What is it?
The 2020 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered Has the Juice
494 Lb-Ft of Torque for the Family
The 2020 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered is a sportier take on Volvo's small luxury SUV. The formula is relatively simple. Volvo started with an XC60 T8 Plug-in Hybrid and upped the output, wringing 415 horsepower and 490 lb-ft of torque from the combination electric motor and turbo- and supercharged four-cylinder gasoline engine.
Next, it addressed the car's handling, adding manually adjustable Öhlins struts. These are interesting units: Unlike on some other sporty SUVs, they aren't adjusted via controls in the cabin, so you can't switch from Sport to Comfort on the fly. Instead, knobs at the top of each strut tower can be adjusted (with a satisfyingly clicky action) to increase or decrease stiffness.
Then Volvo added massive Akebono brakes. The big six-piston front calipers (and smaller rear calipers) are highlighted in gold behind 20- or 22-inch forged aluminum wheels unique to the Polestar trim.
Finally, Volvo dusted everything with a bit more style. The grille and other trim elements are blacked-out, the machined 22-inch wheels feature contrasting black and silver surfaces, and inside the cabin you'll even find gold seat belts.
Why does it matter?
Polestar used to be a separate company attached to a racing team. Volvo acquired Polestar in 2015 and promptly did ... not a lot. We got a few bright blue sedans and wagons with added performance, but it never expanded to the level of, say, Mercedes' AMG or BMW's M. Today, Polestar is the brand face for Volvo's future high-performance all-electric Tesla competitors. But we're glad to see Polestar hasn't been fully separated from the Volvo brand because, frankly, Volvo's current lineup could use an injection of sport and fun.
To that end, luxury SUV buyers are always looking for something a little extra, which is why so many brands have introduced more powerful and sportier versions of their small crossovers. Volvo's also establishing the performance cred of its electrified powertrains. Other than Porsche, most automakers are unwilling to slap a performance label on a hybrid SUV, but making a hybrid the halo of the XC60 lineup could increase the desirability of the regular T8 trim.
What does it compete with?
Volvo has been pretty open about targeting the successful Audi SQ5, a vehicle we quite like. By the numbers, it has the SQ5 beat: 415 hp, 494 lb-ft of torque, and a 4.9-second sprint to 60 mph, versus the SQ5's 349 hp, 369 lb-ft and 5.1-second gallop. The margin would be wider but for the added weight from the XC60 Polestar Engineered's battery packs.
But there are other hot luxe SUVs on the road. The Mercedes-Benz AMG GLC 43, which falls between the Audi and the Volvo in terms of power but claims a 4.7-second 0-60 mph sprint. And there's the new BMW X3 and X4 M, both of which make impressive power and start around the price of the XC60 Polestar Engineered.. It may seem odd to compare a hybrid to high-output gas vehicles, but that's the space Volvo wants to play in with the Polestar Engineered. There's always the regular T8 if you're willing to settle for a 400-horsepower PHEV.
How does it drive?
The XC60 Polestar Engineered drives smoothly and with authority. We'll know more when we can subject the vehicle to a full battery of tests in a variety of driving conditions, but in our early exposure to this Volvo, it delivered gobs of power without any herky-jerkiness from shifting between electric and gas motivation. We did notice a bit of squirm under hard acceleration, as the all-wheel-drive system felt like it was shifting power around at full throttle.
Those hefty brakes haul the car down from speed straight and strong. We were told that with the vehicle set to Polestar Engineered mode (in place of Sport), it wouldn't attempt to use regenerative braking but would default to the Akebonos, making for a smoother performance experience. Overall, we didn't notice the same brake-feel issues we 've noted with past Volvo PHEVs.
We were able to test the dampers in two settings, a softer road-oriented setting and a firmer performance-oriented one. Through a cone slalom, the XC60 Polestar Engineered handled its weight well, with smooth transitions and controlled body roll. It definitely inspired confidence when pushed a bit past the norms of street driving.
But there's no getting around the fact that, even in a softer setting, this is a sporty suspension. Bumps on the road felt harder, and more of each impact was translated into the cabin. The manually adjustable struts are good in that they mean the vehicle doesn't feel floaty in Comfort and jittery in Sport like some adaptive setups, but they also don't seem to have quite the same range, and of course they're less convenient to change.
The XC60 Polestar Engineered's steering also lets it down a bit. We've noted that the XC60's steering is light and on the numb side, and that remains true for the Polestar trim.
What's the interior like?
The interior of the Polestar trim is mostly like that of any other XC60: comfortable, quiet and relatively practical. There aren't any crazy performance buckets to be found here. Rather, the gold seat belts are the biggest clue that you're not in a regular XC60.
How practical is it?
The Polestar version of the XC60 is as practical as the regular vehicle since no real changes were made to the interior. But the storage area is really only average for the class, and some competitors offer larger trunks. The SQ5, for example, provides just a touch more cargo volume.
What else should I know?
The XC60 Polestar Engineered starts north of $70,000, making it much pricier than the base Audi SQ5. But the Polestar is a fully loaded trim, and don't forget that it comes with a plug-in hybrid powertrain capable of all-electric operation.
By the way, while the gas-powered XC60 is available through Volvo's subscription program, Care By Volvo, the T8 PHEV and Polestar trims aren't. At least not yet.
The XC60 Polestar Engineered is a nicely executed sporty hybrid, delivering gobs of torque and composed handling and braking characteristics. Its formidable price, complexity and weight may turn off some shoppers, but there's a lot to like here.