Freakin’ Kinja keeps breaking my formatting.

In order to understand what the hell an R is we have to go back in time to 1995... Clinton was president, AOL was all the rage, and Volvo was winding down production of its 4 cylinder cars.

In 1995 Volvo released the first in a series of performance cars that spanned three generations and a decade. The 850 T5-R was the first Volvo that could really be considered to be performance oriented. Volvo slapped a bigger turbo on it, cleaned it up, and give it a few aerodynamic and styling cues. The 850 T5-R would go from 0-60 in 5.8-6 seconds depending on transmission. Offered with stunning 5 spoke wheels (later updated for the P2R) that were the only giveaway to what lay under the hood. It epitomizes the word ‘Sleeper’.

In 1998 when Volvo refreshed the basic 850 in the V70 performance packages came with it. From 1998-2000 Volvo produced 3 different V70R variants.

Phase 1: 1998 V70R AWD with a 240bhp engine and 4 speed mode selectable auto in the USA, manual available elsewhere. 0-60 in 6.4 seconds with AWD and a manual, 7.2 AWD with the 4 speed that came to America.

Advertisement

Phase 2: 1999 V70R AWD with a 247bhp engine, same 4 speed auto however, the TCM was changed to be adaptive. No manual available. 0-60 in 7.3 seconds

Phase 3 2000 V70R AWD 265bhp, 5 speed auto, dual exhausts (the first in a factory Volvo), and bigger brakes. 0-60 in 6.3 seconds.

Each of these R cars steps forward in performance and culminates in the 2000 R. While the cars have a drawback—rudimentary AWD, and the 2000 car has a fatal flaw, the transmission, it nonetheless advances technology and performance forwards.

Advertisement

In 2001 Volvo introduced what was to be a platform that would come to have some serious teething issues especially with the AWD cars. These issues alienated much of Volvo’s legacy user base used to bulletproof reliable cars. Most of the issues stemmed from the fact that Volvo had used the same defective 5 speed auto as the 2000R in every car, and every 1999-2001 car suffered from a poorly designed electronic throttle body failing prematurely. Volvo had sorted the transmission and ETM by around MY 2003.

The P2 platform was a step forward in safety, design, and brough Volvo out of the box+wheels+turbo design philosophy that had been its mainstay for 30 years. 15 years later the P2 cars still look modern, a feat very few cars accomplish even 5 years later.

Advertisement

In 2004 Volvo reintroduced the R cars again. The S60R sedan and V70R wagon both came equipped with 300hp 5 cylinder engines, haldex electro hydraulic all wheel drive (a quantum leap compared to the viscous coupling on every pre 2004 Volvo), the choice of a 5 speed auto, or 6 speed manual, active suspension, self leveling headlights, massive Brembo brakes, and an R specific leather interior in 1 of 3 unique colors (Nordkap blue, Gobi, or ‘baseball glove’ Atacama).

However, the P2R isn’t just good looking, it also performs well. Volvo intended it to compete with the similarly priced (mid 40k) BMW M3, Audi S4 sedan and Audi S4 Avant wagon. The V70R can compete with the S4 Avant but the S60R can’t hold its own against an M3 (well maybe in the rain on super curvy roads it can but not really as an S4 will beat it). (That’s why you should get a V70R not an S60R you have fewer cars that are better than you)

With a 0-60 time of about 5.6 seconds for the manual V70R wagon and 5.2 seconds for the manual S60R sedan they’re pretty quick for cars weighing 3800lbs and 3300lbs respectively. The automatic times are about a second more in 2004 and 2005 because the 5 speed was torque limited in 1st and 2nd. Volvo swapped the auto transmission in 2006 for a 6 speed AW21 that Volvo still uses today sadly.

Advertisement

The R cars only have 3 weak points... the coupling in the front differential that sends power rear can’t handle the torque of the car, the struts are poorly programmed and leak and the valve body of the early 6 speed autos is prone to failure. (Volvo cannot introduce a new automatic transmission and have it work apparently). Production of the S60R and V70R ended in 2007 with the retirement of the P2 platform (P2 S60 production continued for 2 more years).

In 2008 or so Volvo rebranded R to R Design and annoyed the living shit out of every R owner as now every Volvo could be an R (Design). The R Design tag is equivalent to the S-Line tag Audi has—it means nicer seats and that’s it. Given that they already confused people with the R Design brand when Volvo wanted to bring another performance car back they branded it “Polestar”. Polestar is Volvo’s racing branch— a nascent ///M, RS, or AMG if you will.

Advertisement

The first Polestar car was the C30 it only made 250hp with a variant of the 5T in the R, also it was FWD only (WTF Volvo!).

In 2014 Volvo decided to introduce Polestar versions of the S60 and V60 (what replaced the V70 wagon, the XC70 still exists but it’s based on the S80 not S60). The Polestar cars have a T6 engine making 350hp and 369 ft-lb of torque, same 6 speed transmission as the ‘06+ Rs, manually adjustable Ohlins dampers (the same company that designed the electronic struts on the R), 6 piston calipers on the front, Haldex Gen IV (more instanter power to the rear), and a bunch of interior upgrades similar to the P2R. However, the Polestar also has a pricetag slightly north of $60,000, quite the bit of coin for brakes, a turbo, dampers and an ECU tune. A fully optioned S4 platinum with electronic suspension, a dual clutch (or a manual) goes for $65,000 Remember, the maxed out P2R cost around $45,000 ten years ago about the same as an S4.

For me this begs the question of why don’t the Polestar cars have a manual or a dual clutch? It isn’t that Volvo doesn’t have both (they do). Hell, Volvo has had a dual clutch since 2008 with Ford’s PowerShift and they have had a bolt on 6 speed manual for a decade with the M66 from the R, C30, and V50. In 2015 a 10 year old torque converter based automatic isn’t acceptable for a $60k+ sportscar. Additionally, 350hp isn’t nearly enough either! Give us the 450hp T5 from the true Polestar C30 T5 AWD or the 508hp T6 from the Polestar S60 Concept then go charge $70k. However, that won’t happen as the 508hp Polestar car is about $150,000.

Advertisement

What have we learned today? Absolutely nothing! I had originally titled this “Why the Volvo Polestar cars don’t live up to the R legacy” but I dunno they kinda do... Just not in performance or price competitiveness with an Audi S4. However, if you want a fast wagon in America you have 2 options—a Polestar V60 or Mercedes Benz E63AMG (which is $40k more expensive.) So buy the damn wagon, if you want a fast AWD sedan get an Audi.