Review: 2020 Volvo V60 T8 Polestar Engineered
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Best: It’s quick and frugal, it’s a wagon, and it looks brilliant
- What’s Worst: Expensive and outgunned by rivals, needs a more inspiring exhaust note.
Volvo is no stranger to fast wagons, and readers above 30 will surely remember, with some fondness, the limited-run sleeper-specials that were the 850 T-5R and 850 R wagon from the mid-’90s.
Power by turbocharged 5-cylinder engines, sporting low profile Pirelli P-Zero tires, and engine tuning by Porsche these were wagons for those who enjoyed speed without shouting to the world about it.
Then, nearly two decades later, Volvo and in-house performance experts, Polestar, gave us a performance version of the V60—a low-volume station wagon with Öhlins dampers, racy Brembo brakes, and a turbo in-line 6. It went like stink and showed that the typically reserved Swedes still knew how to have some fun.
Now Polestar, all grown up, has left the warm embrace of the Volvo nest and is taking a shot at making their own cars which trade tailpipes for batteries. But they did help Volvo with a few performance specials within their lineup: the XC60 T8 PE (Polestar Engineered), S60 T8 PE, and the V60 T8 PE that you see here.
These are also low-volume and unlike a typical BMW M or Mercedes-AMG that are quite a common sight (in the GTA), you might never see one of these Volvos on the road. And that’s a bit of shame, really, because as far as sporty wagons and sedans go, the V60 and S60 Polestar ooze cool. They’re still dignified and classy but instead of jazz, these two listen to EDM.
Now before you go thinking that Mercedes and BMW and Audi should be shaking in their lederhosen, let’s get one thing out of the way: if all-out performance is what you’re after the Volvo V60 Polestar is not the answer to your horsepower dreams.
You see, Polestar might be very good at suspension tuning but this is a company that’s hedged its bets on an electric future and these Polestar Volvos, as a result of their T8 powertrains, are all plug-in hybrids.
So that means you get a mode in which it uses no gasoline at all, and if you had a very short commute and always had it plugged in overnight, you might never visit a gas station again. But that range, about 35 km, made possible by an 11.6 kWh battery pack feeding an electric motor on the rear axle isn’t really all that much. And in the real world, in the normal “Comfort” driving mode, it gets used up quite quickly.
Not having the chance to plug-in during the week I had it, I wasn’t able to take full advantage of the electric range or the efficiency boost it provides. So that meant my fuel consumption reading after all was said and done was 10.7L/100 km. And for something with a plug, that result was less than stellar.
But this isn’t my first go with Volvo’s plug-in powertrain, so I know that even with some charging that number would have dropped quite substantially. Even at 10.7 it’s not horrible if you consider my rather spirited driving style, the 415 hp on hand and the 495 lb-ft of torque. I’d question that last figure, though, because it just didn’t feel that fast from the seat of my pants. It’s not slow by any means, but not what I expected either.
Where this Polestar massaged Volvo excels is in its chassis tuning and drive feel. Peek under the hood and you’ll see gold adjustment screws crowning the shock towers. They adjust the firmness of the special Öhlins shock absorbers. Twisting these beautifully machined pieces of art and hearing each precise click is extremely satisfying. With 22 positions you can dial in the suspension just so, or completely screw up the ride of your fancy new car. Luckily there’s this handy guide on their website.
Gold is a recurring theme here because it happens to be “the new hallmark colour for Polestar Engineered components,” according to Volvo. You’ll find it on the Brembo brake calipers, visible through a set of gorgeous 19-inch wheels, and on the seatbelts. These flourishes of colour on an otherwise subdued car are about the only way to tell that you’re not looking at a garden-variety V60. You can also identify a PE Volvo through small white badges with the Polestar emblem on it. There’s one on the front, and one on the back. Blink and you’ll completely miss them.
The world will never know that you spent the extra money to get the “big engine” and that’s ok. These cars exude grace and sophistication, and a smattering of scoops, badges, and exhaust openings would ruin its ambiance.
But the reason you’d buy one of these in the first place is that you enjoy driving. And while it doesn’t feel like it has all that torque, this V60 has more than enough oomph to get you up to demerit point territory in no time at all.
It also doesn’t sound like, well, much of anything at all. When the 2.0-L turbocharged and supercharged gasoline motor kicks in, there’s a rough and gravelly thrum in the background, not unlike a generator which it effectively is much of the time.
Those are the biggest issues with this car. It doesn’t meet expectations on the power front or sound very good; another issue is price. At $82,300 it’s going up against some serious firepower like the BMW M3, or an AMG C 63 S (yes they’re sedans, but they still play in the same field). Both will chew this Volvo up and spit it out on the first apex. A closer matchup and a more apples to apples cross-shop is the AMG C 43 wagon and that starts at just $60,900.
This V60, though, is not about setting lap times or waking up the neighbours with V8 fireworks. That same approach to its suave style can be found in the V60 PE’s driving dynamics. The chassis is wonderfully composed, and the ride is firm but never harsh. Nicely weighted steering is quick to react to inputs and entering a corner at speed is done with very little body roll or drama. It just tracks around with more grip than expected, even when on winter rubber.
On your favourite backroad, the V60 PE is an excellent companion with no bad manners. Those gold Brembos provide excellent stopping power and a firm, positive pedal feel without any regenerative braking weirdness. Things get even better in the “Polestar engineered” driving mode where full power is available all the time, and the engine, electric motor, and transmission respond to the slightest throttle inputs.
As is typical of Volvo, the seats are superbly comfortable and supportive, the driving position is bang-on and outward visibility is great. Material and fit and finish is exceptional and the Sensus infotainment system, one of my favourites, has been upgraded with faster processors and a few extra features and apps. One of which was Spotify that runs off the car and not your phone. Sensus also allows you to do unexpected things, like move the passenger seat and fold the rear headrests down (but not back up) with the push of a button.
Being a plug-in you’ll also find features that allow you to charge the hybrid battery with the engine or save its current charge state for when you require electric-only propulsion.
We have a shortage of sedans today, and even fewer wagons but the V60 is one of the few long roofs out there that feels special. And the Polestar Engineered version just amplifies everything that’s good about it and adds a plug for much better efficiency. If I could get over the price it would probably be my pick for a daily driver. But as it stands a fully loaded V60 T6 R-Design is an exceptionally good value at nearly 20 grand less. And it still makes over 300 hp and offers 90 per cent of the experience you’ll get in the Polestar, minus the exclusivity, gold trimmings, and PHEV drivetrain.
But if you have to have a car that you can plug in and that you’ll never see on your neighbours driveway or even on your street, the V60 Polestar Engineered is an exceptional vehicle. And for consistently keeping the fast wagon dream alive, we salute you, Volvo.
2020 Volvo V60 T8 Polestar Engineered
BODY STYLE: Compact, 5-door, 5 passenger wagon
CONFIGURATION: Front-engine, All-wheel drive
ENGINE: 2.0-L turbocharged and supercharged inline-4 + Electric motor; Combined Power: 415 hp; Combined torque: 494 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION : 8-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY: (Premium Gasoline in L/100 km) 8.4 city; 7.0 highway; 7.8 combined
OBSERVED ECONOMY: 10.7 L/100 KM
CARGO CAPACITY: 658-1441 litres
PRICE: $ 89,150