Volvo’s new T8 Polestar Engineered variant of its handsome and luxurious 2020 XC60 compact crossover has a weird name.
It’s also a plug-in hybrid with 415 horsepower and a manually adjustable suspension like you’d find on a race car. Wait. Huh?
Break Out the Tools
Yes, here’s a Volvo that is a plug-in hybrid, a high-performance vehicle, and also an everyday compact luxury crossover rolled into one substantially powered package by the automaker’s in-house tuner, Polestar. Easily the zaniest aspect of the XC60’s Polestar Engineered treatment is its manually adjustable Öhlins coil-over dampers, which require a separate tool to adjust their stiffness—from outsidethe vehicle. Unlike the adaptive suspensions offered on other Volvos, in which you can select comfortable and sportier settings via a button inside the car, XC60 owners won’t be able to fiddle with their settings on the fly. This isn’t the first time Volvo has included this feature on a production car (the previous-generation S60 and V60 Polestar models featured them), but this is the first time we’ve seen them installed on a compact crossover.
The rest of the Polestar Engineered package is more straightforward performance-trim stuff. Atop the range-topping XC60 T8 trim, the Polestar package adds a set of lightweight 21-inch forged-aluminum wheels (22s are optional for $800), summer performance tires, a front chassis brace, blacked-out exterior trim, and Akebono brakes (up-sized in front with 14.6-inch rotors and six-piston calipers). There are cool gold-colored touches, too, including the brake calipers and the seatbelts.
A Polestar-tuned engine computer extracts an additional 15 horsepower and 22 lb-ft of torque from the T8’s turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter inline-four. With the same 87-hp electric motor and 11.6-kWh lithium-ion battery used in the regular XC60 T8 plug-in hybrid, that brings the Polestar Engineered’s combined output to a claimed 415 horses and 494 lb-ft. We have to point out, though, that the Volvo is simply adding the peak output numbers of the gas engine and the electric motor, which is sloppy math. It’s unlikely that the two propulsion sources achieve their peaks at the same time, so the combined output is likely lower in reality.
Torque from the gas engine is routed to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission, while the electric motor is mounted at the rear axle. It’s a properly unusual if effective way to deliver big horsepower in this class. Mercedes-AMG’s similarly sized GLC63, for example, delivers 469 horsepower and 479 lb-ft of torque from a twin-turbo V-8 that’s literally twice as big as the XC60’s four-cylinder. But you also can plug the Volvo in and travel some 18 miles on electricity alone.
Look Out, Audi SQ5
Volvo minces no words when it describes the XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered’s primary target. It’s aimed squarely at the Audi SQ5, which makes sense. Unlike the AMG-badged GLC63 or BMW’s X3 M, the Volvo is genteel and under the radar, just like the Audi. The comparison between the two is slightly lopsided, however. The SQ5’s turbocharged V-6 makes only 349 horsepower, and its pricing starts nearly $20K shy of this XC60’s. According to Volvo, equipping the two SUVs similarly (at $72,045, the Polestar Engineered offers virtually no options and comes fully loaded) erases their pricing disparity.
The XC60 should be able to outrun the Audi at the drag strip, however. A 2018 SQ5 scooted to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds in our testing, the same time it took the regular XC60 T8 to reach that mark. Volvo claims the Polestar Engineered model will be able to do the deed in less than five seconds. Yet, the fortified XC60 doesn’t feel any quicker than the SQ5, at least not when pulling away from a stop. On our brief drive through the mountains outside of Banff in Alberta, Canada, stepping on the gas was met with a hesitation before the electric motor and double-boosted four-cylinder kicked into action and whizzed the XC60 forward with an uninspired growl. The SQ5 and other performance SUVs in this class with six- and eight-cylinder engines sound unquestionably better.
With the Öhlins dampers set to their softer, road-friendly setting, the XC60 drives pretty much like a more buttoned-down T8 model with big wheels and tires. (We only drove versions with the optional 22-inch wheels.) The ride is firm yet the suspension yields to sharper impacts, and body control is good even over road undulations. In really tight corners, which the Akebono brakes provide excellent slowing power for, the Volvo refuses to heel over onto its outside front tire. Only the video-game-like electrically assisted power steering lets the package down, numbing your engagement with its overboosted action.
Will anyone who buys one of these Polestar creations ever take it to a racetrack and fiddle with its fancy suspension? Probably not. Most likely, these XC60s will serve as low-key speedy transportation that still trades on Volvo’s reputation for safety innovation. After all, the Polestar Engineered XC60 comes standard with the brand’s automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and lane-departure system. The interior is just as gorgeous and roomy as the regular XC60’s. Only until you surprise your occupants with a high-speed blast or get caught tweaking those coil-over dampers will they likely have any idea what a special, albeit unusual, Volvo you’ve got.