DRIVEN: 399BHP VOLVO C30 POLESTAR CONCEPT
PH takes a spin in a unique (and very fast) 4WD Volvo C30. It's a hard life, etc...
C30 concept with its touring car cousin
Remember the 850 R? For a few years a decade and a half ago Volvo abandoned its worthy-but-dull family car image and became, well, slightly mad.
After that, Volvo slowly began to get all sensible again, with the last genuinely performance-focused Volvo - the S60 R - quietly slipping off the price lists in 2007.
But they do say that lunacy skips generations and this, the great (or possibly great great) grandson of the 850 R, is positively brimming with insanity - of the nicest sort.
The team behind the most extreme Volvo in a generation are Polestar, who also happen to have run Volvo's official entry in the Swedish Touring Car Championship (STCC) since 1996, and who are leading this year's STCC contest with a pair of C30 racers designed and built in-house.
Christian Dahl, owner of Polestar, reckons the company has spent around 130,000 euros developing this one-off C30 and, for some reason, seems perfectly comfortable with letting PistonHeads get its grubby mitts on it at Volvo's Gothenburg factory test track. On only its second-ever outing. He must be a confident chap.
With the Polestar STCC team also using the track today for a shakedown of their two cars ahead of the next race, we have a few minutes to poke around the C30 concept while the racers hurtle around the 1km test track. So it's with the half-a-V10 wail of the race cars' 2.0-litre naturally aspirated five cylinder engines in the background that we get our first chance for a good look at the car.
The inside is a veritable feast of suede. Almost every surface, from the gearknob to the dashboard, to the seats and steering wheel, is covered in the stuff. It's all very nicely trimmed, but if Volvo were to make this car - or even something remotely like it - you'd want to tone it down a bit.
In total, the changes are enough to produce 399bhp and 376lb ft of torque. There's not been a concerted effort to save weight, but plenty of the racier items, such as the front seats, are lighter than the standard C30 T5's and so the car loses around 20kg). With a kerb weight of 1420kg, that's enough for a power to weight ratio of 281bhp per ton, almost identical to the same measurement for the new BMW M3 GTS. Should be quick, then.
On the handling side of things there are new Ohlins springs and dampers (which lower the car by 30mm), a more responsive steering rack, 235/35 Pirelli P Zeros all round and chunky Brembo brakes (380mm with six-piston callipers up front and 330mm discs with four-piston callipers out back). There's also a beefy crossbrace just behind the rear seats to help stiffen the chassis.
Soon enough it's my turn. The driving position is immediately comfortable; the suede-covered wheel feels great - if a little oversized - and the seats hug and support just as they should. Moving gently away the car feels recognisably Volvo, recognisably a road car, but as soon as you plant your foot on the accelerator in second the car surges forward with a most un-Volvo thrust, and you have to snatch third before you know it.
I needn't have worried. The frankly massive brakes haul the C30 down to a more appropriate speed with ease and, as soon as I turn in, I realise there's grip to spare. Even if you start trying really hard the scariest thing that will happen (in the dry at least) is that the nose will start to push wide, a trend that's easily arrested by a lift of the throttle. There's a nice balance to the chassis, too. Push hard and you can feel the car sending torque to the rear on the exits of corners. It's not going to provide you with lairy drift-god moments - this car's default setting is definitely understeer - but the rear wheels certainly help to give you a good slingshot out of corners.
The Polestar C30 isn't a raw track tool, though - the whole car is suffused with a sense of polish and refinement that seems entirely in keeping with 21st century Volvo's smooth, sophisticated MO. It's solid, there are few rattles, and the ride - at least on track - feels surprisingly pliant. If it wasn't for an unpleasant boom from the exhaust around 4500rpm, you could quite easily believe that this was a series production car.
Really, though, the worst thing about this car is that Volvo will almost certainly not make it. Polestar is keen to forge more serious links with Volvo Cars, with the ultimate goal of turning itself into a Volvo version of Renaultsport or BMW's M Division. But you have to walk before you can run, and the C30 Polestar concept is the 100-metre sprint.
A Volvo C30 'P' with, say, 280bhp to take on the likes of the S3 and Golf R? We certainly like the sound of it. Hopefully somebody at Volvo is listening. It's about time the company went a bit mad again.