Driven: Volvo V40 T5 Drive-E Polestar – the sleeper thriller

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Volvo_V40_Polestar_013“Is that the V40 Polestar bro? Is it faster ah?”

After an extended drive in the rain over murky puddles mixed with soil and mud during the monsoon season, the Bright Silver Volvo V40 wasn’t looking too bright, to say the least. So I had dropped the car over to my favorite detailing center for a quick cleanup.

I was taken aback by his sudden question. Not many could recognise the extra livery, yet aware of the fun you can have in one. Certainly, more fun that I’d like to admit. So I answered, “Yes, it is. The full suit.”

We exchanged pleasantries, which the medical practitioner from Temerloh (doctors and Volvos, what a coincidence) revealed he was looking into the Polestar optimisation programme for his own V40 T5, but lamented on not being able to do a test drive before making up his mind. And there I was, having the keys to the car…

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But let’s cut to the review first. The Volvo V40 T5 is a legit example of a sleeper, possessing more-than-capable numbers to take on almost anything on the street. It’s a mini station wagon or a mid-sized hatchback in its own right – call it what you will, the V in the model name stands for versatile – and there’s absolutely something for everyone when it comes to this Swede rider. It has the complete pack of go-fast bits and upgrades by Polestar, Volvo’s racing partner and official performance team – so if the Plain Jane version wasn’t zippy enough, we’re definitely more riled up for this one.

It’s by no means a separate model in its lineup, and you can opt in for any of the different packages offered to your Volvo. It’s an excellent idea, as it allows buyers to prioritize when working with limited budgets (and wife approvals). Fancy this but not that? Volvo has that covered.

The Polestar optimisation programme is broken into five packages spanning different logical touchpoints namely the Chassis, Intake and Exhaust, Wheels, Interior and Exterior and ECU Optimisation. The Chassis upgrade replaces the standard suspension components with redesigned shocks, stiffer springs, and overall a lower stance that drops off a solid centimetre of height, however with the base V40 placed side by side it seems to crouch lower than the number suggests.

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With the Intake and Exhaust package, the T5 Drive-E engine breathes freer with a performance air filter and a stainless steel exhaust setup with larger tipped twin exits and redesigned air dams replacing the original. You not only get more performance – Volvo didn’t state the benefits on paper – but you get an overall pleasing exhaust note which subtly reminds you whenever you start the two-litre turbocharged engine, or when ‘fun runs’ are to be made.

Combine that with the ECU Optimisation package and the result is a nett 8 hp and 50Nm gain to a total of 253hp power and 400Nm torque for a meatier midrange with other miscellaneous enhancements; quicker gear shifting, gear holding during turns and an optimised throttle response. And in case you were wondering, those outputs are higher than VW’s Golf GTI.

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The Wheels package, albeit the priciest of all packages is single-handedly the highlight of the list which entirely changes both visual and driving characteristics of the V40. The new Polestar rims are now 19 inches wrapped with Pirelli P-Zero rubber in a 235/35 configuration, and promises consistent cornering quality. Oh, have we mention they also look damn beautiful?

And if those wheels aren’t loud enough a statement, there are also interior and exterior additions: sport pedals, Polestar scruff plates and gear knob on the inside, with blacked-out rear mirror casings and a two piece boot lid spoiler on the outside.

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Now after a walkaround it’s time to place the fob in our pockets, pop a few bones from a stretch and snug a bum onto the driver’s seat. Other than the aforementioned pedals and gear knob the interior is largely unchanged with Volvo’s floating dashboard design, complete with dials and buttons to control the vehicle’s amenities. Everything is within reach – which is perfect, but it also results in a rather cramped cockpit which will need to get some adjusting to. Some controls are oddly placed, and can be rather baffling such as the passenger seat situated handbrake and un-ergonomically placed lumbar adjustment knob which seems to elude reasoning.

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The V40 Polestar is fast, but it doesn’t feel fast – and no, it’s a good thing. Under your command, it’ll dash from 0-100 in under six seconds and go beyond to a top speed of 240 kmh, and it does all that without that jitter in your arms and legs right after a long karting session. Volvo has hit the right notes – the V40 also rides like a regal, with better-than-expected quality levels and very low cabin noise intrusion which, ambivalently to some – gives the best of both worlds.

When it comes to the corners the V40 dances like a dervish. The stiffer springs and shocks allow for seemingly flat cornering when swinging its weight from side to side, and it offers so much lateral grip and stability you just keep going harder and harder on those corners until you feel yourself slipping off that proverbial edge – no pun intended. Contrary which Volvo is well-known for, its stability control stayed rather reserved throughout, allowing for a fair bit of fun before things get a little too hairy. There’s some torque steer, especially when pulling from standstill but that’s what you get when you have a FWD car with torque outputs of an SUV.

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One major complaint that takes the thrill away out of the Volvo, which is attested by many others as well – is the lack of feedback from the steering. For ordinary drives the weighting is the best any nonchalant driver can have, but with a person eager to floor it at the next bend will find the response a little far too giving, despite the steering feedback option set to its heaviest setting.

While the T5 Drive-E sings in tune, the eight-speed torque converter gearbox paired to it goes slightly out of pitch. Despite the best efforts from the engineers at Sweden’s Gothenburg the Aisin eight speeder isn’t able to keep up with its pace; there is a noticeable delay between gears, and it hurts the overall performance show Volvo is trying to achieve with the V40 T5 Polestar.

Having eight selections between them means you find yourself double tapping the paddle shifters very often just to get the revolutions within the power band, and for the uninitiated the experience can be rather vexing. However, the purpose of more gears is highly understandable as which engine speed is kept to a minimum, taking advantage of the comfortable torque that comes early for a smooth and pleasant cruise on the roads.

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Final thoughts – regardless of its letdowns, the Volvo V40 Polestar is still an able contender to the C-segment hot hatchbacks out in the market. If it’s a dignified and refined drive you seek and yet capable taking on other hot hatchbacks interrupting your leisurely cruise; look no further.

At the end of the day, we parted at the detailing center leaving my newly met compadre with a big wide grin; a firm decision made – and based on the experience I had with the V40 T5 Polestar, no guesses needed to what it was.

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About Author

Having a penchant for cars since youth, he firmly believes that speed and stature go hand-in-hand. He enjoys the occasional spirited drive and can be found personally grooming his cars from time to time.

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