by: Mike Ginsca
Volvo continues to push the boundaries of technology and safety with the recently updated S60 model range. This S60 is still considered as a second generation vehicle but it has been upgraded with a lot of styling, safety, and performance updates over the 2010-2013 models.
Performance – The “Polestar” designation on the badge of this S60 is a badge that only goes on very special versions of Volvo vehicles. Underneath the hood of this S60 is a turbocharged inline 6 producing 345 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. On first impressions it feels like any other mid-size sedan and has a subdued driving characteristic. However, if the transmission is put into S+ mode (Advanced Quick Shift) it completely changes the characteristics of the car. It goes from being a typical midsize commuter sedan to a super sharp sports sedan. The engine response is sharpened, the transmission delivers the engine’s power more aggressively, shifting is nearly instantaneous, and the ECU keeps the engine’s revs in the “sweet spot”. Turbo lag is non-existent but when you lift your foot off the gas, you can hear the blow off valve chirping away as it releases excess boost pressure. In the back, the special Polestar sports exhaust system gives the car a raspy and deep exhaust noise when you’re in the S+ mode. On a boring day, it can definitely bring out the inner child in anyone and bring back some fun.
The power gets delivered to all 4 wheels via a Haldex all-wheel-drive system. It is essentially the same all-wheel-drive system that Volkswagen and Audi utilize on their vehicles. Even the mighty Bugatti Veyron “hypercar” utilizes a variation of the all-wheel-drive system that is in this S60 Polestar. During normal driving, the system sends all of the engine’s power to the front wheels but as soon as the ECU detects that the wheels are slipping, it can send all of the engine’s power to the rear wheels to help the car regain traction. The system is designed for understeer at the limits rather than oversteer but you have to push the car really hard to reach those limits because the Michelin Pilot Super Sport 245mm wide tires provide exceptional grip. Those sticky tires are wrapped around Polestar exclusive 20” wheels and those in turn are covering massive 6 piston front brakes with 2-piece rotors on the front axle.
The steering feel can be adjusted through the on-board vehicle settings to make it light, medium, or heavy. Most owners of this car will most likely leave the system in “medium” mode but for those looking for more of a sports car feel can adjust it to “heavy”. In “heavy” mode, the steering wheel provides good feedback as to what the front wheels are doing. On the other end of the spectrum, in “light” mode, the steering feel is way too light for sporty driving but it makes it much easier to navigate the car in busy city streets.
Comfort – The comfort of this Volvo is on par or better than that of its German rivals. The cabin is quieter than a cathedral even when traveling at 100km/h. This means that you can travel on long distance trips and still feel relaxed and refreshed at the other end of the journey. The special edition Polestar seats are particularly nice because they provide very good support through corners without sacrificing comfort. Also the Alcantara inserts on the sport seats keep you firmly planted and resist sliding when taking high G-force corners. Leg room and head room in the back is still to be desired but I am taller than the average person at 6’5” so I can’t really complain too much.
The center instrument panel remains unchanged for 2015 in terms of looks but the button highlights have been changed from green to white. The driver instrument panel however has been completely changed for the 2014+ model year. A new TFT Digital Display with a central circular and auxiliary display on each side has replaced the traditional analog speedometer and tachometer. The new display can provide a lot more information to the driver and has 3 unique themes that a driver can choose from. The first is the “Elegant” theme which features a large speedometer in the center along with engine rpms and water temperature on the sides. Next is the “Eco” theme that also features a speedometer in the center but an “Eco-driving” gauge on the side. Lastly the “Performance” theme features a large tachometer in the center with an “Engine power and Boost” gauge on the side. Arguably this is quite possibly the best looking instrument cluster of any mid-size vehicle from any auto manufacturer.
Odds and Ends – Volvos have a reputation of being the safest vehicles in the world and this S60 is no exception. The NHTSA (National Highway traffic Safety Administration) awarded this generation of S60 a 5 star safety rating in every category that the NHTSA tests vehicles in. That is something that Volvo’s German rivals (BMW & Audi) can’t claim. The S60 is also fitted with Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), Cross Traffic Alert, a full complement of airbags for the front and rear passengers, and the City Safety system. The system is active below 30km/h and it uses a radar and camera system to detect an imminent collision with the vehicle in front or a pedestrian and applies the brakes if the driver cannot react fast enough.
Those that are looking to purchase a European luxury sedan should seriously consider a Volvo over the traditional big 3 from Germany. I can honestly say that I had more fun driving this S60 Polestar edition than a BMW 335i or an Audi S4. The Volvo S60 Polestar feels light on its feet, makes all the right noises, and can carry the family across an entire country without any effort and in complete luxury.
Thank you to the owner for providing the vehicle.
Editor at large and gearhead. Can drive anything on 4 or 2 wheels... sometimes 3 wheels too.