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Yes Yes Yes oh Yes: cutting edge safety, supremely comfortable, killer looks

Oh dear me no: dreadful satnav, no touch screen


*The photos of the Polestar V60 (wagon) provided by Volvo Car Australia of of the car tested by us. NOTE the number plate.

I am completely in love with Volvo, but I am not happy, not one bit. Let me explain: Volvo, at least in Australia, has the reputation of being driven by pasty real estate agents and ancient bowls-hatted retirees. Not that there anything wrong with elderly bowls players, but who in their right mind would willingly be a real estate agent? Because of this, Volvo sales have been a trifle lethargic over the last little while and that also a great shame. Some of you might remember the “not another bloody Volvo driver” ad campaign. It was meant to be a fun pisstake with Volvo inviting us to have a laugh at their expense. But people laughed at Volvo, not with Volvo. Have we Australians lost our collective sense of humour? We need to buck the *#&% up. Ask someone to describe a Volvo and they’ll probably tell you about a dreary slab sided blancmange. They’ll tell you Volvos have the pickup of a sausage and the sex appeal of Tony Abbott. They may well tell you “Volvos are safe, but would you want to be seen dead in one?” Peasants!

That’s why Volvo have been, quite rightly, at great pains to update their undeserved and savaged image. The current range is handsome, and modern and in many ways cutting edge. We drove the V40 which has a pedestrian airbag tucked under the bonnet, and even steers you back into your lane if your mind wanders. Volvo has been a great innovator since it started manufacturing cars many many moons ago. They are obsessed by safety and gadgets. In fact, Volvo pioneered much of the automotive safety gear cars now need to get a safety star rating. For example, Volvo pioneered 3 point (lap/sash) seat belts. When was the last time you sat in a car without a seatbelt? It is illegal to drive on a road without it fastened. Thanks Volvo!

Take the S60 range for example: they are chockers full of gizmos to make life both longer and easier. Volvo are striving for the hallelujah day when nobody dies in a traffic accident, and the way they are going they may well achieve it. They’ve even developed a temporary paint that fluoresces in front of head lights. It can be used on pedestrians and cyclists so they can be seen at night by all drivers, not just Volvo drivers. So, Volvo cares not only about the people inside their cars, but outside as well.

The 60 range consists of the S60 sedan,V60 wagon and XC60 SUV (aka crossover wagon). There are a bunch of petrol and diesel engines of varying power and torque. Inside, all have tasty cabins which reek of Swedish mid-century-modern. Some say it isn’t as “nice” as a BMW, Mercedes or Audi but it’s all smoke and mirrors. Advertising works wonders and can convince anyone of anything. I can hear the groans as we speak but if you haven’t driven a Polestar you’re about 25 years behind the times.

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The exterior is gorgeous, there is no other word for it. It looks fast, and in the blue of the racing team, looks even more fabulous. It looks classy and modern but I must say I prefer the front end of the “per-update” model. After the midlife update the S60 grille and headlights took on a slightly less cutting edge look. It isn’t bad, it’s just not quite as scalpel-like the previous iteration. The Polestar comes with a smart set of matching Polestar alloys.

I’m a great lover of Scandinavian design and in particular their interior design. It’s simple and sleek and will look as good in 20 years as it does now. The Polestar has a faint whiff of high speed Swedish Gentleman’s club about it. As if that wasn’t enough there is much carbon fibre strewn about the place which as you know means the car in which the carbon fibre is installed is very fast. There is soft leather and metal that all have an expensive feel about them. Even the softy touch plastic surfaces are more Harrod’s than Ikea. Harrod’s, the poshest store in the world would be proud to sell Volvos.

S60 Polestar AWD gaycarboys (12)The centre console is a polished aluminium façade floating ethereally midair. It contains the Satnav system. There is an LCD screen where the maps and vehicle stats are displayed, but it is the input that’s the problem. The LCD is not the touch screen which seems to have become the industry standard. This is a dire oversight on Volvo’s part. Input is via the central knob and by the alpha numeric touch pad. It makes input laborious and virtually impossible while on the move. You passenger will be bouncing around like a ping-pong ball and try to stab at a key pad at 110 is no mean feat.

The heated electric leather seats in the top spec Polestar are firm and supple. They gently hug you without poking into your gentleman parts. It bristles with 258kw of power with a face-ripping 500Nm of torque. As I pointed out earlier, Volvo manage to get 2kw less out of a 3.0L v6 than Holden gets from a 6.0L V8. Then there is the sound. Moving the gear lever from Drive across to Sport changes the exhaust note from a discrete throaty buzz to a loud “look at me I’ve been pimped” roar. It fills underground car parks with an aggressive shout occupying every single centimeter of existence. It sounds magnificent.

We took the S60 Polestar for a weekend trip to the NSW central coast in some of the foulest weather New South Wales has ever experienced. The erstwhile tidy-towns were strewn with debris, downed trees, broken roof material and other sundry bits of flotsam.

We steered cleared of our usual picturesque routes because although the roads are windy and the scenery stunning, 100 year old trees tend to fall from embankments in the Royal National Park. The weirs we cross are flooded and there many SES trucks filled to the brim with orange clad vollies rushing to the assistance of broken lives. Despite this, there were plenty of twists and turns as well as a good stretch of highway to make sure the Volvo was tickety boo. The central coast provides oddles time for cars to show their foibles but the Volvo has none.

At night our automatic lights came on where we cold activate out auto high beam. If the car sees another car or a street light it quickly switches to low beam, then up again when the time is right. The radar guided cruise control slows the car to a stop if needed then moves off again when the traffic moves saving foot action in heavy going. The safety gear also helps protect pedestrians and cyclists by slamming on the anchors to avoid contact, or minimize harm if contact occurs. Sadly there was no automatic parking as there is in the V40 but perhaps that will come next time Volvo add “value” by sticking extra stuff in the car for the same money.

For a car costing just over 100 grand you expect flashing lights, disco balls and scantily clad dancers to herald your every move, and that’s more or less what you get. 0-100 is dispatched in just 5 seconds. But it doesn’t feel fast or frantic. The dash instruments are a series of LCD screens. You feel in complete control because the magic Haldex AWD system has had the laying-on of hands by men in white coats at Polestar Racing. The Polestar software gives more bias to the rear wheels meaning the handling feels sportier. We all know rear wheel drive is good but because the front wheels power the car as well, understeer and oversteer rarely show their ugly heads. You turn the wheel and the car points exactly where you want it to even in the vilest road conditions.

The Wagon has a sexy silhouette far removed from the dull boxes Volvo pumped out for the previous 3 decades. It isn’t that those boxes weren’t safe, but they were gutless and unattractive which, as I said, is the reputation that still haunts them today. The Polestar is very fast, very attractive, and relatively frugal using around 9L/100k on our combination city/highway drive whereas the Commodore with similar power uses twice that especially around town.

The real point is that the Volvo made us feel safe and secure. Yes, it costs $103,000 but what price safety? It felt tight and precise and the ride was firm but comfortable. The seats made you feel like a thousand kilometres would be no more taxing than a drive to the shops for milk. There is plenty of space in the cargo hold and the rear seats fold down for more space. It is just the thing for active couples who wants to carry dogs, scuba gear, climbing ropes and picnic baskets in as much secure comfort as they do their David Jones Sales bags.

S60 Polestar AWD gaycarboys (7)Let’s put this all in perspective: To buy a BMW, Merc or Audi with the same space, power, and AWD, you’ll need a lot more money. To get to100kph faster, you’ll need even more money. There Volvo are many more reasons to like the Polestar than I’ve listed here. For me it’s about getting the power to the tarmac in safety. As always we left the traction control very firmly on and despite the awful state of the roads there wasn’t a single misdemenour to report. Even water over the road wasn’t a problem. To be fair we won’t go thru water than a few centimetres deep and nor should you.

She is a hefty lass at 1834kg but never ever feels heavy and unwieldy. Remember the 0-100 dash takes a mere 5 seconds.

Would I buy one? Yes, yes I would. I love this car a lot. The big price brings big performance and much prettiness. There is something very satisfying about pulling onto the highway in your “not another bloody Volvo” and leaving those smug Germans wheezing in your wake. For the same money they’ve managed 100kw less at best. I love German Bahnstormers as you know. They are magnificent and look wonderful but their magnificence and wonderful-ness has made them two-a-penny.

Volvo V60 Polestar:

Engine: 3.0L turbo V6, 258kw/500+Nm, 10.3L/100k, 0-100 5 secs

Driving wheels: All Wheel Drive