By Frank S. Washington
Phoenix, AZ – We came here to test drive several new Volvos. They had been tweaked a little with more horsepower and torque and some adjustments to the steering and the suspensions.
But to me this program was really about Volvo staying in position. For years, Volvo has enjoyed rarified air. It was niche above most mere mortal automotive machines and just beneath the vaunted German luxury brands.
Any Volvo still holds that rarified space. The folks from Sweden build rock solid motor machines. But the competition is getting better, in some cases much better. And I think Volvo is in the midst of responding to ensure that the brand remains better than most.
The automaker announced a partnership with Polestar, a Swedish company that has been tuning Volvo for motorsport competition since 1996. In 2005, Volvo and Polestar entered an agreement and the performance company has been producing performance versions of Volvos for other markets.
Initially, what Polestar Performance will do is adjust the engine control module on selected Volvo models. The tweak increases turbo boost. It also re-optimizes spark timing, fuel mixture and several other parameters that control the engine. And it recalibrates throttle mapping in increase throttle response.
The bottom line is horsepower increased by 25 and torque is upped by 30 foot-pounds. That’s on T6 engines. For T5 power plants the increase 23 horsepower and 37 pound-feet of torque. On some models, damping is increased by 10 percent and the steering ratio is also increased by a matching 10 percent.
A spokesman for Polestar told us that the fix to the engine module takes 10 minutes and will be done at a Volvo dealership or at the port of entry. There are seven models than can be tweaked and each ranges from 2008s to 2012s.
But I think this is just a beginning. Volvo is in the process of creating a high performance brand within its brand and we saw and drove some of the earliest examples. What’s more, Polestar will start selling performance parts for Volvo productions cars in addition to tuning the automaker’s performance models.
The first of these cars was the 2012 S60 T6 R-Design, it went on sale last year. This model year, Volvo’s tweaked models are:
The 2012 XC60 T6 R-Design is priced at $43,700. Horsepower is now 325 with 354 pound-feet of torque. Special front and rear fascias, 20-inch wheels, Xenon headlights and special interior elements round out the package. Damping is 10 percent stiffer and the steering ratio is increased 10 percent.
The 2012 XC70 T6 AWD is priced at $39,100. Horsepower increased from 300 to 325 and torque goes up to 354 foot-pounds. The Polestar tweak cost $1,495 to install.
The 2012 C70 T5 hardtop convertible, priced at $40,450 with 227 horsepower, gets some needed oomph from Polestar and now has 250 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. The package cost $1,295 to install.
There is also a C70 Inscription trim line for $3,900 that includes Xenon headlights, a gross black finished grille and LEDs running lights with chrome trim. Interior leather is calcite or off black, it had accent stitching on leather dash and exterior colors are black sapphire metallic or ice white.
The 2012 C30 T5 R-Design is priced at priced at $27,450. Horsepower increased to 250 and torque climbed to 273 foot-pounds. The car is available with a with a five-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission.
We drove a XC70 T6 AWD and a XC60 T6 R-Design, both Polestar tuned, almost 450 miles over the course of two days. We went through the Apache Trail, Sedona and to Tortilla Flat. Elevations reached more than 4,000 feet.
Out test vehicles handled well, acceleration was outstanding and though both engines worked at elevation, they were not sluggish. Obviously, they were both comfortable, quiet and fuel efficient.
My only quibble was that the controls such as audio and climate controls were exactly intuitive. It took a little fiddling to get them to operate. But of course we were attempting to operate new equipment while we drove. I expect that not to be a problem for owners who take the time to familiarize themselves with the controls.
Look for more Polestar performance parts for Volvos and for more Polestar Volvos as we move forward.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com