gears and giving it some right foot just to hear the noise all over again. It’s good for the soul, less so for the wallet as the mpg drops through the floor.
This was one area where the V60 Polestar fell down in truth, in the week I was driving it, it managed to average around 24mpg which is pretty brutal but I was enjoying the sound of the engine quite a lot so it’s not too bad. Another downside is the ride – it may have specially tuned Ohlins dampers but sticking 20-inch wheels and low profile tyres on a car that was designed for 17-18 inch wheels is always going to result in a harsh ride and this is certainly the case in the Polestar. On broken B-roads around the countryside the V60 skips and jumps around, causing the traction control to flash even on modest throttle openings. Another issue I had was a seriously loud resonance at the speed limit on certain concrete sections of the M25 and A12 – it got so loud and uncomfortable at times that I had to back off and slow down. I can only assume it’s a symptom of those large tyres again, but there could be many reasons.
When you want to go for a spirited drive the Polestar is a very quick cross country companion, but not the most talkative when it comes to the handling. The steering is quick yet not particularly feelsome, while the car has a natural tendency to understeer when you push into a corner too hard. Of course this won’t be an issue for 99% of the buying public as you have to be going very fast indeed to overcome the huge amounts of grip offered by the Haldex four wheel drive system and those big tyres. The gearbox isn’t the last word is speed either, but as with the rest of the car you just adjust your driving style to suit the Polestar – slow in, down a couple of gears, turn in, feather the throttle, then squeeze and catapult yourself out the other side – all the while enjoying the myriad of sounds from the engine and exhaust.
It’s actually wrong to try and compare the £50,000 V60 Polestar with the RS4, as that car is £20,000 more expensive when you match options and is far more powerful. It’s actually more of a rival for the S4 Avant and in that company in my opinion it wins hands down. A lot is said about ‘character’ and how it affects an ownership proposition, but I would personally take the faults the Polestar has, along with the huge amount of character from the rest of the car over the mostly bland attributes of the S4. It’s a fun thing to drive around in and that counts for a lot in my book. Oh, and did I mention it’s really really blue?
UPDATE: The V60 Polestar has recently been given a new powertrain, succumbing to the downsizing trend of late. So out goes the 3.0 litre turbo straight six and in comes a 2.0 litre four cylinder with a supercharger and a turbo. Torque is down a little, but power is actually up, now sitting at 362bhp which knocks 0.2 seconds off the 0-62mph sprint time. There’s also a new eight-speed automatic gearbox too which means faster shifts and better economy, which is up around 8mpg average. We look forward to sampling if the new engine is as full of character as the old one!