Polestar falls short of pole position.
THE GOOD
  • Good EV power
  • Easy on the eyes
  • Comfortable interior
THE BAD
  • Extremely high price
  • Quick, but not fun
  • Manually adjustable suspension is a relic
2020 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered Review

The 2020 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered is marginally more powerful and slightly more extroverted than other plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) from the Swedish brand, but it’s also significantly more expensive without being all that fun to drive. This is sport-utility fan service at its finest.

Styling: 9/10

It’s not controversial to state that the Volvo XC60 is one of the more handsome crossovers in its class. This is especially true when it’s found in Polestar Engineered trim, which introduces its own unique 21-inch rims (other trims are offered with optional 22-inch wheels), yellow-trimmed brake rotors and seatbelts, and a darker interior finish. Badging is discrete – there’s a square on the grille (which looks a little off-kilter), as well as another on the hatch – which stands in contrast to the current trend of Euro performance SUVs screaming out their special status at the top of their lungs.

Safety: 7/10

Although Volvo was once a safety leader, the democratization of technology has made advanced driver-assist systems available across a wide range of vehicle classes and price points. The equipment found inside the XC60 consists of the now-standard suite of automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and collision warning features offered by many vehicles.

It all works reasonably well, with one complaint: the indicator for the Volvo’s semi-autonomous self-steering system is a small steering wheel indicator buried at the bottom left corner of the gauge cluster. If you want to keep up with whether the car is driving itself or not, you’ll have to keep an eye on whether that icon changes colour, and its position makes it easy to miss (and requires you to take your eyes off of the road to see it). We need a standard for how self-driving technology informs pilots of its status, and we need it soon – preferably along the lines of the can’t-miss-it steering-wheel light panels found on Cadillac and BMW models.

Practicality: 8/10

Rear seat room in the Volvo XC60 is excellent, and you’ll find usable amounts of cargo space behind the back seats, too. I wasn’t especially enamoured of the retractable cargo cover that came with the vehicle; in its “up” position it blocks almost the entire view out of the rear window in a way that no other SUV I’ve driven has done. Otherwise, you’re dealing with only a small loss of storage to accommodate the battery as compared to the gas-only version of the crossover.

User Friendliness: 8/10

For the most part, the XC60 is easy to get along with. There are, however, a couple of brand quirks that set the Volvo apart from other, more-standardized vehicle experiences. To turn the crossover on, you have to twist a switch mounted on the centre console to the right. To turn it off? Flick it to the right again. Just behind that switch there’s also a weird metallic wheel that’s used to select the vehicle’s various drive modes. It’s not the easiest thing to use when underway, and it serves no purpose other than as a stylistic flourish.

The biggest gripe most people will have when interacting with the Volvo’s feature set is its enormous infotainment system, which packs far too many menus – and offers Byzantine touch-panel paths to follow in order to access them all – to be considered user friendly. It’s bright and colourful, but there are small fonts and pull-down menus sliding in from all directions, making it an ergonomic nightmare. As someone who used to work in user interface design, I’d love something that’s quicker and simpler for when I’m out on the road.

Features: 7/10

The Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered starts slightly below $90,000 before freight and fees. For that amount of money, owners should not have to stop the vehicle, go outside, pop the hood, and then twist a mechanical wheel in order to change the responsiveness of the SUV’s Ohlins shock absorbers. Nor should they have to reach through an access panel in the cargo area to make a similar adjustment at the back axles.

It is fundamentally absurd that such an expensive automobile requires these kinds of pit-lane shenanigans – seen previously on Polestar editions of the S60 and V60 sedan and wagon – but the fact that this rigmarole is found on a sport utility that will never in a million years find itself anywhere near a racetrack amps up the ridiculousness considerably.

I also had an unusual battle going on with the XC60’s side mirrors. Although they fold in to protect them while parking, when they fold out again they don’t always return to the same position. I discovered this when driving around with a half-cocked mirror showing me a dramatically different view than it had displayed earlier that day. What’s more, I couldn’t figure out how to adjust this setting, for there’s no detent that stops the mirrors from swinging out way past a useful level when moving them manually. I had to settle for re-adjusting the mirror sightlines on a regular basis after each random movement of the mirror pods. This is an issue known to past owners of the XC60 as well.

Power: 8/10

Motivating the XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered is a hybrid system that features a single electric motor and a 2.0L four-cylinder engine that uses both a turbocharger and a supercharger to deliver 415 hp and 494 lb-ft of torque. It’s a slight step up over the regular T8 model (to the tune of 15 hp and 22 lb-ft), but all of that is from the gas-fired aspects of the drivetrain; the electric motor continues to provide 87 hp to the rear of the all-wheel-drive Volvo, and is fed by an 11.6-kWh lithium-ion battery.

Comfort: 7/10

I liked everything about the Volvo XC60’s interior. Styling is smart, seats are comfortable, and everything falls within easy reach of the driver. Where the vehicle fell down was its suspension tune, which was bouncy and boomy over the rough streets of Montreal. You might say I wasn’t all that interested in regularly getting out and fiddling with the manual suspension settings in a dirty engine bay in sub-zero weather to try and figure out what balance of front/rear damper response might smooth out the Polestar Engineered’s damping. I don’t think anyone else will be either, proving once again the lack of in-cabin suspension controls puts the XC60 behind every single one of its rivals.

Driving Feel: 8/10

I did my best to explore the limits of the Volvo’s all-electric driving range during a late-winter period where temperatures hovered just above and often below the freezing mark. While a full charge (which took about nine hours or so when plugged into a standard household outlet) showed 32 km of battery-only driving on the dash, the reality was perhaps 40 per cent or less of that number when set to Hybrid mode, with a couple of extra kilometres found in the more restrictive Pure mode. Blame this on the temperature and the increased rolling resistance of the vehicle’s winter tires.

In general, electric-only power was excellent, with enough torque to keep up with the flow of traffic at speeds approaching 110 km/h (although Pure mode’s reduced cabin heating had trouble keeping the windows clear on a rainy night with temperatures just above freezing). The system kicked in the front-wheel gas assist only on the steepest of hills, or any time it detected wheel spin on snow or ice. The latter was somewhat annoying, as it was difficult to predict when the engine would turn itself off and switch back to silent running.

The gas motor sounds and feels a bit rough, especially on sudden cold starts after cruising on the battery alone for a while. That aural character doesn’t improve when it’s in full flight either, as even Polestar Engineered (read: performance) mode lacks the soundtrack one would expect from a quick SUV. Acceleration is strong if a bit laggy as the rest of the drivetrain catches up to the electric motor’s instant torque. That same stretched rubber band feel keeps the XC60 from exhibiting any kind of sporty personality. It’s not a fun drive, but then again, few sport utilities are.

Fuel Economy: 7/10

I managed 6.3 L/100 km in the T8 Polestar Engineered, which is higher than the 4.2 L/100 km rating given to the vehicle by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) in combined gas/electric driving. It’s good for a vehicle the size of the Volvo, but not particularly impressive for a PHEV. With the battery empty, you’re looking at 9.1 L/100 km in combined city/highway driving.

Value: 6/10

The Volvo’s phenomenally expensive $90,000 price tag puts it up against a long list of luxury SUVs with better brand recognition, improved performance, and less anachronistic interfaces for both infotainment and suspension tuning. It’s also double the price you’d pay for the base XC60, albeit without the hybrid powertrain. Given the lack of fun factor associated with the Polestar Engineered bits, it’s hard to justify even the additional $20,000 it commands over either of the other two XC60 PHEV variants.

The Verdict

The 2020 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered is the definition of a niche model. With a sky-high price, only the most devoted mooseheads will submit themselves to the its idiosyncrasies in a bid to convince themselves that the small dollop of extra performance is worth the sticker shock. The rest of Volvo’s hybrid fanbase will stick to either the T8 R-Design or Inscription and forgo the show that is Polestar.

Polestar falls short of pole position. 5/1/2020 6:30:00 AM

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.0L gas engine / 65 kW electric motor   Model Tested 2020 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered
Engine Cylinders Turbo- and supercharged I4 / 11.6 kWh lithium-ion battery   Base Price $89,150
Peak Horsepower 415 hp combined   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 494 lb-ft combined   Destination Fee $2,015
Fuel Economy 9.5/8.7/9.1 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb gas only; 4.2 L/100 km battery/gas combined   Price as Tested $91,265
Cargo Space 468 / 1,395 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
None