Preview: Volvo also rises

Written by Lee Bailie on .

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Back in the dark days of 2013, Volvo Cars seemed like a company that was on its way out, from a North American perspective at least.

Its product portfolio had shrunk to just a handful of cars, most of which – save for the strong-selling XC60 mid-size SUV – didn’t connect with consumers, which had a predictably negative impact on sales.

By 2010, its U.S. sales volume had shrunk to less than half of its post-millenial peak in 2004, a slide that didn’t end until 2015. Things were even worse in Canada, where sales went into a steady decline beginning in 2006 that didn’t rebound until last year.

And while the product development pipeline was never shut off, the Swedish carmaker appeared, on the surface at least, to be disengaged to the point that some were wondering about its future plans. Would it go the way of Suzuki, and exit the North American new car market entirely?

I doubt that option was ever seriously considered and it's a good thing too because, four years on, the company is experiencing a true product renaissance. Over the past two years, new cars have been rolling out nearly every six months, beginning with the spectacular XC90 SUV in mid-2015, which was followed by the flagship S90 sedan, and its V90 wagon sibling.

On top of that are the two newest products that prompted my trip to Arizona, the V90 Cross Country and the exciting Polestar twins, the S60 sedan and V60 wagon, both of which receive Volvo’s new 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged powerplant that replaces the inline turbo six (or short six, as the Polestar folks call it) found in the outgoing models.

And there’s more to come. A production version of the all-new 2018 XC60 was revealed earlier this month at the Geneva Motor Show, which should begin arriving in dealerships by the end of the year. Also on the way is a compact crossover (rumoured to be called the XC40) that will be built on a new platform, and we should see a concept for the new S60 sometime next year.

In short, it’s still early days in Volvo’s new product offensive but if the cars on the way are anything like the ones I drove in Arizona earlier this week, better days are ahead for the Gothenburg-based automaker.

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S60 / V60 Polestar

I spent time on both public roads and a closed course in these two, and can honestly say they are loads of fun in either environment.

The big news for these cars for MY17 is the drivetrain, where the old turbo inline-six has been swapped out in favour of an enhanced version of the company’s Drive-E powertrain: a 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder mated to an eight-speed Geartronic automatic transmission that drives all four wheels.

The power gains are significant, with both cars putting out an impressive 362 peak horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 347 lb-ft. of torque between 3,100 and 5,100 rpm. Polestar claims they are the most powerful road cars they’ve ever built, and with a 0-100 km/h time of 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 250 km/h, I’d say they’re right.

Both cars also benefit from a holistic Polestar engineering effort, with significant changes made to the engine (new turbos, connecting rods, camshaft, fuel pump, air filter and larger air intake), transmission (faster shifts, better precision) and all-wheel drive system (more torque to the rear wheels).

The chassis also receives adjustable Öhlins shock absorbers, a carbon fibre front strut tower brace and a stiffer top mount for the front and rear.

Taken together, these changes have made already fast cars even quicker. I wasn’t recording any performance numbers during my time in Arizona, but I can say that both are quite quick, on track and off.

Volvo is boosting Polestar production to 1,500 units worldwide (80 for Canada, and just 200 for the U.S., interestingly), and both are in Canadian dealerships now.

For Canada, the cars are available in Rebel Blue and Bright Silver and come fully loaded with no additional options or trims. The S60 lists for $67,050, while the V60 is $69,000.

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V90 Cross Country

Rounding out the ‘90 Cluster’ lineup is the V90 Cross Country, the company’s high-riding wagon which features an extra 6 cm (2.3 inches) of ground clearance over the outgoing V70 CC, for a total clearance of 21 cm (8.3 inches). The car’s track has also been widened by 20 mm on each side which, when combined with the double wishbone front / multilink rear suspension and optional rear air suspension, is designed to give the car a feeling of ‘relaxed confidence’ according to Volvo.

Because the V90 CC is, like the rest of the 90 Series family, based on the company’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), it is powered by the Drive-E powertrain, which means a 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged 4-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed Geartronic automatic transmission. Like the XC90 and S90, power output is rated at 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft. of torque.

The drive routes Volvo set up alternated between loose gravel, dirt (with a bit of water and mud thrown in for good measure) and asphalt, and the V90 CC handled them all with ease. An off-road driving mode, which softens suspension damping, made the ride over rough and pockmarked terrain more comfortable, and the use of double-pane glass for the windshield and front passenger windows made for a pretty quiet ride at cruising speeds.

The V90 CC is on sale now in T6 AWD trim with a starting MSRP of $61,900. Premium ($1,500) and Premium Plus ($2,500) packages are also available.

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Look for in-depth features of both the S60 / V60 Polestar and the V90 Cross Country in the Summer 2017 issue of Ignition, on newsstands in June.

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Photography by Lee Bailie

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