What is it?
The next step in Polestar’s mission to get its name onto the tip of your tongue. The Swedish race team - already well on its way to becoming Volvo’s go-to tuner - has followed up its warmly received one-off C30 with a similarly well-fettled Volvo S60 concept car.
Like the 2010 hatchback, Polestar has plucked an original model from Gothenburg’s lineup (in this case the somewhat floppy top spec T6) and laced it with a dose of motorsport salts. The 3.0-litre inline-six engine remains, but a far-reaching overhaul, including a modified cylinder head, overhauled air intake setup and a heavy-duty Garret turbocharger, sees the power climb to a fantasy league 500bhp.
Predictably, the rest of the car has had to be refashioned around that prodigious figure. Polestar has retained the AWD format of the T6, but its S60 features a fifth generation Haldex system (not seen on a production car before) with an electro-mechanical limited slip rear diff to help manage the 424lb ft of torque being developed up front.
Elsewhere, four fatter, better shod wheels have been spread further apart thanks to tracks which are 20mm wider at the front and 40mm at the rear, and a comprehensively revised bodyshell (only the front doors, roof and bonnet are carried over) sits 30mm closer to the road on three-way, adjustable Ohlin shocks.
The standard six-speed automatic transmission was not deemed up to the job either - that’s gone, and in its place is a reinforced close-ratio six-speed manual. Bigger brakes are readily visible behind the Polestar-design 19-inch rims and comprehensive aero testing has added an aggressive front splitter and larger rear spoiler to enhance high speed stability.
If that all sounds extravagantly expensive, then rest assured, it’s much worse than you think. Lord knows what it actually cost Polestar to build, but a one plucky buyer - involved from early on in the build process - has already agreed to part with $300,000 to take ownership of the car when its promotional duties are over.
What is it like?
Quite wonderful in a willfully nonconformist kind of way. On paper, Polestar’s S60 smacks of a butchered touring car repackaged as a muscle-bound saloon, but it comes off the bat as something altogether more interesting.
For one thing, this is the best looking Volvo since Pelle Petterson penned the P1800. The saloon is a handsome car in its own right, but Polestar has embellished the original design’s poise just enough to suggest that there is now some serious sinew beneath the skin. The result remains at arms length from DTM-style ostentation, but still manages to evince some of the same heavyweight presence.
Similarly, the interior is a topographical exercise in understatement. Subtle sports seats have been added, and there’s enough Alcantara to upholster a Unimog, but otherwise the somber, gun-metal grey internal architecture mirrors its siblings right down to the stock steering wheel.
This theme of underplayed reserve is deliberate. Polestar may have one eye on the enthusiast, but the other is on Volvo’s cheque-writing hand. The method in the tuner’s track-happy madness is to deliver a car which could credibly appeal to its sponsor’s safety-first conservative nature while still cracking 62mph in 3.9 seconds.
Consequently, the S60 thunders, burps and whistles when it ought to, but it does not jostle, intimidate or terrify. The power - a fat, forceful hand on your chest, to be sure - is not shrink-wrapped into a hectic, turbocharged surge, but spread through a usable, likable band of wide acceleration. There’s no oversensitivity to the throttle map, either - just a clean and instantly knowable difference between a dawdle and the full ladle.
Likewise, the chassis has been tuned not to snap or startle. By moving components around (the battery is now in the boot for example) and employing carbon fibre in the wings, the engineers have removed 60kg from the car’s nose. Together with the wider track, beefed-up anti-roll bars and those mega-expensive adjustable dampers, it should come as no surprise to learn that the car enters and exits turns with a finesse unfamiliar to the regular S60.
Faced with fully rain-soaked tarmac, the Polestar moves around more vigorously. Bustling understeer can be soothed, but there is a limit to the accelerator pedal’s usefulness as an emollient - the diff has not been setup to completely liberate the back axle. Instead, the rear end is deployed as coaxer to the front, trimming and tuning the line. The retuned electronic power steering delivers information in staccato, blighted as it is by occasional and unexpectedly savage bouts of torque steer, but the full story is laid bare, again, by the quality of the components and the assuredness of the setup, telegraphing relative slip ‘n’ grip straight to the seat backs.
Should I buy one?
Absolutely. Polestar has fashioned a real one-off, not just in a literal sense, but also as a wider concept. On one hand the car feels like it’s been fused together in the best tradition of a pro race team road project: running rich on ambition, cash and technical imagination. On the other there has clearly been an effort to convey some of Volvo’s traditions and sure-footed sensibilities; a kernel of the T6’s stalwart way of doing things is alive in its black sheep brother.
Polestar’s success in moulding what could be taken as divergent directions into a single endearing package should not be understated, anymore than the chances of a production run should be overstated. The firm has put its rhetorical shoulder into this possibility, but Volvo, undersized and necessarily pragmatic, seem as likely to sign off a near race-spec saloon as Caterham is to beginning work on a seven-seat SUV. The fact that the one car in existence was partly bankrolled by a wealthy buyer is proof enough of the manufacturer’s judicious reticence.
However, as a generator of headlines and cheek-sucking desire, the model is pitch-perfect. As a showcase of Polestar’s talent and dormant Swedish fire and brimstone, it’s a blue shell in a potential marketing cannon. If Volvo - and its Chinese bankroller - can be convinced to pull the trigger, and its new tuner can find a way of reigning its aspirations back into the more modest shape of a plausible performance saloon (or even a hot-rodded hatchback), then a sales bulls eye might linger just over the horizon.
Volvo S60 Polestar
Price: n/a; 0-62mph: 3.9sec; Top speed: 186mph; Economy: n/a; CO2: n/a; Kerb weight: 1640kg; Engine: 6 cyls in-line, 3.0-litre turbocharged petrol; Power: 501bhp; Torque: 424lb ft; Gearbox: six-speed, closed-ratio, manual