Before Polestar had launched its first purebred product in the hybrid 1, the Swedish performance brand was known best for racing and its tuning work with Volvos. It was, of course, only two years ago that the performance division delivered another example of the latter, the V60 Polestar, which lost the characterful 3.0-litre six-pot of its predecessor for a turbo and supercharged four-cylinder. Not even a product with motorsport pedigree could escape the effects of downsizing.
This V60 was, as we now know, also to be the last product to come from Polestar in its previous arrangement, with the sporting arm's separation from Volvo having followed soon after the model reached roads. While the restructure wasn't exactly the end of an era, since more Polestar-badged Volvos would follow, it did represent the last example of a proper motorsport-enhanced Volvo road car.
Even before we knew this, pressure was high - partly because of the easy association between the tuned-up estate and Polestar's touring car racers, but also because the segment was already stuffed full of talent to go up against. Most closely aligned to the Swede were the Audi S4 Avant and AMG C43 Estate, which both came with all-wheel drive and outputs close to the 2.0-litre Volvo's 367hp. Actually, the Merc produced exactly the same from its V6. But the Volvo had more boot space and looked exotic from a technical standpoint, thanks to manually adjustable Ohlins dampers and the racing links of the Polestar brand.
It did, however, leave the Volvo looking pricey. A starting figure of £49,665 meant it was around five grand pricier than those aforementioned alternatives, and while the suspension helped justify the premium, the rest of the car did not. The interior was clearly tied to the restrictions of a then decade-old Ford platform, while the car's design - although purposeful and unquestionably cool in many ways - lacked the LED-related chintz of the Germans. To your average punter, it was just a spruced-up Volvo.
Handily, it's exactly that those 'drawbacks' that might help make a used example of Polestar's creation more desirable. The exterior, even when finished in Polestar's gorgeous shade of Rebel Blue (or Swedish Racing Green as Polestar jokingly calls it), is understated, with muscle only added in useful areas; there's a carbon fibre front lip, large wheels that house big brakes and slash-cut twin-exit tailpipes at the back. The interior, meanwhile, now feels tough and functional, with solid buttons surrounding the small infotainment screen, so it feels ready to stand the test of time - but also very much an example of noughties technology.
Mind you, there's a digital screen on the instrument cluster and the pair of brilliantly supportive sports seats trimmed with blue stitching look and feel the part. It all feels well matched to the toughness of the Polestar's personality, which is immediately clear from the moment you get going. It treads over city roads with the inherent firmness but rubberised edges of a proper performance machine on sweetly set up passive suspension - which is no coincidence, of course. And the motor has lots of low-down torque. Go for it and the eight-speed automatic gearbox gives the powertrain a wonderful elasticity, although the speed of gear changes and a slight hesitancy in auto mode mean it can't quite match the more decisive 'boxes from its rivals.
It works best when in manual mode, when, with your right foot down the exhaust projects a lovely, purposeful tone that's gruff and textured, with gargles on the overrun that make the crackles and bangs of rivals sound all the more fake. Better still, there's an audible supercharger whine from under the bonnet, meaning this four-pot, while not as sweet as the old six, has genuine character. Not surprising when you note that it was given new internals by Polestar.
It's rapid, too, hauling the V60 out of bends and pulling hard beyond 6,000rpm, progress building in line with those evermore exciting sounds. The lighter 2.0-litre up front (compared with the old six at least) also allowed Polestar to retune the front suspension and geometry, giving the V60 a pointier front end in the most natural, rewarding way - not requiring any fandangled all-wheel steering or torque vectoring to achieve it. Our test car's dampers are set pretty soft for the road, yet body control is brilliant, with lateral control at the back end so good that the tail willingly helps to tighten the line on turn in. The chassis feels completely natural in this scenario, although the numbness of the steering robs you of the full plethora of information and - more significantly - you can't switch off the stability control, so the fun is measured and concise.
Chances are if you've read this far, you'd like the Volvo V60 Polestar. The fact you clicked on the review in the first place suggests you favour something a little left field. It's very clearly a car for those in the know, those who like the brand values of Volvo and its former performance division. It's also likely that you haven't seen a V60 Polestar on the road for some time - if ever. They're genuinely rare - just 145 of the four-pots are registered on UK roads at the time of writing (there are only 83 six-pots!) so there's a specialness that comes with that. It looks brilliant, too, turning heads - probably as people try to figure out what it is - and bringing a smile to its driver every time a shop window reflection appears.
Due to its passive suspension the V60 cannot rival the breadth of performance on offer from its rivals, nor does its 2.0-litre have the vocals to take on AMG's 43 unit or the S4's V6. But unlike most of the shouty, crackly four-cylinders on sale in performance cars today, it sounds genuinely racy and muscular as a result. And with used cars up for around £25k - £10k less than the equivalent C43 Estate - it feels like great value for money now.
The biggest catch in choosing the Volvo, actually, is sourcing one. Very few are for sale at any one time. Do find one, however, and the V60 Polestar's uniquely butch character will wrap itself around you like a warm blanket. One that's been fine-tuned by a true motor racing icon - and one day, when all the Polestars are electric and air suspended, perhaps this muscular, coil-sprung estate might even become a classic.
SPECIFICATION - VOLVO V60 POLESTAR
Engine: 1,998cc turbocharged and supercharged four-cyl
Transmission: 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)
Price new: £49,665
Price now: circa £25,000
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