Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered on test: it’s a hard charger
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Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered
- Holistic approach to performance enhancement
- Detail to delight the enthusiast
- Volvo cabin comfort
- Rear suspension’s a dirty job
- Not outrageously quick in a straight line
- Four-pot engine can sound strained
Performance SUVs might seem a bit silly, but there are a lot of them around. People love ’em. Any European brand worth its raised ride height has at least one super-quick crossover in its ranks. Preferably more.
But high-performance plug-in SUVs? There’s Porsche’s supersized Cayenne, but that’s about it right now. Which is weird, given the potential to combine smug zero-emissions city driving with an electric boost to push you back into the seat when you’re in the mood.
Well, now there’s also this: the Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered. The Volvo XC60 you know and Polestar you’ve probably heard of too: it used to be Volvo’s racing division, but it’s now a subsidiary creating its own range of bespoke performance and luxury electric vehicles (EVs). Think of it as an EV-focused BMW M or Mercedes-AMG, and like those brands it also still dabbles with enhancements for existing models as well as doing its own ground-up stuff.
That’s where this car comes in. The T8 is the Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) version of the XC60 SUV: petrol engine at the front, lithium-ion battery pack and electric motor driving the rear. It’s all on brand and the concept makes sense.
But the car itself? It’s a bit more edgy.
The hybrid powertrain has been pumped up to 311kW/670Nm – not outrageous, but certainly serious. And remember, Volvo’s T8 petrol engine is both turbocharged and supercharged, so it was pretty interesting even before Polestar laid hands on it.
There’s an aluminium strut under the bonnet and monster six-piston Akebono brakes on the front, which completely fill the 21-inch wheels. The chassis features Ohlins Dual Flow Valve shock absorbers, with damping that can be adjusted to any of 22 different settings. Per wheel. By hand.
That’s right, adjusting the suspension is a hands-on job, with the front wheel controls under the bonnet and the rears reachable through the wheelarches. How often would you really do that? Who knows; how often would you seriously punch your family SUV to 100km/h in 5.2 seconds for that matter?
The point is that you can. This kind of attention to detail is sheer delight for the car enthusiast and the outrageous suspension setup makes the XC60 Polestar Engineered unique. The under-bonnet adjusters and strut brace are quite beautiful to look at as well.
How does it work? Don’t come expecting the kind of neck-snapping performance that pure-EVs are so good at serving up. If you’re driving the XC60 T8 Polestar briskly, it’s the sensation of the various technologies working together that makes it interesting; it may technically be an “EV” (because it has a plug), but a lot of the appeal is mechanical.
Having that pure-EV commuting ability does make the XC60 a better SUV, though. While the standard XC60 is big on comfort and ease-of-use, Volvo’s eight-speed Geartronic transmission can be a bit dim-witted about town. The T8 sidesteps that completely with a full charge on board by running in single-speed “Pure” electric mode.
If you’re too heavy with the right foot it’ll fire up the petrol engine to help, so Pure is not for hard-charging. But it offers pretty decent EV range: Volvo claims 46km from the 11.6kWh battery pack and we found 40km in city driving easily achievable.
Before you ask, that battery is tucked away in the transmission tunnel, so there’s no impact on the standard XC60’s 505l of boot space. Practical as always.
All of the above is relevant to the T8 in a general sense, but none of it puts the Polestar Engineered bits to work. So let’s do that.
The powertrain is at its happiest storming away in the mid-range, so it really rewards a driving style more focused on momentum (that’s another XC60 model, right?) than redline-chasing.
Which is perfect given you can adjust the suspension just-so to suit your own personal driving character or (even better) the road ahead. Once the novelty has passed, the manually adjustable suspension is a bit of a chore – especially at the back, where you have to reach under the wheel arches, prise off a dirty rubber seal and feel for the clicks as you turn the tiny wheel.
But it’s worth having a fiddle, as it’s the chassis that brings the greatest change to Polestar from the humble XC60. The company even recommends some typical settings. Position zero (the shiny golden dial at its most extreme clockwise setting) is the firmest - and it’s really firm. Polestar suggests position 15 for performance driving, 10 for standard running and number four if you like to keep it comfy.
Dual Flow Valve is a proprietary Ohlins technology designed to speed up the response of the bump-and-rebound of the shock absorbers. So while the ride is never what you’d call cushy, it’s consistently well-controlled regardless of how far you’ve dialed up the firmess of the suspension.
The T8 is still a heavy beast: well over two tonnes and around 150kg more than a non-hybrid T6. But the configurable suspension makes it easy to get the thing to handle that way you want.
You can enjoy all of this from the comfort of one of the nicest cabins in any production car. Take “comfort” literally, because the seats in the XC60 are a marvel.
The Sensus nine-inch portrait touch screen in the centre console doesn’t seem quite as amazing in these days of Tesla, but it’s still nicely configured and allows a relatively button-free dashboard.
From an ease-of-use and quality point of view, this is just as impressive as any other Volvo; which is to say very impressive indeed.
Good luck explaining why your medium-sized family SUV is loaded with technical performance and handling equipment. But then Volvo is not alone in doing that; far from it. It’s just that the XC60 Polestar Engineered does things a bit differently and you’ve got to love it for that.
VOLVO XC60 POLESTAR ENGINEERED
ENGINE: 2.0l supercharged and turbocharged petrol four, electric motor with 11.6kWh lithium-ion battery pack
POWER: 311kW/670Nm (total system), 246kW/430Nm (engine only)
GEARBOX: 8-speed automatic, AWD