Luxury auto manufacturers as of late like to produce performance versions of their most popular SUVs. BMW has the new X3M, Mercedes-Benz has the GLC 63 AMG, and now Volvo has the XC60 Polestar Engineered. Yes, the company that’s known mostly for safety is now offering a high performance version of their popular XC60 SUV.
Engine – Like every other Volvo since approximately 2015, the 2020 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar utilizes a 2.0L turbocharged and supercharged gasoline 4-cylinder engine. On its own it is capable of producing 316 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. This Polestar Engineered (PE) XC60 has the added benefit of a hybrid powertrain. An electric motor powers the rear wheels and another is used as a motor/generator on the 2.0L engine itself which powers the front wheels. The total output is 415 hp and 494 lb-ft of torque. While on paper the power figures suggest that it is a fast SUV, in reality it doesn’t feel that quick. Put your foot down on the throttle and the speed builds up but it doesn’t give you the kick in your back as other performance SUVs do. It is quite a hefty SUV at 2,154 kg (4,749 lbs) which really doesn’t help with the acceleration which is 4.8 seconds from a stop to 60 mph (96 km/h) according to Car and Driver. I’m not calling it a slow SUV but it’s not as fast as the competitors… well apart from the Audi SQ5. But the Audi is only 0.2 seconds slower with less power.
But because it’s a hybrid SUV, fuel economy is excellent for its size and weight. EnerGuide rates the 2020 Volvo XC60 T8 at 8.7 L/100km on a highway and 9.5 L/100km in a city with an indicated 32 km of pure electric driving range. However in reality, the electric driving range is more like 27 km. It’s not a lot of driving range but for most daily commutes to work, it’s just enough. Plus the XC60 T8 can be fully recharged from a level 2 charger in a couple of hours. So if your charge at work and then at home, you could end up getting closer to 5.0 L/100km of combined fuel economy like how I did during my week with the SUV.
Transmission – When driving in pure electric mode, there is no shifting to worry about as it is essentially a rear-wheel-drive electric car. When the gasoline engine does have to provide power, an 8-speed automatic shifts gears and sends the gas engine’s power to the front wheels. Under normal driving conditions, the transmission shifts are barely noticeable. It’s only when the car is in the sporty Polestar Engineered drive mode that the shifts become a bit more noticeable. It’s not uncomfortable or anything like that but the shifts are a bit harsher than in the normal drive modes.
Braking – The XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered is equipped with regenerative braking to recover electricity while slowing down. It can be done when in “D” or a stronger regen braking can be enabled by selecting “B” on the shifter. When more braking is required, the massive Akebono front calipers clamp on the steel discs to stop the 2+ tonne vehicle with authority. Strangely though, this XC60 has different branded brakes than it’s V60 T8 Polestar Engineered cousin which has Brembo calipers with 2-piece floating discs. A bit odd but these Akebono brakes are just as strong as the Brembos of the V60. Automatic emergency braking is a standard feature on the XC60 Polestar.
Handling – The 2020 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered has slightly different suspension than all other SUVs. No, it’s not air suspension nor magnetic ride shocks. Instead the XC60 utilizes conventional springs on the front with Ohlins dampers and composite leaf spring on the rear with Ohlins dampers. It’s a bit odd that a modern luxury SUV uses a leaf spring for the rear suspension but it allows for more space in the trunk. The really odd thing is that the Ohlins suspension is not electronically controlled. Normally, there’s a button inside the cabin for the driver to change the softness or stiffness of the ride. But the Ohlins dampers are mechanically adjustable. That means that you have to open the hood or squeeze your hand underneath the rear wheel well to adjust the tuning knob at the top of the dampers. To be honest, 99% of owners will probably never touch that tuning knob and it’ll be on a leave it and forget it setting which makes the adjustability a bit pointless.
As for the actual handling dynamics of the Ohlins dampers and rear leaf spring, it’s pretty good. The XC60 Polestar Engineered is no Porsche Cayenne, that is still the king of sports SUVs, but it can hold its own on a twisty mountain or canyon road. Steering feel could be slightly better but it’s not overly heavy to the point where you tire out when trying to park the XC60. It’s a good balance between everyday use and mountain road fun.
Ride Comfort – The Volvo XC60 Polestar comes equipped with optional 22” wheels and skinny tires. There is little to no give in the sidewall of the tires when driving over bumps. Also the Ohlins dampers are firmer than the standard suspension even in their softest setting. The result is a ride that feels choppy when driving over uneven and cracked roads. The suspension can absorb big potholes a bit better but it’s over cracked and uneven roads where it feels overly choppy and uncomfortable.
The seats aid a bit to absorb some jolts from driving over bumps. They provide a wide variety of adjustments for both tall or short occupants. Unlike the V60 Polestar Engineered, the taller ride height of the XC60 PE made it easier to get in and out of the seats, even with the larger bolsters on the bottom seat cushion.
Interior Space – The XC60 was designed with passenger space in mind. The front occupants have plenty of space as it should be but the rear occupants also have a lot of leg and headroom. Sitting behind my 6’4” driving position, my knees have about half an inch of space behind the front seat. Trunk depth is a bit less than the V60 Polestar counterpart but because of the height, the overall trunk space is larger at 1,792 L (63.3 cu-ft). Furthermore, the batteries for the hybrid system do not take up cargo space as they are positioned in the center tunnel where the driveshaft would normally go.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – When the electric motors power the XC60, it is as quiet as one would expect an electric car to be. It can even be driven at speeds of up to 130 km/h on electricity alone without much cabin intrusion of wind and tire noise. The gasoline engine is noticeable once it starts up, especially when cold, but once it warms up it’s not overly intrusive in everyday driving situations. My only complaint about this car is that it doesn’t sound very sporty. In Polestar Engineered mode, the engine is always on to provide the most power. However, it doesn’t sound particularly sporty. It sounds very muffled from inside the cabin and it doesn’t really make any noise when hearing it from the outside.
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – The 2020 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar comes equipped with just about every feature in Volvo’s arsenal. The only features that are missing are massaging seats and ventilated front seats. But you can get those on the lower Inscription T8 trim. The only options that you have on the T8 Polestar Engineered are 21 or 22” wheels and a choice of 4 shades of white through black. If only I was joking but I’m not. You have a choice of white, silver, grey or black. Very boring, I know, especially when Polestars of not too long ago were offered in the fabulous Polestar Blue colour.
Anyway back to the gadgets, the infotainment system is a tiny bit faster to respond and to load on startup. 2 or 3 years old Volvos with the same infotainment system would take upwards of 30 seconds to startup. Also the advanced driver and safety aids work very well. Quite possibly one of the best lane centering and adaptive cruise control systems in the business.
Exterior Design – The standard Volvo XC60 is already a looker with styling that stands out in the crowded SUV market. This Polestar Engineered XC60 adds onto the styling with large, yellow Akebono brake calipers, unique wheels, and subtle Polestar badges on the front and back. Overall the XC60 looks great even though the colour options are a bit lacking.
Interior Design – Just like the exterior, the interior remains relatively unchanged from the regular XC60. The centrally mounted infotainment touchscreen is the main focal point of the dashboard. Soft leather covers every spot where one might touch and Volvo’s engineers did a clever thing to reduce the use of hard plastics. They covered the lower half of the center console with carpet whereas on other vehicles it is plastic. It’s a small detail but it makes the interior feel more premium. The only major difference from the regular XC60 are the gold seatbelts.
The 2020 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered starts at $89,150 CAD ($69,500 USD). The price is quite high but compared to the only other performance luxury hybrid SUV, the Porsche Cayenne e-hybrid, it is a bit less expensive. Yes, there is the BMW X3 PHEV but that only has to make due with 288 hp. So the XC60 Polestar Engineered is the one to go for, right? Well it has one problem. The Volvo XC60 T8 R-Design. For $72,200 CAD ($61,295 USD), you can get the XC60 with the T8 hybrid powertrain (albeit with 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque) and still have the same electric driving range in a luxury SUV. Sure, the R-Design doesn’t get the Ohlins suspension or the unique wheels and is not fully loaded but you can add the convenience features as options. So if you just want a hybrid luxury SUV, save your money and opt for the R-Design XC60.
Thank you to Volvo Canada for providing the vehicle. www.VolvoCars.com/en-ca