The year was 1995 and I was on the cusp of getting my driver’s license. I fantasized all day about driving cars like the Mazda RX-7, Chevrolet Corvette, BMW 850i and Jaguar XJS V12. But then something completely different began to garner my affection, the Volvo 850 T-5R wagon.
Engine: 3.0L turbocharged six-cylinder with 345 HP, 369 lb-ft.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Fuel economy: 18 MPG city, 27 MPG highway. 20.1 MPG observed.
Price: $61,815 after destination charges.
The 850 wagon was the definition of a box on wheels with a near perfect rectangular shape. But given the R treatment, the 850 looked sinister, with a purposeful stance and large wheels that told the world it was not a run-of-the-mill grocery getter. More than just good looks, the 850 T5-R packed a menacing 245 HP 2.3-liter turbocharged five-cylinder engine and a chassis engineered for performance with help from Porsche. It proved that Volvo could make more than safe, practical family wagons. They could also be fun as hell.
Enter the Polestar
This year Volvo is writing a new chapter in the hot Swedish wagon story and it’s called “Polestar.” Based out of Sweden, Polestar is a tuning company that specializes in Volvos for both the street and the track. For a while now, Polestar tunes have been available on Volvos with the T6 turbocharged six-cylinder engine. For 2015, Polestar is taking things a step further by creating special sport editions of the S60 sedan and V60 wagon that go beyond a mild bump in engine output.
In all, over 70 modifications have been made to the V60 R-Design T6 AWD to transform it into a Polestar. Available in black or Polestar’s tradition Rebel Blue, the car features a unique front splitter, larger rear spoiler, rear diffuser and unique 20-inch wheels all for the tidy sum of $61,815 after destination charges.
More than Just a Fancy Name
Under the hood you’ll still find a transverse 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine, but it gets a new twin-scroll turbocharger and a new intercooler. That bumps power up 20 HP and 15 lb-ft of torque compared to the R-Design T6 AWD, with totals now rated at 345 HP and 369 lb-ft. The extra power comes with a single mile-per-gallon fuel economy penalty with ratings officially listed at 18 MPG city and 27 MPG highway. After a week of heavy footed driving, I averaged 20.1 MPG.
SEE ALSO: 2015 Volvo V60 Review – Video
But don’t let these minor increases in power fool you, the Polestar feels far quicker and more responsive than the R-Design. Zero to 60 MPH now takes just 4.8 seconds, a decrease of 0.7 seconds from the R-Design.
I’ve driven Volvos with the T6 turbocharged engine and “sport” suspensions in the past and assumed the Polestar would be a slight improvement over those cars, but I was wrong, oh so wrong. The V60 Polestar is an absolute performance shocker.
That Sweet, Sweet Sound
In sport mode, the active exhaust opens up to allow a glorious inline-six snarl to erupt from the twin pipes poking out from the rear. Who knew a Volvo could sound so menacing? I quickly became so enamored with the sound in sport mode that I couldn’t drive the V60 any other way.
This proved to be a problem as Sport mode doesn’t just create more noise, but also gets far more aggressive with the V60’s standard six-speed automatic transmission. It holds gears well into the RPM range and downshifts occur early to keep the engine in its optimal power band. This is great for spirited driving, but during moderate motoring these settings are too aggressive and I found the only way I could keep the sweet six-cylinder sound created in sport mode without cruising around at 4,000 RPM was to use the paddle shifters. I wish Volvo added a separate exhaust button similar to what Porsche and Jaguar both offer. Sometimes bark and bite are better served separately.
SEE ALSO: 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Drive-E Review
Despite the six-speed being a traditional automatic, a snap of the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters produces an acceptably quick gear change. A proper dual clutch transmission would fire off quicker, crisper shifts, but if it must be straddled with a traditional automatic, at least it gets one that’s acceptably responsive. A fun fact about the transmission: it’s possible to start the car from a dead stop in 3rd gear in slippery conditions thanks to some torque converter trickery.
Sports Car Handling, at a Price
A custom Öhlins shock absorber system has been fitted to the Polestar that is said to be 80 percent stiffer than even the sport suspension in the V60 R-Design. Combined with sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport 245/35ZR20 tires fitted to all four corners and the V60 Polestar dispatches corners with uncanny ease.
Making a 3,790-lb wagon handle so well does come at the expense of ride comfort. All of the suspension stiffness is noticeable on the road. The Polestar rides very rough and is almost on par with my car that rides on an aftermarket coilover suspension set-up. I get this is a performance variant of the V60, but it’s still a wagon at its core and not a pure sports car. I would happily give up some of its handling prowess for a slightly more comfortable ride.
A Little Polestar Inside
The biggest difference between a regular V60 and the Polestar interior is that it gets loads of blue stitching and special front sport seats. The latter look terrific and offer a great blend of comfort and support. The steering wheel features a combination of nubuck and textile finishes and I like how much range there is with the telescopic function. Being a car built for the cold climates, the seat heaters are especially powerful, which is something your bottom is bound to appreciate during the next “polar vortex.”
Overall, the interior looks outdated for a new car, but is very functional and all the controls are well laid out. Rear seat passengers have a semi-cramped 33.5 inches of legroom and the cargo hatch can be expanded to 43.8 cubic feet of space when the rear seat backs are folded down.
I’ve now driven three different variants on the Volvo V60 and loved them all. Then again, I’m a car enthusiast who’s occupational title is officially “Road Test Editor” and the owner of a Saab 9-2x Aero, so I may be a bit biased toward wagons – especially ones wearing a Swedish badge. Regardless, Polestar has done a fantastic job transforming the V60 into a proper sport wagon and I can only hope this is the first in a long-line of Polestar tuned Volvo road cars.