Nobody wants to be 250 miles away from their destination when there's a blizzard on the radar. Nobody wants to be stuck in Chicago in February staring down a 12-inch snowfall. I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to experience both, but thanks to the 2018 Volvo V60 Polestar, it wasn't any more difficult than driving in drizzle.
Over the course of a week, this V60 wagon -- beefed up by Volvo's in-house Polestar performance division -- tackled some of this winter's worst weather with aplomb. But it's not just a foul-weather warrior. On dry pavement, this wagon is a total hoot. Just ask Managing Editor Steven Ewing, who was kind enough to snap the photos you see here while testing an identically spec'd V60 Polestar in Los Angeles.
It's not new by any stretch -- the V60's replacement is set to debut the very week this review is published. But while it's an old dog, its tricks are new enough to keep it relevant until the latest and greatest arrives. After all, you don't need the latest and greatest in-car tech to make a 362-horsepower wünderwagen shine.
Hides its age on the outside, but inside...
Volvo's lineup is almost entirely new, which makes the aging S60 and V60 stand out like a sore thumb. There are no sleek "Thor's Hammer" LED headlights up front, nor does the wagon's body appear as svelte as Volvo's newest wagon, the V90. But it's not a bad design by any stretch -- the proportions work, which is part of the reason why this body has been around since 2011 with only a few aesthetic adjustments. Slap on a coat of Polestar's exclusive cyan racing blue paint and it still looks plenty frisky, especially with some 20-inch wheels jammed into the wells and a front lip that looks ready to take out an ankle or two.
While nips and tucks kept the outside somewhat contemporary, there's no denying the car's age once you slip inside. The massive touchscreen used in new Volvos is nowhere to be found -- instead, you'll find a tiny little screen and a mish-mash of dials and buttons, with a gauge cluster that's digital but not nearly as customizable or feature-laden as the company's newer offerings. The interior is largely monochromatic, broken up with some carbon fiber trim on the dash and blue contrast stitching. The extra bit of storage behind the center stack is a godsend, because the cubby under the armrest is positively tiny.
For a stick figure like me, I found the Polestar's aggressively bolstered seats to be supportive, even on longer drives, with a heating function that kicked in quickly, and with gusto. Space up front was ample for a six-foot-tall driver, but in the back, things were tight for larger passengers in terms of both head and legroom.
Being a proper wagon, the roofline doesn't have an aggressive angle that eats into visibility. Whether looking out the sides or out the back, blind spots weren't much of an issue, and I welcomed the car's auto-dimming side and rearview mirrors at night, when long stretches of dark highway meant driving alongside folks who sure did love their high beams.
Start the Polestar and its 2.0-liter, supercharged and turbocharged I4 barks to life. In nearly every other iteration, this engine sounds like a tractor, but Polestar did something with its exhaust system that finally made it sound good. 362 horsepower and 347 pound-feet of torque come on low and stay on thanks to that twin-charging setup. The eight-speed automatic shifts a bit slow in manual mode, but gear changes are generally fine when the car is left to make its own decisions.
The Öhlins dampers are always on the stiff side. They're adjustable, but that doesn't mean you can set this car to drive like a Lexus LS, nor should you want to. This is very obviously a performance car, so your expectations should take that into consideration. The Polestar-specific 20-inch wheels and rubber band tires don't help the ride, either. Steering is a bit on the heavy and slow side, but still within the realm of daily usability. The V60's honkin' Polestar brakes are super touchy but also super effective.
All of this translates to a beast of a winter wagon, especially when shod with 245/35/20 Pirelli Sottozero winter tires. They provide confident grip at highway speeds in slush, at low speeds in 10 inches of unplowed snow (thanks, Detroit) and everywhere else. Keep the traction control on, and winter driving is a carefree breeze. Turn it off, and you may as well slap a Krispy Kreme sticker on the side, because the Polestar will dole out donuts like they're going out of style.
If you aren't driving through Precipitation Hell, you might get some surprisingly good gas mileage. At traditional double-nickel highway speeds, the Polestar returned in excess of 30 mpg, well above its EPA estimate of 27. City driving was close to the government's 20-mpg rating.
As for dry-weather antics, Ewing, too, bemoaned the slow steering but found the Polestar to be a joy in the canyons after getting used to it. Grip was ample on the summer tires, but the stiff suspension created a fair bit of, as he put it, "bounce-bounce-bounce," on the freeways.
It's like CES 2008 in here
I'll start with what I liked. The driver-assist systems on hand worked flawlessly. The adaptive cruise control was smooth and predictable, but the grille-mounted radar was too easily obscured when driving in the snow. I loved that the blind-spot monitors are on the door panels and not the mirrors, because when highway speeds and salt obscured my side windows, I could still tell when someone was coming up on me. The sole USB port up front charged at what appeared to be a respectable 1.5 amps, enough to run Google Maps but still receive a net positive charge.
And you'll want to run Google Maps, because the infotainment is... not good. The screen is tiny and not touch-capable, so inputs can only happen via voice or a terrible little rotary dial. Contextual menus are hard to suss out, and you do get some internet connectivity, but unlike new Volvos, it's a BYO-Internet situation. The new V60 will remedy this by adding the excellent Sensus Connect system, which is one of the most modern, pleasant setups on the market today. Indeed, Volvo's new cars are technologically impressive, but if there's one place where the V60 really shows its age, it's here.
How I'd spec it
The V60 Polestar is a monospec affair, so there are no options from which to choose. For $62,595 including destination, you get everything mentioned above. Summer tires come standard, so you'll need to stash some cash for winters -- a set of Sottozeros will set you back about $1,600. You can get it in white, silver, black or a darker blue, but why would you?
Down to brass tacks
The V60 Polestar doesn't have much in the way of competition. Other similarly sized wagons like the and BMW 330i xDrive wagon pack less peppy engines but also have much more modern tech loadouts at a much lower starting price. Performance wagons like the Mercedes-AMG E63 cost tens of thousands of dollars more, and output is well beyond that of the V60's four-banger. Table for one, sir?
$62,595 is a high price to pay for a car that's aged like a good block of Emmental. The infotainment tech is painfully old, and the whole car is soon to be replaced by something much more suitable for the 21st century.
But you can't throw out the baby with the bathwater. The V60 Polestar is an impressive drive, thanks to those Öhlins dampers and a potent powertrain. It can tackle difficult driving in any season and come out the other side unscathed. It's a limited-run vehicle, too, so it also has an exclusivity factor working for it. There's nothing else like it on the road today. That counts for something, right?