Nearly every maker of upscale cars these days has a performance line to augment the luxury built into their various models. Mercedes-Benz has its AMG division, BMW offers M cars, with Audi it’s the S models, and so on.
Now Volvo, the somewhat staid Swedish brand, is finally getting into the factory tuning game for nearly its entire model line. Sure, they’ve had hotter versions of certain cars in the past, but now they’re reaching out to almost anyone who might be buying a new Volvo.
They’ve partnered with a Swedish tuning firm called Polestar, which has developed software upgrades for the already fairly powerful turbocharged five and six cylinder engines under various Volvo hoods.
It’s an option that remaps the engine’s central computer, and is available on new cars coming into dealerships, or can be added to ones they already have on hand. The price is $1,295 for T5 engines (used in the C30, C70, S40 and V50) or $1,495 for T6 engines (in XC60, S60 and XC70 models). Horsepower then increases instantly by 23 or 25, respectively.
Is the extra power worth thirteen hundred or fifteen hundred bucks? Well, sure, especially considering that it’s a factory-authorized upgrade which not only doesn’t affect the warranty, but also doesn’t negatively affect fuel economy.
I recently got to sample two 2012 Volvos which had the Polestar software, the smallest and largest models it’s available for. First I took a turn in the cute little C30 coupe, a hatchback that offers sporty characteristics along with the typical Volvo sensibility. With the upgrade, the svelte Scandinavian goes from producing 227 horsepower to 250. My test car had the standard 6-speed manual transmission, which added to the fun.
Then, I climbed into the XC70, the rugged-looking all wheel drive version of the V70 station wagon. It too had the Polestar power boost, to the tune of 325 horsepower, though obviously that power is stifled a bit by the standard automatic transmission, as well as the extra heft of the bigger vehicle and AWD hardware.
But even in that “soccer mom” car, the Polestar tuning is really noticeable. The software remaps the computer to adjust spark timing as well as increase airflow to the combustion chambers. I found the extra power to be quite entertaining on one of my favorite curving freeway on-ramps, and that large wagon really responded to my right foot.
You can also add the Polestar upgrade to some earlier year Volvos with T5 or T6 engines, going back to model year 2008. The upgrade can be done at the dealership, while you’re in for regular service for example. Sure, there could be other companies offering engine computer upgrades, but this one’s factory approved and won’t void your warranty.
Polestar has other ways to further the performance of Volvo’s vehicles, but probably in a low key way that will progress slowly. After all, Volvo has spent decades finely crafting its image as a sensible car, they don’t want to undo all of that image at once by being seen as going full-on performance.
But there’s one little thing that their tuning firm might want to work on right off the bat, assuming Volvo would approve. The badge affixed to the rear of Polestar-equipped cars is beyond subtle. It’s a blue square about the size of a large postage stamp, with teeny font reading “Polestar.” You literally have to be stooping over right behind the car to read it. Hey guys, you can boast a little more than that, can’t you?
Last fall I saw some concepts and drawings for future Volvo models in a top-secret, no-cameras-allowed preview at their design studio. The company has big plans to evolve its brand in the coming years. And it looks like performance will be part of those plans.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave