Charming though the original
was, even its most ardent supporters were forced to accept that it had some problems. Chief among which was its powertrain; while the straight-six turbo sounded good (especially from the outside) and went well enough, it also placed a significant amount of mass way out front - not exactly great for dynamics. With that engine coupled to a sluggish and dim-witted six-speed auto, the car seemed to fall short of having its potential fulfilled. It was never going to be light or nimble, but the combined effect of that engine and gearbox gave an unwelcome inertia to the drive.
this V60 Polestar
won't howl like the old one, or warble like a T5 Volvo, the switch to four cylinders should have enlivened the dynamics to a welcome degree. 38kg have been saved overall, with 24 of those shed from the front end, and it's been proven in the
2.0-litre Jaguar F-Type
what a transformative effect removing weight from the nose can have.
The 1,998cc turbocharged engine is familiar from other Volvo installations, although it's treated here to new con-rods, a bigger turbo and an uprated cam. Power is up slightly on before (from 350hp to 367), with acceleration improved thanks to that and the shorter intermediate ratios afforded by the switch from six to eight gears. The exterior styling appears altered very little bar some new wheels - no objections in our book - and the interior is largely unchanged too, though that's in more need of attention: the displays are small and the battalion of buttons on the dash does now look very 2007.
Fortunately the V60's situation improves on the road. Swiftly you find yourself thinking of words seldom, if ever, used to describe a Volvo - this is not staid or obstinate, instead it feels zesty and enthusiastic and interesting. It's still a large estate car, though one imbued with a tangible amount more energy than before.
Not only does the four-cylinder engine rev more eagerly than before, but it can be kept in its upper reaches because of a more co-operative gearbox. No longer are you waiting for it to slur through an upshift or dribble in a downshift; instead this eight-speed is snappy, responsive and direct. It still doesn't feel the best installation of this ZF gearbox, with the odd shunty change and moment's hesitation, but the improvement on before is vast.
With a small power gain, a tad less weight and closer ratios, the Polestar's acceleration is more vivid too. It's not suddenly an RS4 rival, granted; but now there's never any doubt about the car's performance credentials, where its predecessor could feel a little sluggish and leaden. In all honesty the six-cylinder car could have been markedly improved with this gearbox too but, even as it is, the Polestar feels like one of the more successful downsizing operations.
Particularly as it's also improved how this big Volvo estate drives. Again the Ohlins adjustable dampers are standard, delivered to us with 10 clicks on both the front and rear units - the range is 0-30, with the softness rising with the number, and 10 is Volvo's recommended road set-up. There's no denying a certain toughness at lower speeds - we'd probably soften it off a tad for everyday - yet at the national speed limit the control is exemplary, the car refusing to be flustered by surface imperfections. It makes the V60 extremely confidence inspiring at speed, the resolute composure giving you faith as a driver to attack the road.
What this car isn't, however, is a modern Swedish take on a Nissan Stagea or Evo wagon. Indeed even an S4 Avant is probably a bit sharper to drive. Pace and accuracy are prioritised above all else; the lighter nose gives a more positive turn in, and the Polestar-tuned steering is decent, but that's all your involvement in a corner. It grips and goes, which has its appeal, though with the prodigious ability of those dampers and, seemingly, everything else underneath, it's almost a shame there isn't a little more firepower to exploit that.
What this four-cylinder Polestar represents, therefore, is an enhancement of the fast Volvo recipe rather than a radical overhaul of it. It's still big, spacious, stylish and refined, now with an engine and gearbox that have made it more efficient and just that bit better to drive as well. If you're into performance Volvo wagons then you'll love this car, in the same way that you'd likely have been fond of the last one. Trouble is, £50K fast estates aren't exactly hard to come by at the moment...
If you want six cylinders, four-wheel drive and a premium badge, there's the Mercedes-AMG C43. If you want the ultimate in subtlety, the Audi should fit the bill. The best driving car in the segment comes from Alpina, and don't forget there's a BMW alternative too. Finally, a Golf R Estate can make a pretty damn good case for itself here too at £35K. See the point?
That's not to say the Volvo isn't a talented car; far from it, having improved on what was already a likeable model. If you like the brand and the car appeals, take the plunge: it's very good, and we know from experience that the car only becomes more endearing after time. Just ensure all the other rivals have been dismissed first, because that's a jolly talented group of vehicles.
SPECIFICATION | 2017 VOLVO V60 POLESTAR
Engine: 1,998cc 4-cyl turbo
Gearbox: 8-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 367@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 347@3,100-5,100rpm
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
MPG: 34.9 (NEDC combined)