Polestar adding performance to Australian Volvos

Polestar Volvo Performance

I wrote this a few months ago, after visiting Polestar’s Gothenburg office back in January. It was published here in Australia a few weeks ago at CarAdvice in conjunction with the Aussie launch of Polestar’s performance packages here. Seeing as how Polestar’s in the news again at the moment with the Polestar S60, I figured it might be a good time to share the post here – SW.

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Polestar.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that might be the name of a raunchy late-night reality show, but it’s not. This small company, based in a modest workshop in suburban Gothenburg, has been brought in to sex-up a brand traditionally known in Australia for it’s staid station wagons and steadfast commitment to safety. Polestar is Volvo’s official performance partner.

A lot of automotive brands now come with tuning companies attached. Some of them are in-house and official, like BMW’s M division and Mercedes’ AMG. Others are external and unofficial, but accepted as being authorities on their chosen marque – think RUF and Porsche. Polestar sits somewhere in the middle. They are their own entity, but a couple of key Polestar employees now have seats of their own in Volvo’s engineering offices and it’s from here that they fine tune Polestar’s performance enhancing products in conjunction with Volvo Cars.

Polestar’s work doesn’t stop at tuning, however. In fact, the tuning business is an offshoot from their core business – racing.

Step into that modest, modern workshop outside Gothenburg and the first thing you see isn’t a bunch of boffins in lab coats. The boffins come later. The first thing you’ll see is a collection of trophies lined up outside one of the company’s glass-walled meeting rooms. These trophies, around 20 of them, are the ones they don’t have space for in the board room. The people at Polestar are very good at what they do.

We’ve all seen behind-the-scenes coverage from Bathurst and Formula 1. It’s one thing to see the amazing things that a racing team can do on the television. It’s another thing to see it first-hand. I had a guided tour around the Polestar workshop for an hour, getting a close-up look at the cars, the strip-down engine benches, dynamometers and the chassis jigs that are used to ensure that absolutely everything is properly aligned.

The two Volvo C30 race cars are both immaculate, inside and out. You could eat your lunch off the bare passenger side floor. Every aspect of the car exudes a quality finish and all key components are built in-house to the team’s exacting standards. Like all race teams, Polestar are proud of what they do and the cars that they put out on the track are their best advertisement.

The results are impressive, too. The Swedish Touring Car Championship has proven to be Polestar’s bread, butter and test bench for nearly a decade. With support from Volvo, their success has grown to a point where the team has dominated both the driver’s and constructor’s championships for the last three years. They’ll take this success into a new series in Sweden for 2012, the Swedish Racing Elite League.

In 2011, Polestar also ran a development team in the World Touring Car Championship. If all goes to plan, full participation will most likely begin in 2013.

Polestar’s success is no accident. After starting life as ‘Flash Engineering’, the team was taken over by Christian Dahlgren in 2005, taking the Polestar name as a reference to both the northern origins of the team and their desire to always be at the front of the grid. Dahlgren has successfully diversified the team’s operations, securing the all-important tighter integration with Volvo. Today, Polestar provide engineering services to paying customers, ‘Lean’ customer service training for Volvo service workshops as well as supervision over an educational program supported by Volvo aimed at teaching Swedish high school students about automotive engineering.

And then there’s the performance tuning business.

Polestar has been offering their factory backed tuning in various markets around the world for a few years now. As of April 2012, the Polestar tune will be available for Volvos in Australia.

With Polestar engineers now embedded at Volvo’s vehicle development headquarters, everything they develop is designed to be fully integrated into standard vehicles from the factory. What this means for consumers is a decent bump in both horsepower and torque without sacrificing drivability or reliability.

The recent limited edition S60 Polestar sold in Australia featured upgrades that are typical of what a factory Polestar tune will bring to other Volvo models. Tuning packages with various levels of boost (up to 15kW and 50Nm, depending on model) will be available for Volvo’s T5, T6 and D5 engines. Polestar also dial up the vehicle’s throttle response, so owners not only have a higher performance ceiling, they have more fun getting there.

There are a few other benefits, too.

Firstly, a Volvo loses none of its standard fuel efficiency with a Polestar tune. The engine’s capabilities might increase, but the owner will use the same amount of fuel whilst enjoying the power bump and enhanced drivability.

Second, and more importantly, a Volvo tuned by Polestar retains its full factory warranty. This is the single most important aspect of the Polestar tune that aftermarket tuners simply can’t match.

Will Polestar be partnering with Volvo more extensively in the future? For now, it’s simply performance tuning that’s on offer, but the company has a wealth of experience in vehicle hardware that could be added to Volvo’s portfolio in the future. I couldn’t get a commitment on that during my visit to Polestar, but the limited Aussie edition S60 tuned by Polestar in 2011 had more than just software to cut it from the herd. I drove a carbon copy of that vehicle in Sweden and whilst it was the middle of winter and conditions weren’t really conducive to daring driving, it definitely wasn’t Your Dad’s Volvo.

Kudos to Volvo for taking this step and injecting a bit more adrenalin into its Swedish family sedans and wagons. In an automotive world that’s becoming more cookie-cutter every year, it’s nice to have the chance to drive something a little bit different.

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Note: I visited Polestar during a trip to Sweden early in 2012, paid out of my own pocket. Neither Polestar or Volvo offered any form inducement or incentive for this article.

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4 Comments

  1. Swade – I bought a new (May) MY11 Volvo S60 T4 manual white sedan with 132kW / 240Nm and had the Polestar conversion done this year. I am still smiling! Brilliant – the linearity of the torque and power band is what forced me in the first place to trade in my new MY10 Volvo S40 1.6 Drive Diesel for the S60. The torque of the Focus derived 1.6 engine tapered off just shy of 3500rpm and I got fed up considering my Saab hey days. I am therefore speaking from experience living with the Polestar addition. My wallet for the front tires is the only complain.

  2. These polestar vehicles are lovely, both mechanically and physically. This is what could’ve been with the Hirsch development agreement…

    1. Beat me to it! S60 R is a very compelling alternative to an S4 or higher 3 series (if not quite M3– Polestar S60 [ powder blue aka ‘Swedish Racing Green’ :)] would be though!). Brake fade was criticized in recent Canadian review of S60 R on mild track test, plus lack of paddle shifters ( never mind DSG) — and no manual for those disposed. But you can see where they’re going.

      I’m having to next stage VTuner on Turbo X to keep up…

  3. Nice to see.

    There is a review somewhere on the interweb and the moment (?SMH?) between the S60 1.6 and Subaru Liberty 3.0. The Volvo wins with the most remarkable comments coming around the surprising output of the relatively small engine. I’m a fan of both Volvo & Subaru (have owned both) but its nice to see Volvo getting some recognition for the drive-ability of their cars. The Polestar updates would add a lot I’m sure.

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