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One Week With: 2016 Volvo S60 Polestar

A unique car in a crowded segment

Rory Jurneckawriter, photographer The Manufacturerphotographer

When Volvo's S60 Polestar concept car was unveiled in 2012, we were left shocked and awed. Dressed in vibrant blue paint and equipped with an Alcantara-trim interior, 15-inch Brembos, a 508-hp inline-six engine, Ohlins coilovers, Haldex all-wheel drive, and a Getrag manual gearbox - this was our kind of Volvo. It reminded us of the days when boxy 850R wagons raced and won in international touring car racing (the brand is back in the World Touring Car Championship this year). Most importantly, it made us hopeful that Volvo's swoopy new design philosophy was more than skin-deep.

While only a few examples of that Polestar concept were ever built, that project did lead directly to the car before us today: the 2016 Volvo S60 Polestar. A cursory look reveals similarities: the Rebel Blue paintwork is present and accounted for, large Brembo brakes and sporty Ohlins dampers lurk behind those striking 20-inch Polestar wheels, there's a rear lip spoiler, and a rear diffuser sandwiched between a dual-exit exhaust system. Inside, the "Nubuck textile' (faux suede) sport seats and their high bolsters look promising, while the aluminum pedals along with the carbon fiber and aluminum trimmed center stack push all the right buttons.

It all looks very promising - and actually, it is - but it's a fair bit shy of the concept that we spent a little time in all those years ago. The 3.0-liter has a twin-scroll turbocharger and makes 345 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. That's impressive and significantly more potent than the standard S60 T6's turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter four, but even an AUTOMOBILE-reading fourth-grader will tell you it's a far cry from 508 hp. In fact, pretty much the whole package has been de-tuned from concept spec, which means that instead of fending off BMW M3s, Mercedes-Benz C63s, and (eventually) Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglios, you'll have to settle for taking more pedestrian 3 Series, C-Class and Giulia models to task.

But that's okay, because the S60 still drives and feels more special than those competitors and there's plenty of power to scoot around town, up the interstate, or down your favorite stretch of winding road. That 369 lb-ft is delivered in full at just 3,000 rpm, providing plenty of low-end torque for point-and-squirt pass and lane change operations. You'll want to keep the car in Sport mode all the time, not just for the improved throttle response, but also for the open-baffle exhaust note - the S60 Polestar sounds delightful and is louder than stock without being a nuisance. With a Polestar-tuned version of the standard Geartronic 6-speed automatic gearbox, shifts up are nice and quick. Downshifts could be a tick faster, but are nicely paired with a rev-matching throttle blip.

Given a twisty road to work out the S60 Polestar's chassis, the car drives far smaller than its midsize sedan dimensions would suggest. With sticky 245/35/20 Michelin Super Sports, springs that are 80-percent stiffer than the S60 R-Design and mated to the aforementioned Ohlins dampers, a carbon fiber front strut brace, and other subtle Polestar tweaks, the S60 is transformed from sporty sedan to sports sedan. Haldex torque-vectoring all-wheel drive keeps the Polestar neutral at sane speeds. Small hints of rotation can be coaxed out of slow corners with a boot of throttle, but the car's dominant trait is to plow its nose when pushed hard in higher-speed bends. The six-piston front Brembo brakes are unflappable on the street, but hauling the car down again and again from big speed though the pedal on our car didn't feel as firm as we'd like. We were impressed that the sport seats are comfortable for even larger-framed drivers, while giving plenty of posterior grip.

The penalty you'll pay for all this goodness is in ride quality. Up the spring rates, stiffen the chassis, and shrink the sidewalls and there's no way Volvo can keep the excellent ride comfort found in the standard S60. Still, while you'll feel (and hear) imperfections and Botts' Dots a bit more than you would in the non-Polestar Volvo, we don't expect anyone who is serious about buying one to mind. It's par for the sport sedan course and not as firm as the standard M3 suspension, by way of comparison. Best of all, the ride isn't tiring on longer freeway cruises.

Any let downs? The center stack is still button-heavy and Volvo's lackluster navigation and infotainment software becomes more dated with every passing month. The electric power steering system offers driver-selectable weighting, but we wish for just a bit more feel through the wheel. Also, the Rebel Blue paint might not be to everyone's tastes, especially if you want a car that's a bit more of a Q-ship. The car didn't demand too much attention in jaded Southern California, but it might stand out a bit in Anytown, USA.

No question, $60,000 is a lot of money for a midsize sedan, but in a sea of BMWs, Benzes, and Audis, the Volvo stands out in both its appearance and its driving experience. It feels more uniquely focused than a 340i or even a C450 AMG. That price also includes many features that would be optional in most of the Polestar's competitors, like adaptive cruise control, active collision and pedestrian warning, heated front and rear seats, blind spot alert, and a premium Harman Kardon stereo system. Factor those creature comforts in and maybe we're not longing for that hardcore S60 Polestar concept that much after all.

2016 Volvo S60 Polestar Specifications

On Sale: Now
Price: $60,640 (base/as tested)
Engine: 3.0L turbocharged DOHC 24-valve I-6/345 hp @ 5,250 rpm, 369 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Layout: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan
EPA Mileage: 18/27 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H: 182.5 x 73.4 x 58.4 in
Wheelbase: 109.3 in
Weight: 3,860 lb
0-60 MPH: 4.4 sec
Top Speed: 155 mph