BANFF, ALBERTA – “There’s a small part of Volvo in every car,” remarked Dr. Lotta Jakobsson, Senior Technical Specialist, Injury Prevention at Volvo Cars. This more than anything else stuck with me during the media presentation on a range of new and refreshed models Volvo is rolling out for the 2020 model year.
The Swedish brand known for making sensible family-oriented SUVs and wagons, synonymous with occupant safety, introduced what is still the single most important piece of life-saving technology the automotive world has witnessed since the first horseless carriage rolled into existence well over a century ago.
If you haven’t already guessed, I’m talking about the 3-point seatbelt—invented by Volvo’s Nils Bohlin 60 years ago. And if you’ve been in any modern car today, you’ve used one.
It’s easy to take this humble fabric restraint for granted. Initially met with much public skepticism, well over a million lives saved has proved its effectiveness time and time again.
That success didn’t stop Volvo from continuing its work with automobile safety, forming its accident safety research team in 1970. And since the 50s the team has analyzed over 43,000 accidents and its 72,000 occupants, using this data to help develop safer cars and safety innovations. Like seats that reduce the risk of neck injuries by over 50 per cent and the side impact protection system (SIPS) that lowers chest injury risk by 50 per cent as well.
Recently Volvo launched The E.V.A initiative, a culmination of all those decades of research and data analysis.
E.V.A stands for Equal Vehicles for All and it’s a project that recognizes the differences in people’s gender, body type, weight, and height. It’s used to develop better passive safety systems that work for everyone without just resorting to the standard crash test dummy template—a male US soldier from the 1970s.
The initiative makes this extensive collection of research papers available to everyone in an online digital library. And Volvo encourages all automakers to use it in the interest of safer roads for all.
Think of Volvo as a company that’s more into learning from research rather than profiting from it. They’re less interested in the numbers than they are in obtaining repeatable results. Which in turn brings real progress.
It’s because of this that all the cars they make are just as safe as each other, from the compact XC40 to the full-size XC90. Not content just meeting safety regulations, Volvo strives to go beyond them.
Volvo XC60 T8 eAWD Polestar Engineered
You’d think that boy scout Volvo might scoff at the thought of a car that’s more powerful than it needs to be. Or one that’s set up to go faster in corners rather than slow down for them.
But that’s why they have Polestar. They’re the boisterous team at the Volvo office giving out noogies by the water cooler, and consuming Red Bull by the gallon. But their desks are always perfectly organized. They are still Swedish after all.
Being Volvo’s performance arm they’re tasked with making regular Volvos go faster. Much like M does with BMW. Except far less nutty. Where companies like M and AMG get into fisticuffs over Nurburgring records and track readiness, Polestar Engineered Volvos make no such claims. In fact this is a performance company that specializes in electricification.
Available for the first time on the XC60 T8 plug-in hybrid is a Polestar Engineered trim that tacks on a host of performance upgrades. They start with an R-Design and give it bigger brakes. In the front you get 6-piston ventilated front rotors with gold-painted calipers developed by braking specialists Akebono. Öhlins dual-flow valve shocks are utilized and are adjustable for stiffness by turning beautifully machined gold screws on top of the shock towers that are tied together with a strut bar painted in a textured white finish.
There’s a power bump, too. 15 more horses and 22 foot-pounds of torque for a total system output of 415 hp and 494 lb-ft. That power rating is made possible by a 2L turbocharged and supercharged 4-cylinder engine turning the front wheels and an electric motor driving the rear. The rear electric motor gives the XC60 all-wheel drive and also provides additional power and torque on demand. Gear shifts come courtesy of an 8-speed automatic supplied by Aisin.
For 2020 the battery pack residing in the XC60’s centre tunnel grows to 11.6 kWh and can be charged at most level 2 public charging stations in just 2.5 hours. Expect a small bump in the all-electric driving range of 27 km.
Polestar XC60s get a special Polestar Engineered driving mode all their own. Selecting it sharpens throttle response, speeds up the gear shifts, and adds a bit of heft to the steering. Nearly 500 lb-ft of torque gives this compact SUV a nice wallop in the mid-range and a confident shove when taking off from a standstill. Factory testing claims the XC60 will cover the 0-100 km/h sprint in under 5 seconds.
Inside the cabin there’s perfectly tailored Nappa leather seats and metal mesh trim bordered with satin brightwork. You also get awesome gold seatbelts, ‘cause this is a Polestar.
If you’re familiar with modern Volvo interiors then you’ll feel right at home with the iPad-like screen serving as your gateway to the Sensus infotainment system. Sensus controls everything including the climate controls. It may be a deal-breaker if you’re not into touchscreens, but they’ve made this one awful simple to use.
If you know the basics of any smartphone, you’ll be right at home here. Climate settings are always at the bottom and there are 4 main segments: navigation, entertainment, phone, and a custom one that you can configure to show the weather for instance.
Volvo’s funky twist knob to start the engine and the cool drive mode selector that looks like a drum-shaped disco ball are nice quirks that you won’t find on any other car.
Volvo brought us out to a runway near the mountains surrounding Golden, BC, where they set up a short handling and performance course to demonstrate the Polestar’s upgraded suspension, braking, and power systems. What it revealed was a well-tuned chassis eager to change directions, minimal body roll, and relatively quick steering that lacked feel but made up for it with accuracy.
The big-brake kit had little trouble performing repeated panic stops from about 150 km/h showing little to no detectable fade, and maintaining a nice firm pedal feel. Better yet, the transition from friction brakes to the regenerative braking system has been tweaked and is largely transparent now, a definite improvement from my previous experiences.
The XC60 Polestar is not an M or an AMG SUV and it’s not trying to be either. It’s a subtle take on performance and more comfortable than those German tanks. It’s quieter on the inside and doesn’t use an obnoxious exhaust to shout about on the outside.
Your neighbours won’t hate you for owning one and most people will never even notice that you paid extra to drive the fast Volvo. The tiny black and white Polestar badges and gold accents are the only obvious clues. But it’s still faster than you could possibly ever drive on public roads. And if you’re looking to set Nurburgring lap records with your SUV, buy a Corvette.
The XC60 Polestar is a lot of car but it is also a lot of money at $89, 150. But it does come with pretty much every bell and whistle you can get on an XC60, the only option being 22-inch forged wheels.
2020 Volvo XC90 T8 eAWD
Moving up to the largest Volvo SUV can feel like déjà vu when stepping out of the XC60. Volvo corporate design is strong within the brand, but that’s not a bad thing.
XC90s are nearly silent when cruising, especially the plug-in hybrid models. They waft along any road in a stately fashion with a creamy feel to the suspension and driving controls, much like the leather that covers virtually every surface. Ultra-lux Inscription models get optional massaging seats and fine open-pore wood and more chrome, where R-Designs err on the sportier side of things with gloss black trim and metal instead of wood.
The XC90 gets a mild refresh for 2020, with subtle styling changes like a new concave grille design and tweaked front and rear fascias. The 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster is now standard as are 19-inch wheels.
And due to customer demand, a new 6-seat option has been added to models with the T6 powertrain allowing for much easier access to the 3rd row. Which is still best suited for kids but could work for taller folks in a pinch if the drive is a short one.
Like the XC60, the T8 plug-in hybrid powertrain also benefits from the bigger 11.6 kWh battery and all Volvos get Autobrake added to the blind-spot monitoring system with Cross-traffic alert.
There’s a new Orrefors crystal shifter which I think looks great but might not be to everyone’s tastes although it’s operation proved to be frustrating if you’re not used to double-tapping up for reverse or down for drive. Both my drive partner and myself were left revving in neutral on more than one occasion thinking we were in gear when we weren’t.
Plug-in models get a combined 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque and the T6 model we drove makes do without electric components but develops a respectable 316 hp and 295 torques from the twin-charged 4-cylinder. I didn’t find it lacking power in any respect.
Where the XC60 feels agile and sporty, the XC90 is relaxed and hushed and would rather not be chucked into corners, exhibiting more body movement and roll.
The 2020 XC90 starts at $61,250 for a base T5 Momentum, and the plug-in hybrid models start at $74,950.
2020 Volvo V60 Cross Country
One of the few brands that still offer wagons, Volvo have been steadfast supporters of the long roof for as far back as I can remember and they all look brilliant. Easily some of the best for sale on the market.
Blurring the line between wagon and SUV the V60 Cross Country starts with a standard V60 and gets a 63 mm lift for extra ground clearance, beefed-up suspension, and rugged body cladding on the rocker panels and around the wheel arches.
All-wheel drive is standard and there’s a low-speed off-road mode that works between 20 and 40 km/h for rough terrain. To prove its capability Volvo let me drive the Cross Country up a mountain, climbing nearly 8000 feet up the eastern ridge of the Purcell Mountain chain.
The unpaved trail resembling a rock-strewn goat path proved to be a walk in the park for the lifted Volvo as it scampered up with zero drama, switchback after switchback. The cabin remained remarkably quiet and comfortable, with zero rattles or vibrating trim as we gained elevation.
At the summit we supped at the Eagle’s Eyes Restaurant, the highest eatery in the country boasting panoramic views of the Purcell and Rocky mountains. The Cross Country might not be a rock crawler but the capability it has is more than enough for 99.9 per cent of SUV buyers. Except the roof is lower for easier loading of outdoor equipment like bikes and kayaks, and you still get all the benefits and the driving enjoyment of a car.
The cross country is only available in T5 trim, which gets you a 2-litre single turbo 4 cylinder that generates 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Pricing starts at $48, 900.