Since the Geely Holding Group took over Volvo Cars in 2010, the swedish brand has never been better. For its sixth year consecutive in 2019 Volvo achieved sales growth with over 700’000 cars sold. It looks like the rebranding and restyling of the manufacturer has paid off. On my side I noticed the change a few years ago at the 2017 Geneva Motorshow.

I was stunned by the presentation of the latest XC60. On the opposite side , you had Land Rover with its Range Rover Velar but somehow the XC60 made more sense to me. It was simpler, less show-off and seemed like a perfect fit for the category. So when we got the chance to test-drive the latest 2021 Volvo S60 Polestar, I was very curious. Did Volvo’s transformation had finally had its full effect on one of its best-selling cars? Text: Mickael B. © Photos: Thomas Z., Volvo Cars Media ©

2021 Volvo S60 Polestar

The Automobili Eleganza team would like to thank Volvo Cars and Volvo Cars Switzerland for the press car loan of this 2021 Volvo S60 Polestar.

Both Volvos we owned gave me the experience you’d expect. Rugged, solid, reliable and safe.

Our family has quite a history with Volvo. We owned two. A V70, the large practical estate, and later on a facelift first-generation XC90. I don’t have much memories from both cars but I still remember a few things. We had an accident in the first one and I never felt a thing. It was that safe. The second one was beige, heavy, and very boring to drive with its 3.2 liter 6 cylinder. My father hated it. My mother loved it, as it was the perfect car for helping their new house construction.

Both Volvos we had gave me the exact feeling and experience you’d expect. It’s rugged, it’s solid, reliable and it’s safe. Volvos were not meant to be fun nor fast, although there has been some exceptions in their history. The first one I could think of was the P1800 Coupe. Although not very fast, this sixties Coupe had a certain sporty look and was a true marvel of aesthetical design, simplicity and reliability at its time.

2009 Volvo XC 90 3.2
Our family Volvo XC90 facelift 3.2, back in 2013

The 850R was one of the only estates which actually raced. It’s Polestar before Polestar even existed.

Interestingly, the only fast Volvo I can think of is the mighty 850R. The Swedes went to get the help of the Germans from Stuttgart, aka Porsche in this case, to pump out and fine-tune their estate. The result was a front-wheel drive, 250 horsepower, 5 cylinder thoroughbred. It was equipped with anti-roll bars, limited slip differential, a 5 speed manual gearbox, and stiffened hydraulic dampers for better handling. The Volvo 850R could do 0 to 100 km/h in 6.7 seconds.

This might not sound like anything now but was like a lightning strike at the time, specially for an estate! The car was actually so good they even made a racing version out of it. It raced in the british touring car championship two years in a row. And although its racing career was not very successful, it gained many people’s heart, including mine. Moreover, it was one of the only estates that ever raced. The Volvo 850R was the Polestar before Polestar even existed.

Volvo 850 R BTCC
Volvo 850 R in the BTCC

It might be a Polestar, but it’s a Volvo first and foremost.

On 22nd of February, I arrived at my local dealership to pick up the brand new 2021 Volvo S60 Polestar. Our car was Osmium Grey, with black interior. With 405 combined horsepower, 318 from a two liter 4 cylinder turbo and supercharged engine, and 87 from an electric engine, the S60 Polestar offers more power and torque than any of its competitors like the BMW 340, Audi S4 and Mercedes-Benz C43 AMG. It’s almost perfectly aligned with the Maserati Ghibli SQ4.

Thus, I was expecting to drive something similar, if not better. Well, I was wrong. Very wrong. First impressions were that although the S60 might be a sports mid-size sedan, it is very different in its mindset. It might be a Polestar, but it’s a Volvo first and foremost. It is much heavier than any of its competitors, with over two tons on the scale. It’s not what you would call a lightweight. Does it mean it is boring or bad? Oh no… It’s just different.

2021 Volvo S60 Polestar

Somehow, when you get in you know this car will outrun you, your kids and probably even your grand-kids.

I always had a saying that my friends know very well, since I’ve been repeating it for so many years. It’s not a car’s quality that make it appealing and charming, but rather its defaults. And this has never applied so well as on the 2021 Volvo S60 Polestar. Any idiot who would drive one of the pre-cited sports sedan would tell you that the Volvo is a crappy car, but what would they know?

They probably lease these cars and change it every three years same as they’re probably changing their partner. They haven’t really got time to get attached to their car, and they wouldn’t probably. When you get a Volvo it’s for life. Somehow, when you get in you know this car will outrun you, your kids and probably even your grand-kids. It won’t let you down either, it will always start and go, thanks to its all-wheel drive system.

2021 Volvo S60 Polestar

Gold seatbelts to remind you it’s a Polestar you’re in.

Even the slightly more aggressive design is all about subtlety. There are only few bits and pieces reminding your neighbors that you’re not driving a normal Volvo. You’re driving a Polestar. It’s got that golden retriever “good boy” look that makes you happy when you see it and makes it special. Interior finish gives you the impression that it will age perfectly and has that simple IKEA touch to it.

It even gets some little swedish flags here and there in addition to gold seatbelts. Just to ensure not only your neighbors notice but you are reminded too that it’s a Polestar you’re in. This adds some funkiness in an otherwise rather tame interior. It offers plenty of space for its passengers but lacks some interior storage, especially in the central console. At least, it feels solid and seems it won’t squeak and rattle after 20000 kilometers like some other German cars.

2021 Volvo S60 Polestar Bower & Wilkins

The Bowers & Wilkins audio system in the 2021 Volvo S60 Polestar is out of this world good.

The highlight of this interior, and of this whole car to me, is its audio system. The Bowers & Wilkins in the 2021 Volvo S60 Polestar is simply out of this world. With over 15 speakers, and 1460 Watt it obliterates any other sound system you know. Trust me. I found myself listening to some of my musics and having goosebumps about it. Let’s just talk about pure power: Mercedes Burmester offers 590 watts, Audi’s Bang & Olufsen outputs 755, Tesla’s own is 560.

Some might say it’s not only about power. You could have a tuned Peugeot 206 with a 2200 watts sound system and it would still sound horrible. I couldn’t agree more. The Polestar’s Bowers and Wilkins is so good, it makes you want to get back your old CD’s. Because any mp3 song with a 128 kbits/s debit rate seems like rough for this sound system. There’s so much clarity that we tried to throw anything – and I mean literally anything – and it was glorious.

2021 Volvo S60 Polestar

It takes the best out of every song and sublimes it, with balance and finesse.

The only time I experienced such an exceptional sound system was in a Rolls-Royce, which “only” outputs 1300 Watts with similar quality and finesse. From heavy base-loaded rap music, to rock and roll, jazz, techno and classical music, it takes the best out of every song, and sublimes it. There’s 4 main configurations called room modes to play with. Studio, Individual Stage, Gothenburg Concert Hall, and Jazz club. All of them bring up different attributes in the songs you are listening. What’s even more bluffing is that you don’t need to really turn up much the volume to appreciate its qualities. However, doing so you will hear even more depth and details in each of the instruments or voices that no other car audio system can provide.

2021 Volvo S60 Polestar

The S60 Polestar is subtle, poised and extremely comfortable.

How is it to drive though? Well, surprisingly good. The 2021 Volvo S60 Polestar is very subtle, very poised and extremely comfortable. Fuel consumption, given its weight, turned out rather reasonable. In our whole week of testing we managed around 9 litres per 100 km average. There’s four driving modes offered: Constant All-Wheel Drive, Hybrid, Pure, and Polestar. The default one is hybrid. It lets the car decides wether it makes more sense to use the electric or the petrol engine, or both. In case of traction issues, you can switch to Constant AWD. This mode will ensure that both wheel axes, front (powered by the petrol engine) and rear (powered by the electric engine) get some power. In Pure, electric mode, range is 38 kilometers. I have to admit that by driving sensibly we were able to achieve it. Well done Volvo!

2021 Volvo S60 Polestar

You can charge the electric batteries at home or let the petrol engine charge it for you.

Being a rechargeable plug-in hybrid, it is quite easy to charge its battery at home, but of course turns out quite slow on standard household current, without a supercharger. An alternative is to use the 2021 Volvo S60 Polestar charging mode to use the petrol engine’s energy to feed the batteries their precious electrons and the central display will show you exactly where the power is going and when you’re charging it. Is that extra-consumption with the batteries weight really worth it though? Not really.

If your home to work distance is less than the electric range, provided you have a charging spot in your garage, then it makes sense. You’ll do your daily driving on pure electric mode, still having the flexibility to travel further with the petrol engine when you need to. And if needs come up to go fast, switch the car to Polestar gearbox in B, and use the flappy paddles to gain a bit of response time and you’ll be off in no time.

2021 Volvo S60 Polestar

The S60 Polestar is surprisingly fast.

Is the 2021 Volvo S60 Polestar sporty or fun? I wouldn’t say so. Yes, it is surprisingly fast, especially for a Volvo, with 0 to 100 km/h in 4,4 seconds and a top speed of 250 km/h. It feels good to drive fast too, but on the edge, it’s awful. The gearbox isn’t fast enough and just like any Volvo I ever drove it sometimes doesn’t know what it should do. For God’s sake, gearbox, you have one job: change gears!

The suspension and dampers are set up for maximum comfort and they hide marvelously well the body roll, but although hidden, you know it is there. The steering is difficult to understand too, being very fuzzy, it can turn out quite tricky to know where you are on the road, just as much as where you’re going. At least the full beams will detect other traffic and turn off only that precise zone, so you’ll see. Maybe as well the Continental winter tyres this car was on did not help either and a better set would provide better behavior.

2021 Volvo S60 Polestar

It’s not really fun nor sporty, but is it what you’d expect from a Volvo?

Then, there’s the throttle response which reminds me of some old english cars, waiting for your foot to be fully down on the accelerator to throw everything it has. Are you sure you want to go fast? Are you really sure? Even with the small help of the immediate torque from the electric motor and its 240 Nm, it still felt the response was too slow. And the petrol engine’s torque does not help in that matter. The 2 liter four cylinder engine in the 2021 Volvo S60 Polestar never feels like it’s really willing to rev.

Its torque curve feels very flat from 2000 rpm to its maximum of 430 Nm available at 4500 rpm. Not to mention it is tone deaf and even in its sportiest settings won’t give you much of a sound. And stopping this over 2 tons sedan give the brakes a lot to work on, which they do admirably, but physics has its limits, you should not forget about it. There’s no useless launch control, no stupid drift mode or track oriented feature either. Is it what you’d expect from a Volvo?

The S60 Polestar is not a competitor to other mid-size sports sedan, but a damn good appealing alternative.

I think the 2021 Volvo S60 Polestar is very much in line with its philosophy and mindset. The idea behind this Volvo was never to offer a direct competition to the mid-size sports sedan but rather to give customers a very appealing alternative. It’s perfect to do what it does best: drive to places, and being a daily driver that you can appreciate under any circumstances.

Yes, you will hate its gearbox and you’ll wonder why you chose to buy one when you’ll get on a mountain road with your friends and their 3-Series BMW. Though, once you’ll hit any town, or a highway, you’ll understand why this car makes sense, and you’ll laugh at your neighbors complaining how their C-Class ride is so harsh. And when they’ll ask you why you’re keeping the same old car still after 20 years, you’ll tell them: “Because it’s a Volvo”. And the S60 Polestar is one of the best of these modern years.

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