Volvo Polestar XC60 & XC70 HD Video Review

It’s a dilemma for many of us- we’d like more powerful cars but don’t want to sacrifice fuel economy.  It will be awhile before a 50 mpg Mustang GT becomes a reality, but there is hope.  And it comes in the form of computer code.

Have you clicked on the “like” button at the top of the page?  If so, skoal!

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Polestar Equipped

Volvo, and the performance company Polestar are offering up an engine control module software upgrade that extracts extra power and torque.  Fork over $1295 to $1,495 (depending on model) and your steel Swede gets a healthy digital kick in the pants. It can be done during an oil change or tires rotation. Yep, that quick.

Chip tuning has been around for years but it’s aftermarket code, not always street legal, and can void the factory warranty.  I know I’d think twice about loading new code into a $50,000 car.

The Polestar upgrade is completely emissions legal and covered by Volvo’s warranty program.  It also doesn’t effect fuel economy.  Win.  Oh, and it can be loaded into various Volvo models going back as far as 2008.  Retroactive win.  Here’s a list of Volvos that can be modified-

XC60 T6 R-Design (MY2011-2012), C30 T5 (MY2008-2012), C70 T5 (MY2008-2012), S40 T5 (MY2008-2011), V50 T5 AWD with manual transmission (MY2008-2011)

Polestar has been an official partner with Volvo since 1996 and has been optimizing their cars for racing for several years.  This is the first time they’ve created a product for us normal folk.

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Two Days With Polestar

I’ve been invited to a Volvo event in Phoenix, AZ to drive Polestar equipped vehicles over a couple of days.  They have four models on hand- C30, C70, XC60 and XC70.  Because shooting videos is a time suck, I’m concentrating on the two most popular models, XC60 and XC70.

Drinking regular grade gasoline, the standard turbocharged T6 engine makes 300 horsepower @ 5,600 rpm and 325 lb-ft or torque @ 2,100-4,200 rpm.  Install the Polestar software and that rises to 325 hp @ 5,400-6,500 rpm and 354 @ 3,000-3,600 rpm.  So, doing the math, it adds 25 horsepower a bit sooner in the powerband and 29 lb-ft of torque a skosh later.

The result is a car that’s more alive.  The throttle is more responsive, it’s easy to feel the difference when you merge with traffic or pass on a two-lane road. Whether it’s the XC60 or XC70, once you experience the Polestar mod, you won’t want to go back.

There is no way to track whether fuel economy is changed, so here I’ll just have to take Volvo’s word for it.  These are heavy luxury vehicles, don’t expect magic from Polestar. The EPA rates both AWD XC60 and XC70 at 18 city, 24 highway.

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A Quick Spin in C30

I have always really liked the design of the XC30 but have been underwhelmed by the performance.  Driving a Polestar equipped 30 for a half hour changes my impression of the car.  VW’s GTI has always been one of my favorites and the Polestar C30 reminds me a lot of that car.  The upgrade for the T5 engine goes for $1,295.  If you have the bucks, I say go for it.

Buy the mod and Volvo tacks a little blue square onto the tail, unless you buy the XC60 R-Design.  R-Design comes standard with Polestar but no blue square.  Aw… come on guys.  I’ll guess you could scare one up from a Volvo dealer if you really wanted one though.

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The Cars Themselves- XC70

Volvo’s midsized crossovers are pretty appealing and spending a few days in them is a good reminder of that.   On day one of the event, the Volvo folks send us off in XC70s to drive the Apache Trail.  It isn’t as rough as it might sound, AWD is not needed.  But this very rugged dirt road sure shows off how comfortable the XC70 is.  After a full day on the road, I return completely fresh.  The ride quality is that good.

You might think XC70 is just a station wagon with poseur trim, I can tell you first hand it handles tough trails with ease.  I have beaten one up on 150 miles of harsh forest service roads, they are much more capable than many believe.

The Apache Trail road is rutted and sandy, a good test for the automatic AWD system.  XC70 is very stabile and secure, part of the reason you can drive this car all day and never feel stressed.  It’s not sporty but it’s supremely calming without being mushy.

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XC70 Interior

The cabin has an especially warm and inviting quality about it.  Metallic trim has a hefty velvety look, walnut wood is deep and rich.  Nothing cheap here.  Volvo’s supportive seats are considered among the best in the industry.  There’s the signature storage space behind the center stack space and one of the most intuitive climate controls in the biz.

The 70 is as useful as it is comfortable.  There’s an awful lot of space in here and because all seats fold flat, including the front passenger’s, it’s easy to haul very long things like ladders and surfboards without loading them on the roof rack.  A flip-up cargo divider with big elastic strap is a nice touch.  The back seat folds 40/20/40.

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XC70 seats five (Volvo got rid of that rear jump seat years ago).  Options include handy built in booster seats.  The rear is comfortable for three average sized adults and has everything a passenger could want to keep them happy including heated seats.

There are a few gripes. While the interface is very thorough (you can change just about every parameter of the car to your liking) the little knob that controls it is tedious.  Makes me wish for a touch screen.   A panoramic roof would make the space that much better.  It could also use a few more cupholders considering it will be pressed into family duty.

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Moving on to the XC60

Automotive design is subjective but XC60 is one of the more striking crossovers on the road today. It drives as well as it looks too.  The XC60 rides higher than a sport sedan (ground clearance is 9.1”) but it does a good job of emulating the driving dynamics of one.  It’s a great blend of comfort, control and quietness.

The R-Design XC60 I’m driving gets a firmer sport suspension making it a little less desirable for off-roading.  But really, how many of these vehicles ever even see a dirt road?

Inside XC60

A quick look at the interior finds a very handsome space.  The Volvo folks must hang out with those legendary Scandinavian furniture designers.  It’s clean, dramatic, and highly sculpted.  And I’d say they were either cooking with those Circulon pans or they’re big fans of vinyl records since the center stack has a very unique radial design you won’t find anywhere else.  XC60 gets the panoramic roof the 70 lacks.

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The 60 gets the same small knob interface as the 70 but fortunately it also has the same kind of utility.  This Swede certainly has a great work ethic with the 40/20/40 rear folding seats, folding front passenger seat, and cargo divider.

Where’s the Safety?

No, Volvo hasn’t turned it’s back on safety.  I’m just not focusing on that in this piece.  A reminder- the standard City Safety system detects other cars and stops automatically. Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake might be awkwardly named, but its ability to detect pedestrians automatically stop to avoid them is very cool, potentially lifesaving.

But Volvo is adding Polestar because they want to be more things to more people.  Volvo may be deeply and successfully  involved in touring car racing in Europe, but most Americans are clueless to that fact.  Rick Bryant, VP of Customer Service for Volvo North America says this-

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“Polestar will get that message out that our cars are fun to drive.  They’re not just safe, they’re not just for mom, they’re  really good cars, they’re competitors in every sense of the word.  And I think that once the word gets out that our cars have performance and are fun to drive- obviously they’re good looking-  that will bring more people to the showroom.  Once people drive the cars, then it gets easy”

The Polestar software isn’t exactly Volvo’s answer to Mercedes AMG or BMWs M Series, and it’s not inexpensive.  But it makes cars that are already very well done even more fun to drive.  For those who love power, it’s nice to know there’s an app for that.

FULL GALLERY BELOW.  ALL STILL PHOTOGRAPHY PROVIDED BY VOLVO.  SPECIAL THANKS TO NINA RUSSIN FOR DRIVING AND LOCATION ASSISTANCE.

11 Comments

  1. Ken says:

    I can’t remember when was the last time I saw a Volvo on the road here in LA, but I do like Volvo for a few models. However, even if I were buying a Volvo, I would not paying $1500 for a piece of software that cost more than AutoCad!!! People who buy Volvo are usually buy it for it’s safety features. What is the average age for a Volvo customer? 50? 55? Performance??? If they wanted performance, 9 out of 10 they would be buying a beemer, MB or Audi or something else. I think PS won’t help their sales at all. Give us some nicer looking cars with world renown Volvo safety features, then you will see more Volvos on the road, otherwise Volvo will be going the way of SAAB doesn’t matter how much money they get from Geely. Tata did a great job with Range Rover and Jag, Geely/Volvo should learn something from them. At the end of the day, people want to drive sexy (good) looking cars like every guy fantasizing a hot girlfriend, and Volvo is not sexy. They can glue a blue square, a red square, a green square on a car, it just won’t do jack for Volvo over all.

  2. Stephen says:

    Sounds like a fun thing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really solve the problems I have with the XC70 (this is from 07, so perhaps the new ones are better). Those are that it’s really thirsty on fuel, and the back seat doesn’t have much legroom for taller passengers. If they’d juiced up a more efficient engine, that could have been cool

    • TV says:

      As I state, these cars don’t sip fuel Stephen. I have a 2006 XC70 I just bought a few months back and was bracing for the worst. It hasn’t been too bad though, I’m getting 25 on the highway, probably 17 in town. I hardly drive it though, just couldn’t pass up a great deal on a great skiing car. The 2006 Ford Explorer that I use for work gets 19 mpg on the highway, so I’m pleasantly surprised with the Volvo.

  3. motorstreet says:

    I seriously considered the XC60 before getting my Touareg TDI. The XC60 drove really nicely, was extremely comfortable, and it was fast. It was a little too small for my family and gets pretty bad fuel economy. With the Touareg I picked up a lot of space, get 28mpg, and gave up almost nothing in terms of performance (compared to the regular T6, the Polestar version wasn’t available at the time). I would highly recommend the XC60 though.

    My neighbor has a S60 T6 R-Design, which has the same 325hp and 354lb.ft. It also has the best seats I’ve ever found in a car. It’s a really fun, practical, and cool looking car.

  4. kay3460 says:

    It is unfortunate that the V40 isn’t coming to the states… any word if it will come to Canada though? Design wise it is an Audi A3 fighter – I find it remarkable that Volvo will not bring to North America. The V40 isn’t really a wagon – it is more of hatchback similar in size to the Golf, Focus, A3 etc.

    • TV says:

      My guess is no to Canada too since it would be so closely engineered to US standards. Let’s face it, hatchbacks aren’t lighting the market on fire either in NA.

      Volvo is not a large company and they have to be very wise with their marketing dollars to get maximum bang for the buck.

      An XC40 would do very well in this market so that’s what they’ll be brining here. Rumor is the first version they showed the North American Volvo folks looked like a hatch with a bit of cladding and was rejected. There are spy shots that show the one we’ll get has more of a true crossover style. We’ll see…

      • augaug says:

        It’s not unprecedented for us (Canadians) to have a car that the U.S. market doesn’t have. We had the BMW X1 for a while before the U.S. Same thing with the Mercedes-Benz B class, as well as the Smart car brand. I believe we received the Toyota Echo first which may have never gone to the states, it was a predecessor of the Yaris. Acura has made a version of the Civic which was around in our market before the ILX, and Chevrolet is currently giving us the (American named) Chevrolet Orlando, which has no plans to go to the U.S.

        Wagons and small cars do sell considerably better in Canada than the U.S. and both do particularly well in Quebec especially. Having said all that, I do believe that Volvo said that they have no current plans to bring the V40 to Canada.

        • augaug says:

          I should add that we still get the Kia Rondo as a new vehicle, although it’s clearly showing it’s age. Also, it’s worth noting that hatchbacks actually do quite well in Canada, and the U.S. numbers don’t generally coincide with the American numbers on this style of vehicle. Once again, Quebec helps skew the numbers a little bit because the buying tastes for cars in that province are much closer to European tastes.

  5. prins004 says:

    The rear looks like honda crv!

    • kay3460 says:

      Isn’t it the other way around? The XC60 tail lamp design has been around since 2008. Besides, the LED lighting in the XC0 is much more attractive than the non-LED lighting of the CRV when viewed at night.

      • TV says:

        Yes, the LEDs on the XC60 look terrific. The shape on the Volvo is much more svelte too. Still, I had a number of neighbors ask if I was driving a Volvo when I had the CR-V for a week. It does have a similar (though chunkier) look.