Cape Town - All performance cars have to deal with one constant. A constant that not only questions the said car’s value and purpose, but its relevance when there is and has always been one car that encapsulates the essence of sporting performance. The BMW M3.
The M3 is far and beyond one of the best sports cars and with every iteration BMW somehow manages to set a new standard in quality. Manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz and Audi have their answers to the M3, but always come up short.
And now BMW has given the M3 a power injection in the form of the Competition Pack and the overall persona of the car is one with a more intense, more direct, more brass nature.
Volvo wants to play…
The S60 Polestar is Volvo’s latest sportscar. It is the Swedish company’s solution and alternative to the likes of more hardcore performance cars - like the M3. However, the S60 Polestar and M3 are nowhere near being competitors, let alone being mentioned in the same breath. But if Volvo wants to bring something to the table, it would need a baptism of fire.
A measuring of note against the car that not only rules the yard, but demands respect on any type of road.
Only 45 of these Polestars have been brought to South Africa, which makes it a rare sight on our roads. Volvo has high hopes for this car, but it would need to be more than just special if it is to make an impression…
Gallery: Volvo S60 Polestar & BMW M3 Competition Pack
Note: this is not a road test nor a comparison, but merely a take on the dynamic traits of the Polestar against perhaps the best driver’s car on the market today.
Firstly the stats and figures
The Polestar is powered by a high-performance, turbocharged 2.0-litre engine that kicks out a more than healthy 270kW/470Nm. Coupled with an eight-speed gearbox and an all-wheel drive system, the car runs from 0-100km/h in little over 5 seconds. Price: R749 500.
The M3 Competition Pack, on the other hand, uses a 3.0-litre straight six turbo engine. With 331kW/550Nm sent to the rear wheel via a seven-speed auto’ box, this brute literally jumps from standstill to 100km/h in 4.0sec. BMW says it will top out at 280km/h. Pricing starts at R1.2-million.
Dials and settings
The S60 Polestar has a plethora of buttons. A confusing layout of dials that 1) shows the age of the S60 range, and 2) make accessing the car’s settings a real schlep. The on-board computer needs a considerable amount of time to get used to and finding the settings for sports driving is hidden in a magnitude of confusing menus.
The M3 has a simple layout of buttons next to the gear lever and on the steering wheel. The aforementioned buttons are used to adjust throttle sensitivity, steering input, suspension stiffness, gear-change intensity and the bark of the exhaust. On the steering wheel ‘M1’ and ‘M2’ settings give access to an intense, white-knuckle driving experience.
READ: Good news! BMW to bring M3/M4 Competition to SA
In high-performance cars it is imperative that drivers have everything to their disposal and within reach. Given that the S60 is a few years old, it can be forgiven that Volvo did not simplify accessing the settings. The interfaces of the XC90 and forthcoming S90 have dealt with this and it is only a matter of time before the same easy-to-use systems will filter through to the next generation of S60s.
Let it be known that the BMW M3 Competition Pack is able to outrun, outpace and outdrive many cars in the South African market. Dynamically speaking it offers an insanely competent ride and can adapt to any and all driving conditions. Even with some settings tuned to their firmest option, it still offers a ride quality of note. And that is the M3. Period.
So, then, the S60 Polestar would have to offer something similar - not necessarily on the same level - to make its claim as a driver’s car. It would need to involve its driver.
City-driving is no hassle for this Volvo. The automatic gearbox is a peach in peak traffic and the ride quality does Volvo’s good reputation justice. And the driver’s seat is really comfortable.
But flick the gearbox into Sport and automatically the exhaust note deepens and the engine revs higher.
With Sport engaged, I experienced perhaps the most underwhelming part of my time in the S60 Polestar. Taking on one of my proving grounds for performance cars, the Polestar picked up speed really well. But after the first corner a deep disappointed took over my emotions.
Though fast, steering tautness at lower speeds make way for steering inputs that have just a little too much play when pushing through bends. It further rattled my hopes for this car when going around corners at a constant speed, towards the exit, the car exhibited some understeer. No change in speed and even when taking a wider line to minimise strain on the front wheels, the car still squealed.
READ: Volvo V60 Polestar headed for SA
Under normal driving conditions it will not be felt, but weaving through a mountain pass will highlight a disconnect between the front wheels and the steering wheel. There is almost too little steering feedback and a numbness that should not be evident.
Get it if you can, though
As a driver’s car the Volvo S60 Polestar does have shortcomings, but it does not mean that it is the only reason why it should not be on your shopping list. The car is a head-turner; a sprinter. It’s a daily driver that can do a robot-to-robot run with confidence when the mood sets in. But importantly every drive will actually feel like an occasion - provided you know what you’re getting you in for.
Measured against the M3 Competition Pack just for its dynamic abilities, Volvo has a few years to improve the next S60 Polestar. As mentioned, the two cars are not close to being considered competition, but given their purposes and the emotion both need to evoke, Volvo’s Polestar division has its work cut out.
Janine Van der Post: Who would have thought the stoic Swedes could design one helluva sexy car. Despite the fact they’re stylish people, just look at their innovative and beautiful homes, oh and they do love them so fashion. But, they’re not the most enthusiastic bunch of people you’ll ever meet.
So enter the S60 Polestar in its Rebel Blue hue and you’re gobsmacked by its ravishing good looks. But more tempting than just its silhouette and its flowing lines, is that ridiculously exciting burble. When you’re gearing down and its ferocious roar just makes you want to hit the paddle shifts mounted behind the steering wheel and put foot on the throttle as its glorious rumble sends shivers down your spine.
I love the Polestar S60’s gearstick, it looks retro and as if it’s made of glass. It’s not as cool as the gearlever in the XC90, but it has a blue illumination, the letters are highlighted and it looks like it’s something from Tron. It’s lightning fast too, and if you don’t watch the speedometer you could easily reach illegal speed limits without even having a hint while you’re driving.
Nor does it help that the luxurious Nappa-clad leather seats are so comfortable you are made to feel as if you are an extension of the car itself. The car is just menacing without even trying to hard. Such a pity there's only a few units available for SA, hopefully we'll see more Polestar models in the future.