2020 Volvo XC60 Polestar Review: the PHEV Path to High Performance

The new Volvo XC60 Polestar Engineered is how other future performance cars should be propelled, as long as we have combustion engines: with help from electric booster motors in addition to turbochargers and superchargers. That is the case with the 2020 Volvo T8 XC60 eAWD Polestar-Engineered, a compact SUV with a big name, meant to compete with the Audi SQ5, BMW X3 M, Mercedes-AMG GLC 43, and even the Porsche Macan S.

For $ 70,000, you get a car that’s fast, safe, roomy for four, and tastefully appointed inside. This plug-in hybrid EV is good for about 17 miles on battery alone, with the battery caching enough electricity to take you from zero to 60 mph in as little five seconds. The XC60 PE runs $ 30,000 more than the entry XC60, much of the extra cost from equipment made standard and the rest from PHEV technology and go-fast parts.

XC60 PE on the Road

The XC60 Polestar Engineered retains much of the ride smoothness, cabin amenities, and driver assists of the second-generation XC60 that debuted a year ago. It is a lot faster, the PE’s 11.6-kWh battery lets you drive electrically in HOV lanes without the burden of carpool passengers, and the optional 22-inch wheels and 35-series tires will be pothole magnets outside Florida and Arizona. This test drive, however, was scenic Banff in the Canadian Rockies. Canada, apparently, has built a border wall that keeps out American-style potholes.

When you tromp the throttle to pass, the XC60 responds very quickly. Volvo cites the 5-second 0-60 time; I was able to get down to 6 seconds on a private airfield made available to Volvo, but had to abort the last and seemingly best run because a private plane was landing at the other end. (The cars, the plane, and the makeshift tower were in radio contact.) On slalom and emergency braking courses, there was very little body roll in testing, and the Akebono brakes hauled the car down from near-double-digit speeds while maintaining a straight line. Under the hood are user-adjustable Swedish Ohlins shock absorbers you can dial in to 20-some settings by opening the hood and turning the gold-colored knob at the top of the shock tower. In doing this Volvo stepped back from adaptive suspensions that adjust the ride and handling multiple times a second. I’m not sure this is an improvement for most drivers.

There are six drive modes accessed by a shiny console roller wheel (that is a bit slippery) and that controls engine, transmission, steering, brakes, stability control, and auto start/stop functions, including Hybrid, Pure (prioritizes battery operation), Power, AWD, Off-Road, and Individual. A Hold-and-Charge button maintains the current battery level for later use (Hold) or brings the battery up to a fixed level (Charge). The PE model also has the crystal starter knob but not the Orrefors crystal shifter that, to some, brings ostentation into the cockpit (and then got copycatted by BMW).

Volvo put a lot of work into smoothing the transition from electric to gas-only driving and back, as well as to the braking transition from power regeneration to friction.

Back-seat passengers have reasonable room and supportive seats. They only thing they might wish for is their own USB jacks, an oversight on any 2020 car, let alone one at this price point.

Unlike a lot of sporty cars and SUVs, the XC60 Polestar Engineered never rides harshly.

Tech and Safety Features

It’s a Volvo. It’s safe. End of discussion. If you must know, safety includes the following:

Volvo On Call (telematics), roll stability control, electronic stability control, lane keeping aid, drowsy/distracted driver alert control, oncoming lane mitigation, road sign information, automatic braking after collision, run-off road mitigation, run-off road protection, collapsible steering column, safety belt pre-tensioners, safety belt load limiters, automatic unlocking after collision, collapsible brake pedal, city safety (includes accident avoidance or mitigation with 37 mph speed difference), intersection auto brake, pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection with auto brake & brake support, energy absorbing seat cushions, front, side & knee airbags, inflatable curtain airbags, anti-submarining protection in seat design, forward collision warning (including short brake pulse. audible warning signal, warning in driver display or head-up display).

Volvo’s semi-autonomous Pilot Assist system is very good, keeping the car centered while maintaining a set speed or pacing the car in front. A Level 2 autonomous car by definition must have adaptive cruise control and lane centering assist.

Other driver assists include lane centering assist and blind-spot detection (blind-spot information system) with steer assist that provides counter-steering when trying to merge into a nearby vehicle’s path and oncoming lane mitigation that tries to avoid a collision if you drift in the path of an oncoming vehicle, at anywhere from 37 to 87 mph. Basically: It reacts before you might, you can always overcome the force, and you don’t have to arm-wrestle the wheel the way you do with BMW’s over-active steering corrections.

The instrument panel is a 12.3-inch LCD (“Digital Driver Display,” now standard at Volvo), and the 9-inch center stack, portrait-orientation center touchscreen (“Sensus Connect”) continues. Some owners and reviewers ding Sensus Connect for complexity. The main trick to Sensus karma is remembering if you don’t see what you want, swipe left or right for two additional screens.

Seventy large gets you gold seatbelts with the XC60 Polestar Engineered.

Polestar: How You Beat Volvo’s 112 mph Cap

The XC60 Polestar adjuster knob on the Ohlins shocks is also gold.

Polestar is Volvo’s performance sub-brand, a joint venture of Volvo and Volvo parent Geely. Polestar will be an electrified performance brand. Its first two vehicles are Polestar 1, a “low-volume electric performance [plug-in] hybrid GT,” with 600 hp and a battery range of 93 miles (150 km), and Polestar 2, an EV-only vehicle competing with Tesla Model 3. Polestar Engineered will apply performance techniques to new Volvos such as the XC60 PE here, but also as performance and software tweaks for existing Volvos. And there is a related Polestar Racing team.

When Volvo announced would cap top speeds at 112 mph (180 km/h) in 2021, in the interests of higher safety and lower energy consumption, Polestar was not subjected to the mandate. Otherwise, Volvo would be competing with one hand tied behind its back against the performance models from Acura, Audi, BMW, Infiniti, Lexus, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche. The SQ5 and MB-AMG GLC top out at 155 mph, the Macan S at 157, and the X3 M at 174, for instance. The XC60 Polestar Engineered will reach 140 mph. Close enough.

Volvo XC60 Models and Trims

The XC60 Polestar Engineered sits atop the XC60 food chain. Except for the XC60 PE, there are three four-cylinder engine choices: T5 turbocharged with 250 hp, T6 turbocharged and supercharged with 316 hp, and T8 turbocharged, supercharged plus an electric motor, with 400 hp, or 415 hp for the Polestar Engineered.

The trim lines and variants are:

XC60 Momentum, $ 41,790-$ 55,590 base prices (plus packages and options). On all trim lines, front-drive is for the T5 only and AWD adds $ 2,300, T6 AWD adds another $ 3,500, and T8 eAWD adds $ 8,000.

XC60 R-Design, $ 48,490-$ 62,290 base prices for the four engine/drivetrain variants. This is the sporty model. The T8 R-Design comes pretty close to the Polestar Engineered model.

XC60 Inscription, $ 48,490-$ 62,290 base prices. This is the luxury model.

XC60 eAWD Polestar Engineered, $ 70,495. The is the high-performance sport model (reviewed here) and comes standard with all-wheel-drive, the T8 engine, and the features optional on other XC60s. The only options are 21- or 22-inch wheels instead of the stock 20s, and $ 645 for most paint colors.

Should You Buy?

While the Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered runs $ 30,000 more than the cheapest XC60, it runs a more reasonable $ 8,205 over the R-Design T8 PHEV and is in line with what the competition charges for its highest-performance compact SUVs. Recharge time at a Level 2 charger is a decent 2.5 hours. The same supplied cable also does 120 volts at home.

Among premium compact SUVs, if you want the efficiency of a plug-in hybrid, or you want the ability to get in HOV lanes with only you in the car, the XC60 Polestar Engineered does the trick, as do the mainstream Momentum, R-Design, and Inscription with the T8 PHEV powerplant.

If you want all-out performance, then look also at the BMW X3 or X3 M, arguably the best premium compact SUV on the road today, along with the Audi Q5 / SQ 5, and the Porsche Macan / Macan S. Most of them will be getting plug-in hybrid variants over the next year or two, both because it’s one way to wring more power from four-cylinder engines, and because it helps the automaker’s corporate average fuel economy numbers. Also, buyers in this demographic want efficient cars. The Lexus NX is interesting because it offers a hybrid version, though critics say it’s not as refined as other Lexus hybrids.

Shop and test drive the new XC60s as well. The famous names have trackable SUVs and now Volvo does. If you want performance, definitely look to the Polestar Engineered version, as well as the T8 version of the XC60 R-Design, which is effectively Polestar Lite and $ 8K cheaper, but you don’t get gold seatbelts or brake calipers.

Do not buy the 21- or 22-inch wheel option unless you also spring $ 1,000 for tire/wheel damage insurance, or you live in a state that doesn’t see snow. The twenties are good enough.

In addition to the usual buy-or-lease choices, check out Care by Volvo, a subscription service (yes, CBV sounds like an extended maintenance and warranty program, but it isn’t) that lets you get a new Volvo for a year, swap for a second Volvo for a year, then end the program, or continue with another car. Care by Volvo covers all costs outside of gas and tolls, including insurance. If the carrier (Liberty Mutual) approves you, you pay the same as everyone else does for the car, for instance, $ 750 a month for an XC60 Momentum. You can do most of your shopping online and only see the dealer for paperwork and delivery.

One final buying tip: Before seeing the 2020 Volvo lineup, I was not a fan of light-colored interiors because they’re a bear to keep clean if you have kids or pets, if you eat in the car, or if you do Subaru-like things (kayak, camp, mountain-climb) that track in dirt. But Volvo SUVs with blonde interiors – light-colored seats and interior trim – are dazzling, worth a look (especially the XC90 with second-row captain’s chairs), and worth the extra cleaning.

Who knows blonde better than the Swedes? The light upholstery (here in the six-passenger XC90) makes the cabin light and airy.

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