Volvo throw down a performance gauntlet – in Australia

Whilst we’re waiting…..

I don’t know how much noise it’s made overseas, but here in Australia, the motoring wires have been buzzing this week due to the arrival of a limited edition Volvo S60 tuned by Volvo’s racing partners, Polestar. This package has been put together specifically for the Australian market and Volvo Cars Australia will only sell 50 of them, each of the cars individually numbered.

A quick description, from the Fairfax press here in Australia:

Under the bonnet is the same 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged engine in the T6 model, albeit tweaked to deliver an extra 18kW of power (242kW or 325hp) and a torque boost of 40Nm (to 480Nm) thanks to software upgrades.

It even matches its donor car’s official fuel use and emissions figures of 10.2 litres per 100 kilometres and 243g/km CO2. We managed 11.3L/100km during our time behind the wheel, including spirited driving through tight, twisting roads around Wollemi National Park in New South Wales.

Despite the performance gains, the official numbers again fail to live up to the car’s real-world abilities. At 5.8 seconds, it might only manage a 0-100km/h time of just 0.3 seconds less than the regular S60 T6, but it’s the Polestar’s impressive rolling acceleration that is likely to have buyers hand over the extra cash.

Unlike the US version, the Australian S60 Polestar is the only one of its kind in the world to receive stiffer springs for even sharper handling over the sporty T6 R Design. The Stateside version doesn’t get the sports exhaust system, bigger wheels or lower ride height either.

It sounds to me like the other Swede might be using us far away Aussies as guinea pigs for a wider rollout. Fair enough.

So why am I writing about an admittedly impressive-sounding Volvo here at Inside Saab?

There was a time, not so long ago, when Saab were the undisputed sporting choice for the Swedish car buyer. This goes right back to the earliest days of Saab, with their lightweight, tossable chassis and high-revving stroker engines. It continued through the days of the 99Turbo, the 900T 16V and even the 9000 Aero and 9-3 Viggen. By those later stages, however, Volvo were beginning to shed their block-of-flats design language and were starting to include some performance versions of their own. I still observe some of those early ‘R’ wagons with a degree of admiration.

Saab’s most recent quasi-performance edition was the 2008 Saab 9-3 Turbo X, a car that received a sitting ovation, mostly due to tamer-than-expected performance attributes. People expected the Turbo X’s output to be significantly raised over the standard 9-3 Aero V6 due to the addition of the XWD system. The truth of the matter turned out to be that the Turbo X was much more about XWD than it was about flat-out performance.

I have a feeling that the enthusiast set – me included – will come to appreciate the Turbo X much more as time passes, because it IS a great performing car on the road, even if the numbers on paper aren’t significantly different to other models. I know whenever I see one that I stop and stare, and my guess is that others do, too.

But back to the point…..

The S60 Polestar is a factory built collaboration between Volvo and Polestar, offered by Volvo Australia with the full Volvo three-year, unlimited kilometer warranty. It’s selling here in Australia for just over A$80,000 (previous S60R models from nearly 10 years ago sold for $20K more than that). All things considered, that’s a decent package.

I’d like to send a challenge out to Saab’s engineers and marketers – let’s not let Volvo have this ground to themselves.

Saab has the perfect performance partner, Hirsch Performance, from Switzerland.

Anyone who’s driven a car enhanced with Hirsch Performance gear knows that it’s a wonderfully integrated package that looks fantastic and drives even better than it looks. I first drove a Hirsch Saab 9-5 around 5 years ago and it was wonderfully, deliciously brutal when you wanted it to be, while still retaining all of the smooth qualities of the 9-5.

Saab has had a lot to contend with in the last two years – the carve-out from General Motors, the launch of the Saab 9-5 and 9-4x, and of course there are the severe troubles that the company has faced during 2011 and the immediate threat we face to our continued existence. We need to focus on getting past these obstacles and getting back on our feet.

I can’t help but think, however, that a project like the integration of Hirsch Performance into our factory offerings would instil a bit more pride, a bit more fight, into the Saab brand once we’re back on our feet. I know there are people in the upper echelon at Saab who are interested in these thoughts, too. As mentioned, though, we’ve just had too much on our plate in recent times to take it further.

We simply can’t let the ball-bearing manufacturers from Gothenburg have the fun side of Swedish motoring all to themselves. Can we?

The good news is that Saab did start working on greater use of Hirsch products with the 9-3 Independence Edition Convertible. I know there have been problems with those being built due to our current circumstances, but it’s still a step in the right direction for greater Saab-Hirsch integration.

The Saab 9-3 Griffin, using the new direct-injected 2.0T engine would be the perfect canvas for Saab and Hirsch to collaborate and produce a feisty product that could get some tongues wagging and a price point comparable to that S60 Polestar.

Just a little food for thought……

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  1. Great post Swade, eventually I would love to see a Yenko style dealer modified Saab with a throaty exhaust, intake, an ECU tune etc. Sadly noone at my local dealer knows what Hirsch is ;( of course I love coming in there for an oil change and getting complements on my ’02 9-3s looks and sound 😉 3in DP and Magnaflow back muffler turns heads.

    If I had the money I’d build myself a Hirsch Turbo4 6spd 9-5, wow that would be amazing and smoke the heck out of those nasty # Series

    On another note the wife and I have started a Saab awareness campaign in San Diego. We’ve printed

  2. Cards to set on other Saabs that we see around town listing various enthusiast sites and inquiring about a car club. A little invasive sure but we see so many Saabs here and need others to join in our fun.

  3. Great post Swade.  A couple of points:

    1) Polestar in the US: Here in the States, where the “upgrade” is essentially just available as a $1500 dealer performed re-flash without any of the Aussie mods, the criticism on mainstream car boards has been fairly vicious, focusing mostly on the high cost for such a modest boost and, of course, asking why the cars just weren’t made that way in the first place…

    2) As a Turbo-X SC owner, I do indeed get asked by people all the time about my car.  Those rims are just amazing…

    3) Assuming Saab’s survival at the bosom of Youngman, they really need to do some “special” performance model.  There is now a small, elite class of US car-buyers who are very influential (opinion makers who influence other people’s buying decisions) and will not buy anything except what I call “conquest” models: AMG, BMW-M, Audi RS, Caddy V-Series, Dodge SRT, etc…  This group is often paying amazingly high premiums to join this elite class of auto buyer, as much as double the cost of mainstream models.  Saab needs to give these people an option.

    True story: I was talking recently with someone in my neighborhood whose lease on his Turbo-X is nearing its end.  I asked him what he was going to replace it with, trying to talk him into another Saab knowing how much he loves his car.  No, he said, no Saab, he is instead looking for another “special high capability car,” as he put it, since he’s only bought those in the past.  He pointed out Saab doesn’t have one of those right now, no true Turbo-X successor.  He’s going to the local BMW dealer soon to test drive a BMW M3 sedan.  I tried to talk up Hirsch 9-5 mods, but he doesn’t want to piecemeal build that kind of thing himself.  He wants a fixed, set, widely recognized package.  He wants that “bad a**” image that buying a supercar in sedan clothing gives you.  Too bad.

    You’re right Swade, Saab needs some kind of option for those buyers, even if there are only a couple hundred of them…  They’re an important bunch. 

  4. Being that I work at a Volvo/Mercedes dealership, your comments made me smile. Every time an S60R or V70R comes in, I want to take it out for a drive. They are amazing machines. I have yet to drive a Polestar S60 T6 yet, though, since it is installed after the car is sold. But after driving the T6, an additional 25 hp would only make a great thing even better.

    Have you ever driven a 900 SPG? I put an SPG APC box in my 900T and it only bumped it up 5 hp. But … the difference was night and day! It was incredible! So, don’t get too worried about the numbers, just enjoy the added performance.

    I do hope that SAAB both survives, becomes profitable, and eventually offers some competition to the likes of AMG, M-Series, and R-Design. That will be a happy day. But I’m not sure how soon that should be with the way things have been going. Maybe once production starts again and a good year is under the belt, SAAB can think about branching out a bit.

  5. a bit more food for thought – I was finishing holiday shopping at Woodbury Common (NY State – USA) and met two charming Swedish couples – when they said they were from Sweden, I said so is my car – they are hoping and so must we – they haven’t given up, we cannot either.

  6. Only one Problem here Volvo does not offer any more manual transmissions unless you get the Small C30 Hatch. I could say the Same about the 9-5 with the 2.8L V6 but I guess thats a luxury model and they didn’t think to offer it in manual form.

  7. Interesting move by Volvo Australia. Competitive price-hp outcome. Unsure about the S60 but the V60 looks good in the flesh. Will help to keep customers engaged by offering some affordable “execlusivity”. Unsure where Saab Australia should go when things get going again. The Australian market is very price sensitive and Saab dealers will have some hard years ahead. Lack of competition [dealers] is a major drawback. Before i sold out i was quoted AUD$400 for a replacement dame edna key…good work swade…

    1. S? I have one of those. S is said to stand for “snik” (cheap) as it used a low pressure turbo and had no turbo pressure gauge. In some markets it was called EcoPower.
      While it gives good mileage it’s not that impressive.

      Talking about the Aussie market there was the Saab 900 Enduro available there.

      1. The T16S was the full fat turbo, you are confusing it with the 900S. The T16S is probably the finest SAAB ever made. (Yes Ok, I’ve had mine for the better part of 20years)

        1. Indeed, whole-heartedly agree. I see two 900 Aero’s (known to me as T16S) parked side-by-side on my way to work. Both are absolutely immaculate and look just stunning in their full Aero outfit. I hope I’ll spot the owner one day and can go for a little test drive 🙂

          Anyway, my point was that Saab needs to build a modern equivalent to the 900 Aero. It MUST have the same effect on people as the 900 did back in the days. That’s my new-years wish!

  8. Steven

    Great post. I agree the standard Turbo X was more a Madras than the full Vindaloo, but that was easily remedied with the Hirch upgrade to 300bhp, which took my manual Turbo X to 0-60mph pretty much on 5.0sec dead and it was ferociously fast through 2nd to 4th from 30mph to 70mph – dare I say it going into M3 / RS4 territory and definitely a far cut above the top of the range 335i  or 3.0T BMW / Audi models of the day. I still miss mine terribly (even though I have the significant consolation of a Hirsch-tuned 2.8T Aero 9-5 now). And finally, the Turbo X exhaust note was the best even at idle – my 2 year old daughter (at the tiem) always knew when Dad was pulling up home from that unmistakable noise.

    Finally, slightly off topic, I was delighted to see a fully Hirsched 9-5 2.8T XWD in Fjord Blue when travelling in Hong Kong last week. I must admit I has rim envy when I saw the 20″ alloys on that beauty.