It’s two decades since Volvo startled touring car fans by chancing two 850 estates in the British Touring Car Championship, and fast Swedish wagons have elicited a quiet reverence ever since – possibly aided by their tendency to wear blue lights.
But while the recently departed V60 T6 was no slouch at 0-60mph in 6.0 seconds, German rivals have long been breaking the five-second barrier with ever more powerful load-luggers to turn the family dog’s stomach.
Bad news from the north for Rex, then, as Polestar – reigning Swedish touring car champ and Volvo’s official tuning partner – has just launched this, a 345bhp version of the V60 that hits 60mph in 4.8 seconds. Based on the T6 R-Design, it boasts upgrades at almost every turn.
Generously padded leather and nubuck seats are comfy and enveloping, while the big-diameter steering wheel is similarly trimmed; both add purpose and luxury to the already premium-feeling interior. Whether the transparent gear knob topper and carbon fibre-clad centre stack help or hinder is more debatable.
Bodywork upgrades are subtle but effective. There are new splitters up front, while a diffuser and roof spoiler contribute downforce, but you’d need to be doing the car’s set maximum of 155mph for the effect to match that of having a German Shepherd (dog) tethered in the boot; better to accept that subtle aggression is their primary remit. Slightly more functional are the big 20in alloys that wear some fairly serious Michelin Pilot Super Sports and a stainless steel performance exhaust complete with muffler-nullifying valves to let the engine clear its throat with significantly more gusto on start-up, when spilling over 4000rpm and when the gearbox is in Sport mode.
The engine itself – a 3.0-litre in-line six-pot – gets a big twin-scroll turbo and new intercooler, helping add around 15 per cent more power and torque. It feeds an old-school six-speed automatic gearbox that’s been refettled by Polestar for quicker shifts, equipped with steering wheel-mounted paddles and linked to an altogether more modern Haldex four-wheel-drive system. Drive is normally front-biased, but swift acceleration, quick cornering or dialling down the traction control sends up to 50 per cent of torque to the rear wheels. Hefty Brembo brakes are able to rein things in, too.
Now, launch control may seem about as relevant to a Volvo as hydrogen peroxide is to the average Swede, but Polestar has invested its V60 with start-line trickery in a typically Volvo-like way. Relent the traction control, knock the shifter into Sport, and plant a foot firmly on each pedal. Step off the brake and the tacho needle becomes a windscreen wiper, swiping violently as the Polestar chews through the gears, punctuated by fleeting upshifts. After just 16.7 seconds you’re doing 120mph. Meanwhile, anyone caught in the car’s wake is hosed down with a blaring dose of twin-piped turbulence.
Yet there’s little drama in the cockpit. There’s whooshing from the turbo and the engine gets louder near the 6,500rpm red line, but it’s never coarse, and there are no chirps from the tyres, no tugging through the wheel, and mere indifference to surface undulations.
And this is the V60 Polestar’s theme. Fast? Certainly. Composed? Impressively. Engaging? Not so much. Tackle a twisty road and the chassis – enriched with stiff springs, reinforced anti-roll bars, extra bracing and race-bred Ohlins dampers – keeps the 1,834kg estate’s bulk in check at great speeds with the help of that Haldex drive distribution, while the steering is quick-witted and precise. But you won’t feel much of the road through the wheel, nor the toiling of the tyres through your backside, nor the efforts of the Brembos through your foot.
But this is still a family car, not a track-day warrior. And apart from an over-eagerness to downshift and some low-rev droning, the V60 Polestar makes a surprisingly comfy urban companion and a relaxed dog-day wafter. Fuel economy is middling, but no worse than the regular T6’s.
It’s kit-rich, too, equipped with literally every item on the V60 options list – you need only choose a colour. At nearly fifty grand, its several thousand pricier than the similarly powered and paced (and more economical, if harder-riding) Audi S4 Avant, but with just 125 V60 Polestars currently slated for the UK, Volvo’s hottest-ever wagon has exclusivity on its side, too.
ENGINE 3l 6cyl turbocharged petrol with 345bhp
PERFORMANCE Max speed 155mph (limited); 0-60mph 4.8secs
ECONOMY 27.7mpg (combined)
CO2 EMISSIONS 237g/km