Wait—they’re not racing the station wagon? When Volvo invited us to drive the new 2017 S60/V60 Polestar models and see the Cyan Racing team’s debut in the World Touring Car Championship series at the Paul Ricard circuit in France, we immediately flashed back to their 1990s venture in the British Touring Car series. The racing 850 wagon as prepped by Tom Walkinshaw Racing was one of the major highlights of Volvo’s history as a wagon-maker. Alas, Cyan Racing’s modern racing Volvos are S60 sedans, so the only V60s to lap Paul Ricard that first April weekend would be driven by a few journalists sampling the latest update to this lovely, performance-tweaked cargo box.
Polestar, Volvo’s in-house performance division, doesn’t make track-day specials. It aims for all-around, all-weather capability tuned to please mature drivers with a taste for a more involving experience behind the wheel. We’d nevertheless enjoyed a track outing in the original 2015 model at a tight, hilly circuit in Sweden. What might it be like on a genuine F1-grade course, albeit on the shorter loop used for WTCC competition—and with a new turbo- and supercharged four-cylinder engine instead of a turbo six?
Minus Two Cylinders, Plus Two Cogs
Paul Ricard is flat and wide as a Nebraska interstate with more runoff acreage than a Walmart parking lot at 3 a.m. It’s a much less interesting driving challenge than was Ring Knutstorp, where we drove the 2015 V60 Polestar, but its long straights and one extended high-speed curve suited this still-faster wagon. Polestar has applied its enhancements to Volvo’s Drive-E four-cylinder in place of the former 3.0-liter inline six. In its top state of factory tune, the supercharged-and-turbocharged 2.0-liter carries the same T6 designation. It’s rated at 302 horsepower in the normal S60/V60 T6s, but Polestar wrings another 60 horsepower out of it with a bigger turbocharger, more aggressive valve timing, and extensive revisions to the intake and exhaust systems, plus the necessary reprogramming of its electronics. The resulting 362 horsepower—17 more than the previous Polestars had—peaks later (at 6000 rather than 5250 rpm) and, while Polestar’s version has 52 lb-ft more torque than the standard T6, its 347 lb-ft peak is less than the 369 lb-ft in Polestar’s six-cylinder. Offsetting this, the transmission now has eight forward ratios, two more than before.
In the wagon, Polestar claims its changes add up to an improved 0-to-60 mph performance of 4.5 seconds, or 0.3 quicker than its claim for the 2015 model. We didn’t run our test regimen on a wagon but our test of the less-powerful six-cylinder 2015 S60 Polestar sedan saw 4.5 seconds. Polestar says the wagon weighs 100 pounds more than the sedan, but 44 less than last year’s wagon. EPA fuel-economy ratings aren’t in yet but should improve, although we often find small-displacement turbocharged cars are challenged to live up to government figures in real-world driving.
However it plays out when we get one to our test track, the heart transplant gives the ’17 Polestar wagon a more eager and playful personality on the road, its engine being more willing to rev and the transmission offering more ways to maximize the fun. Automatics rarely inspire us to employ the ubiquitous shift paddles, but in Sport mode Polestar’s revised shift program delivers crisp responses that make it feel worthwhile to wind it out toward the 7000-rpm redline. A lighter drivetrain means the fore-aft balance shifts rearward, complementing Polestar’s amended AWD system that directs more torque to the rear wheels. The wagon’s extra mass also is aft of center and higher when compared with the sedan. That may not be the best answer for racing, but on the mountain roads surrounding Paul Ricard and on the track itself, the wagon was a bit more willing to rotate than was the sedan model. As before, manually adjustable dampers from racing supplier Öhlins work with much-stiffer springs and revised suspension components to give the Polestar model a firm and predictable blend of cornering prowess and ride compliance. Even when stability control is turned off, it’s never fully off so the car can aid recovery from the most ham-fisted maneuvers.