Polestar, Volvo’s performance division, applies its label to the Swedish automaker’s products in two ways. There are the full Polestar cars, like the 367-horsepower V60 and S60 Polestars, with seriously reworkedsuspension and more boost from the factory.
Then there are the Polestar-optimized cars, enhanced with a software upgrade installed by a Volvo dealer. We went to Sweden to try a Euro-spec V60 with the latest Polestar optimization.
Designed for the S60, V60, and XC60 in T6 AWD trim, this engine control unit upgrade aims for improved drivability instead of outright speed. The optimization offers performance to match its price – in this case, that price is far kinder than that of the full-bore Polestar cars.
- Previous ECU upgrades – like the 25-hp chip offered in 2011 for the previous T6 engine and the 15-hp upgrade released in 2014 for the V60 PHEV – only changed engine output and power delivery. The newest upgrade starts there and makes tweaks to the throttle response, off-throttle response, shift speed, and shift timing. There’s presumably more to fiddle with, too, since T6 AWD cars now get Volvo’s new super- and turbocharged Drive-E four-cylinder.
- Output inches up slightly from 302 horsepower to 306 hp, while torque takes a bigger jump from 295 pound-feet to 317. The numbers are secondary to the changes in power delivery, with double-digit gains in available power and torque at a useful rpm compared to a non-optimized car. The middle of the range is the sweet spot: power climbs from 228 hp to 245 hp, and peak torque starts at 2,100 rpm and runs through to 4,500, versus 3,000 to 4,000 rpm from the non-optimized engine. This additional mid-range oomph is available in both Normal and Sport modes, and the fuel-economy ratings are unchanged.
- In Sport mode, throttle response is sharper than in a non-optimized car (Polestar didn’t have one available in Sweden, so we drove a standard V60 when we returned to the States for comparison). Off-throttle response has been adjusted to hold revs when lifting off for short spells, like when braking into a corner. Shift points are recalibrated to make the most of the mid-range power, and the shifts happen roughly eight percent faster.
- In the Polestar-optimized V60 T6, the default setting provides the amped-up reflexes of Sport without the hyperactivity – the transmission doesn’t automatically drop down a gear to boost revs as it does in Sport, and the throttle doesn’t get twitchy. The net effect is less downshifting under similar acceleration. When you demand more, it pulls harder in every gear. Turbo lag is evident when you mash the throttle, but its effects are reduced because there’s more torque down low to help out before the turbo really kicks in.
- The only off note in the upgraded V60 – and, by extension, the new V60 and S60 Polestars – is that it’s still built with Volvo’s superseded interior design. It’s comfortable and finished properly, but the new 90-series range has aged it fiercely by comparison. Every month that goes by, the previous fitment gets a year older in terms of perception.
The Polestar ECU, however, makes a marked difference. In everyday urban situations, the optimized Volvo won’t work as hard to catch the next light, get around slower traffic, or connect a few uphill corners. Everything is simply easier, and the cost/benefit ratio seems a no-brainer: Polestar lists the software package at $1,495 and says it’s available new or as a retrofit. We spoke to a Volvo dealer who said it takes two to three hours to install. That time, and every penny, will be well spent.