► Upgraded V40 driven
► Polestar Performance parts pack
► Oddball hatch gets racier
Polestar is becoming a car brand in its own right, branching out from making cosmetic and performance bits for today's Volvos to building a range of electrified cars, starting with the 2019 hybrid GT coupe.
In the meantime, Polestar’s Engineered division still offers to pump up your Swede for a sum – regardless of which model it is.
Here we’re testing the smallest Polestar-fettled car available: a Volvo V40 T5 R Design fitted with the full suite of upgrades.
What upgrades do the Polestar Performance parts include?
You can spec the parts individually or go the whole hog and have the complete pack fitted. Our V40 had the full works, priced at a not-inconsiderable £4725.
What do you get for your money? An engine ECU remap amping up the 2.0-litre turbocharged 4cyl petrol engine’s power output from 242bhp to 250bhp, while torque is boosted to 295lb ft (up by 37lb ft).
A stainless steel exhaust system with pipes beset in a rear diffuser adds a bit of extra parpiness, and there’s a sports suspension and shock absorber setup. The biggest visual difference comes from the set of 19-inch lightweight alloys.
Other, less crucial details include metal-capped sports pedals, black door mirrors, sill treadplates and a pointy roof spoiler.
If you want the same version we tested, it’ll be £36,740 for a T5 R-Design Pro with the full pack. Our test car, though, was priced to the tune of £42,665 thanks to additional safety kit and further options.
That’s quite expensive…
Yes it is, especially when you consider you could get a more powerful Ford Focus RS and a holiday for that money, or even a basic Audi RS3.
So what’s it like to drive, then?
Starting it up engages quite a parp from the sports exhaust, but it’s much louder from outside than in the well-insulated cabin.
The sports suspension and massive wheels make the ride really fidgety, no matter what speed you’re doing, and even small bumps like catseyes are amplified. It can be downright crashy over sudden bumps or compressions. Ride quality isn’t helped by the massive 19-inch alloys; they fit the wheel wells perfectly and arguably look great, but the thin tyre wall makes for a rough ride regardless.
With 250bhp at its disposal, the upgraded T5 engine feels quick enough but most of the shove comes from lower down the torque band rather than at the top end.
The heavy induction noise from the large turbo and amplified din from the sports exhaust constantly suggest that a massive power surge is coming but you never really feel it. Instead, most of the acceleration sensation is concentrated between 2500 and 4000 revs, hitting a ceiling beyond.
All that mid-range punch means it’s quite easy to overload the front wheels past their gripping point, and you’ll also regularly have to wrestle with the heavy steering as you fight off torque steer. The suspension's lack of compliancy doesn't help: at times under hard acceleration, the V40 doesn't feel keyed into the road surface but skips across it.
The eight-speed auto swaps gears without even a hint of lurchiness, even in the ‘Sport’ shift setting, but requesting it to change down a gear before entering a corner either via the selector lever or the optional £150 shift paddles feels ponderous. So much so that if you press the paddle a second time because of the long delay it’ll drop two gears in quick succession.
It’s also ridiculously thirsty – Volvo claims around 39mpg on the combined cycle but we were averaging 22mpg after a couple of hours of testing on varied roads.
A mixed bag then – how’s the interior?
Pleasingly solid, but old-hat now compared to its rivals. The dashboard is a bit button-heavy by modern tastes now, but the digital dials and infotainment screen still look good.
The huge steering wheel’s perforated leather feels good in your hands, and all of the various buttons and levers have a robust quality to them.
There aren’t many hints of Polestar-ness in here, save for a little emblem on the gearlever.
Is it practical?
It’s a Volvo, remember. Rear space is decent even for the lankier among us, while the 391-litre boot is larger than that of a VW Golf Mk7.5.
Our car had some handy practicality touches, including a flexible load floor with a grocery bag holder to make sure your shopping doesn’t roll about.
It’s weirdly pleasing to know that Polestar are literally a phone call or mouse click away for performance Volvo fans, but the V40 doesn’t really feel like the best option to pile on the extra kit. It's long in the tooth: the XC40 crossover has began the rollout of the new '40' family, and the V40 replacement hatchback won't be too far behind.
If you’re really bothered about a high-end hot hatch, you could get so much more for your £36-ish-k than a 250bhp Volvo V40, especially considering the Swedish hatch’s flaws.
The ride borders on irritating, it doesn’t actually feel that fast and, while well bolted together, the interior has aged considerably. Plus, it just feels like too weird a mix of a relatively sophisticated hatchback paired with aggressive upgrades, like adding a jalapeño to your morning muesli.
Still, the spikey front end lends itself to a bit of fun if you’re in a playful mood and you can’t deny the V40’s leftfield charm. VW Golf Rs are ten-a-penny, but if you compare one to this you can understand why.