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We test Volvo's new 270kW S60 Polestar

Road tests

By: Jason Woosey

Johannesburg - I must admit that there is a part of me that wants to resist this new breed of over-achieving, gazzilion-kilowatt four-cylinder engines finding their way into many modern performance cars. That I firmly blame on my spoiled inner child that grew up lusting after rumbling V8s and sweetly-purring six-cylinder engines.

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Incredible ‘specific’ output

But downsized engines have become a necessity as they’re so much more efficient under the artificial conditions that all the emissions red tape is based around. It’s downright impressive how instead of giving up on performance, today’s engineers are managing to squeeze incredible amounts of power out of small-displacement engines.

It wasn’t too long ago that 270kW and 470Nm were decent outputs by V8 standards, but now Volvo is packing that punch with the 2-litre, four-cylinder Drive-E powerhouse fitted to the new S60 Polestar. Yes, that’s a specific output of 135kW per litre! It’s also 45kW more than the S60 T6 musters, something Volvo attributes to a larger turbo and uprated fuel pump, camshafts, conrods and air intake. In the four-cylinder trump-card stakes, the new Swede is beaten only by the Mercedes-AMG CLA45’s 280kW 2-litre engine.

Like the short-lived 258kW six-cylinder version that it replaces, the new S60 Polestar is destined to be a rare sight on our roads as Volvo is bringing in just one shipment of 45 cars. They’re not sold out yet but best you don’t dawdle.

For its creation you can thank the Polestar performance division, which is becoming Volvo’s equivalent to AMG or M.

Order yours in the stunningly striking Rebel Blue hue and the sedan has some serious road-presence, while also honouring Volvo’s World Touring Car effort. If your mission really has to be in stealth mode, then technically you can have it in Ice White, Bright Silver or Onyx Black.

But can it bust the performance sedan moves?

Fire it up and the tone is more coarse than sonorous, yet its bark is unmistakably aggressive. Take-off is reasonably brutal, and our VBox recorded a zero to 100km/h time of 5.8 seconds, matching the previous six-cylinder version. However, we felt an extra second could have been in the bag had the launch-control system liberated the throttle a bit more on pull-off.

Our experience showed that it wasn’t all that economical in the real world. We reset the consumption meter after the performance testing but after a few days of city driving the readout stood at 14.4 litres per 100km, versus the factory-claimed drinking figure of 10.4 l/100km in town and 7.8 l/100km on the combined cycle.

The engine is mated to a new eight-speed automatic gearbox, which has been tailored to this car. The gearbox is suitably responsive, particularly in sport mode. The gearbox works nicely when left to its own devices, although Volvo has included a set of flappy paddles for when you’re feeling all controlling.

Transmitting all that power to the wheels is a Haldex all-wheel-drive system and its beat-the-bends arsenal also includes a modified suspension featuring manually adjustable Öhlins shock absorbers, and the Polestar is fitted with chunky 20-inch alloy wheels. Although the AWD system has a slight rearward torque distribution bias (60 percent), a few hot laps of Gerotek’s handling circuit showed us that it’s more about play-it-safe understeer than push-me-from-behind poise. The Polestar is still a very neat corner gobbler in its own right and you have the peace of mind that it’s not going to throw any nasty surprises your way.

The sporty suspension and low-profile rubber do result in a notably firm ride quality, but it’s certainly tolerable over everyday surfaces and keen drivers are likely to find it a happy enough compromise.

What about the luxury sedan role?

Given that Volvo is pitching this as an everyday performance car, the S60 Polestar pulls off the luxury role rather well and it’s a spacious car too, with decent leg room in the back. Granted, you can see that it’s from the generation before the latest XC90’s larney cabin furniture dazzled us all and the dash design is nearing its sell-by date, but Volvo has done its best to bring the material quality up to date and the overall look and feel inside is still very premium. The sports seats, upholstered in a plush leather and Alcantara combination, are not only extremely cosy but they do a remarkable job in lifting the ambience of the cabin, as do the numerous shiny trim bits.

Ergonomically it has fallen behind a bit, with the central command centre lacking a touchscreen functionality, and some of the operations that should be fairly simple, such as tuning in a new radio station, resetting the fuel consumption or turning off the traction control, do require some menu-digging.

One thing you can’t accuse it of is lacking in standard equipment. This S60 is jam-packed with everything from Adaptive Cruise Control to a premium Harman/Kardon sound system, sunroof, Active High Beam functionality for the Bi-Xenon headlights and that characteristically long list of stuff to keep you safe, such as Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Information, Cross Traffic Alert and Pedestrian Detection.

VERDICT

The S60 Polestar is at the cutting edge of a new wave of small-capacity performance cars, and although it’s not as economical as you might expect, it does offer decent performance, neat handling and a distinctive persona. At R749 500, it also undercuts the BMW 340i M Sport, while offering a great deal more standard equipment.

FACTS

Volvo S60 Polestar

Engine: 2-litre, 4-cyl super- and turbo-charged petrol

Gearbox: 8-speed automatic

Power: 270kW @ 6000rpm

Torque: 470Nm @ 3100-5000rpm

0-100km/h (tested, Gauteng): 5.8 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 250km/h (limited)

Price: R749 500

Warranty: 5-year / 100 000km

Maintenance plan: 5-year / 100 000km

Alternatives

Volvo S60 Polestar - 270kW/470Nm - R749 500

BMW 340i BMW 340i M Sport - 240kW/450Nm - R772 948

Infiniti Q50 S Hybrid AWD - 261kW/536Nm (e) - R736 700

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