As a fully licensed-up teenager in the 1990s I, with a few friends, would spend our weekends trudging from one race circuit to another to follow the escapades of the BTCC, the British Touring Car Championship.
In those days, the field was mostly made up of Vauxhall Cavaliers and a smattering of BMW 3-Series.
But in 1994, a mild-mannered Swede rolled up to the Thruxton start line in a Volvo 850.
Everyone thought it was a joke.
There’s nothing funny or even particularly unusual about racing a Volvo. Indeed, the company has a strong motorsport heritage that stretches back several decades.
No, what made this unusual is that the 850 nudging itself onto the BTCC grid was an estate.
As a marketing stunt, it was brilliant, and away from the track, the 850 went on to become one of Volvo’s most successful models ever – helped by the fact it was actually rather excellent.
On at least one occasion the team played up to the stereotype, placing a stuffed dog in the boot for the parade lap, and for sheer ‘bonkers’ factor, there’s little to beat seeing an estate car bounce its way off the kerbs and fly round corners on two wheels, often barging the competition out of the way in the process.
At least part of that same bonkers spirit still lives on in Volvo and today, 20 years later, the company has teamed up with its motorsport partner to create this, the Volvo V60 Polestar.
It starts life as a fairly conventional if fully-loaded T6 R-Design, which is then attacked by Polestar employees wielding spanners.
What emerges is a V60 powered by a 3.0-litre straight six with a new intercooler and twin-scroll turbo, exhaling through a 2.5-inch stainless steel exhaust system.
A recalibrated six-speed Geartronic transmission attempts to marshal all 350hp and 500Nm of torque to all four wheels through a Haldex-based all-wheel-drive system.
Reigning it in are 371mm front discs gripped by Brembo six-piston calipers, peeking out from behind 20-inch Polestar alloy wheels.
Volvo describe it as a driver’s car for all weather conditions, thanks largely to that AWD system, and while the S60 D5 Polestar we tested earlier in the year can feel like a wild, torque-steering roller-coaster by comparison, the V60 Polestar is remarkably easy to get off the line.
Plant your foot in the carpet and let the auto box do the work, and you’ll need just 4.8 seconds to hit 60mph. Keep your foot in, and twelve seconds later, you’ll be doing over 120mph. All with nary a twitch through the steering wheel.
That AWD system is capable of diverting up to 100% of engine torque to either axle, and as a result, the Volvo will hang on through a series of bends with the best of them.
It’s perhaps not quite as chuckable as a Subaru WRX: instead, it rewards a more considered driving style. Set the car up properly for a corner, let the Haldex stuff sort itself out, then power through at a speed you never thought possible in a Volvo estate.
With the transmission in Sport mode, the changes made by Polestar are readily evident: the ‘box holds on to gears for longer, kicks down keenly even with only modest throttle inputs, and generally does an excellent job of making sure the engine’s huge reserves of torque are easily deployed.
Flicking into manual mode via the steering wheel-mounted paddles takes that level of accessibility up a notch or two. Holding on to gears and enjoying the raspy exhaust note, particularly on the overrun, quickly becomes addictive, and the ‘box will execute a subtle throttle-blip on down-changes for you, too.
It’s not as quick to respond as, say, the ZF Quickshift unit in the Jaguar XFR-S, and we did notice a few occasions where the torque converter was a touch too slow to lock-up when decelerating through the gears.
Polestar’s engineers have fitted the V60 with 80% stiffer springs than regular R-Design models, and this lends the Volvo an impressive resistance to body roll. Despite its load-carrying credentials, there’s no lurching or pitching.
Combined with the AWD system, the result is a supreme, all-weather ground coverer. Load the V60 to the gunwales with passengers and kit, and the Volvo will tackle a mountain pass in the middle of a monsoon just as if it were a crisp, summer’s morning.
Add in the sheer accessibility of all that power, thanks to the Geartronic transmission, and it’s difficult to imagine how you might arrive at your destination any faster.
To our mind, it’s an Ikea rapid-response unit.
Imagine a fleet of bright blue V60 Polestars, loaded with screws, duplicate instruction sheets, and those little Allen keys that always go missing just as you’re about to finish building a set of Billy bookshelves.
I have visions of this Polestar fleet roaring around the countryside, diving down muddy farm tracks and bursting through hedgerows, all to deliver that last vital screw that inexplicably vanishes at a critical stage of construction.
There are a couple of drawbacks, though.
Firstly, the ride: of course, a car like this should ride firmly, but in the V60 the balance between control and compliance isn’t quite there. Tarmac ridges and cat’s eyes make more of an impact on the cabin than we’d like, and on faster roads things can get a bit too jiggly for our middle-aged bodies.
A bigger problem, however, is tyre noise: at speed and particularly on that coarse tarmac local authorities have a penchant for these days, the tyres create an unpleasant booming noise that fills the cabin and gnaws away at your ear drums. Thirty minutes on a motorway can feel like aural torture.
Whether you can live with these shortcomings is entirely up to you, although for our money, the sheer bonkers-ness of the Polestar’s acceleration and traction levels helps the Volvo make a surprisingly compelling case for itself.
On the subject of money, a V60 Polestar is yours for £49,755. You won’t need to spend any time perusing options lists, as the car’s already fully loaded – adaptive xenon headlights, heated front screen, power sunroof, power memory seats, Harmon Kardon hifi, navigation, the lot.
There’s only a choice of four colours, too – Ice White, Black Sapphire, Bright Silver and Rebel Blue. And we can make that choice even easier for you: get the blue.
You’ll need to be quick, though, because only 750 V60 Polestars will ever be built, with only 125 of them making their way to the UK.
If, like me, you have fond memories of watching blue and white Volvo 850s ricochet from one corner to the next, the V60 Polestar will have a certain appeal.
But even if the names Rickard Rydell and Jan Lammers mean nothing to you, the Polestar is a balls-out, last hurrah: a nod to the days when even a sensible company like Volvo would strap a turbo the size of a dustbin onto the engine of an estate car.
|Entry-level Price||£49,755||Price as tested||£49,755|
|Engine||6-cyl petrol, 2953cc||Transmission||6-speed auto|
|Power||350hp @ 5,250rpm||Torque||500Nm @ 3,000-4,750rpm|
|0-60||4.8 secs||Top speed||155 mph|
|Economy||27.7 mpg||CO2||237 g/km|
|Dimensions||4638 x 1865 x 1484 (LWH)||Kerb Weight||1811 kg|