Barely a day goes by without enthusiasts mourning the passing of another gloriously powerful large-capacity petrol engine. And nobody has embraced this era of downsizing more readily than Volvo, which has committed to an efficient range of tiny four-cylinder turbocharged engines for its entire model line-up. Even the XC90 SUV makes do with a 2.0-litre Drive-E engine.
However, what’s good for a luxurious SUV or a tame family estate doesn’t necessarily suit a full-on performance model. At least, that’s what you might think. Yet by replacing the charismatic 3.0-litre straight-six in the V60 Polestar with a highly tuned 2.0-litre engine, Volvo is claiming significant weight savings over the front wheels – meaning increased agility and even stronger pace. So dry your eyes for a moment and let’s see if there’s any substance to the spin.
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The previous V60 Polestar was a likeable alternative to cars like the Audi RS4 and Mercedes-AMG C 63. It wasn’t the sharpest or fastest choice, but by treading its own path it felt cool and confident. Its bolshy engine featured a twin-scroll turbo and sent 345bhp and 500Nm to all four wheels. It benefited from a host of chassis revisions, too, including exotic Ohlins dampers.
The new Polestar might lose a whole third of its capacity, but power is up to 362bhp at 6,000rpm – although torque drops a little to 470Nm at 3,100-5,100rpm. And if you’re after ultimate car park kudos, the 2.0-litre uses a supercharger and a turbocharger, the latter taking over once the supercharger has boosted the low-end torque.
Volvo claims the Polestar can crack 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds, helped by four-wheel-drive traction and a smooth new eight-speed auto box. The smaller engine has also greatly enhanced economy from 27.7mpg to 34.9mpg. CO2 emissions of 186g/km represent a vast improvement, too.
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If the numbers are good – and if you ignore the near-£50,000 asking price, they are – then the components are quite exciting. The car sticks with those trick dampers in combination with Polestar-specific top mounts and bushes, and also benefits from a carbon fibre strut brace, six-pot Brembo brakes with 371mm discs and 20-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres. The V60 Polestar is now 24kg lighter over the front axle so it should be a much more nimble, entertaining car.
For the most part, that rings true. It feels lighter and the damping is well resolved. It’s firm and responsive, but with an expensive-feeling polish. You can manually ‘click’ the dampers harder or softer to suit your tastes if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, too.
It turns in quickly and has plenty of grip. It’s impressively composed, with excellent traction and just a hint of understeer if you really go looking for it. The gearbox is a massive improvement over the reluctant old six-speed automatic; it feels smooth, punchy and decisive. Turn off the stability control and the four-wheel-drive system locks 50:50 front-to-rear to create an even more determinedly neutral balance.
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That sexy-sounding supercharged and turbocharged engine does seem to enhance agility, just as advertised. But those gains are offset by a pretty uninspiring engine note and – despite the twin-boosting system – a lack of instant response as you exit corners.
It’s at its best ripping with real energy to the rev limiter, but in the low and mid ranges it does feel like quite a small engine really puffing to get this relatively big car moving. It’s not even close to something like a BMW M3 (priced from £56,595) in terms of raw performance or excitement.
This car is well built, though, and the interior exudes all Volvo’s usual charm. There just aren’t many hints inside to the V60’s potent character – apart from a subtle Polestar badge on the gearlever.