First Drive: 2012 Volvo C30, C70, XC70 with Polestar Package and 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design

#Volvo, #C30

It's not easy to make a good batch of chili, but making a great batch is more difficult than simply following a recipe. We know this because Volvo literally pitted a bunch of journalists against one another in a chili cook-off while we were in Scottsdale, Arizona, to drive four of its models equipped with the new performance-enhancing Polestar Package. Just as with chili, taking a car from good to great isn't always easy. Volvo has already been doing an admirable job with its lineup of beautifully designed and fun-to-drive cars like the S60 sedan, the XC60 crossover, the XC70 wagon, and the C30 hatchback. What the Swedish brand has been lacking with its most recent product renaissance is a little spice.

Less ghost pepper, more green chili pepper

Like with a good pot of chili, Volvo has added some extra oomph with its all-new Polestar Package. The performance upgrades are modest -- the option kit is limited to a chip that works with the engine control unit to remap horsepower and torque output by optimizing output, increasing boost, advancing the spark timing, and modifying throttle sensitivity.

Two chips are available: one for the 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-five cylinder and one for the 3.0-liter turbocharged I-6. Both power bumps are modest -- the T5-powered C30 and C70 gain 23 hp and 29 lb-ft of torque to 250 hp and 265 lb-ft, whereas the Polestar chip adds 25 hp and 30 lb-ft to the XC60 and XC70 to 325 hp and 354 lb-ft. Best of all, the tweaked output comes at no change to the fuel economy ratings of any of the cars.

Power delivery remains strong and responsive in the T6 cars, as it is without the Polestar chip, but the torque comes on in more of a wallop of thrust than before. Peak torque is still achieved between 2100 and 4200 rpm, but the cars pull a little harder under heavy acceleration, especially the XC70. The numbers prove that, as all Polestar-equipped cars see their 0 to 60 mph times drop by 0.3 second, with both XCs making the run in 6.6 seconds.

Good to great

A 5.9-second time to 60 mph for the T5-only C30 with the six-speed manual hints at the difference that the Polestar chip makes. We weren't able to sample the five-speed automatic-equipped C30 (which is 0.4 seconds slower to 60 mph), but the C30 has now gone from, well, good to great. The C30 has long been more style than substance, but the new Polestar chip helps balance the looks and the performance. Sadly, despite using parts almost entirely from Volvo's own parts bin, the chipped C30 doesn't come close to the fantastic, all-wheel-drive, 405-hp C30 Polestar concept car. (Polestar teased us with that car -- they had it on hand but we weren't allowed to drive it this time.)

Although the power gains are modest, Polestar has also helped transform the C70 convertible. The added reinforcements needed to create a hardtop convertible from a compact sedan -- the C70 rides on the same S40-derived platform as the C30 -- give the car a porky 3837-pound curb weight that easily overwhelms the 227 hp provided by the stock T5. With the extra 23 hp, the C70 finally feels appropriately powered for a topless boulevard cruiser. It will never be confused for the likes of a BMW 335i convertible, but when stacked against its Audi A5 cabriolet and Mercedes-Benz E350 cabriolet, it no longer seems like the runt of the litter in terms of performance.

Same flavors, different cars

There are a couple of different ways to get the factory warranty-covered spice provided by the Polestar. The easiest way is to purchase the standalone Polestar Package, which adds the extra horsepower and torque through an ECU chip. Pricing runs at a very reasonable $1495 for S60, XC60, and XC70 models equipped with the turbo-six; Volvo owners of 2008 and newer S40, V50, C30, and C70 cars equipped with the T5 engine can have the extra power for just $1295. Both prices include installation.

Those buyers who want a little show with their go can add the R-Design package, which includes goodies like new front and rear fascias, blue-faced gauges, stiffer suspension, and quicker steering. R-Design packages are available on the C30, S60, XC60, and XC90; however, 2012 S60 and XC60 R-Design cars come standard with the Polestar chip.

Also gaining the Polestar Package as standard is the limited-edition C70 Inscription. On top of the power bump, the Inscription sees unique, 18-inch alloy wheels, chrome trim, a leather-covered dashboard, and the option of either Ice White or Black Sapphire paint.

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