Review: 2020 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar eAWD
More sharp-edged performance than plug-in efficiency
For folks who haven’t kept up with Volvo’s rapidly adapting line of Sino-Swedish vehicles, it is one of the few legacy car companies that by the end of 2020 plans to offer plug-in versions of every vehicle in their Canadian lineup – including an upcoming all-electric version of its XC40 SUV, and plug-in hybrid versions of everything else that are available now. This battery electric (BEV) version will be dubbed the XC40 Recharge, with plans to eventually use ‘Recharge’ to replace the current ‘T8’ moniker in Volvo-speak for ‘any vehicle that can be plugged into a wall socket.’
Amongst Volvo’s current 2020 plug-in offerings, some vehicles offer a more performance-oriented version of the T8 model, designated with a Polestar badge. These offer slightly more power and velocity-enhanced styling, such as this XC60 T8 Polestar eAWD.
Then to truly dive into the electric future, the same Geely Group conglomerate that owns Volvo has also launched a new brand this year called Polestar, which will also offer plug-in vehicles only, the Polestar 1 and Polestar 2 so far, which have even loftier performance goals than Volvo’s Polestar-tweaked models.
So this XC60 T8 Polestar is a Volvo, not a Polestar, but with performance enhanced by Polestar.
At its bones, the regular gas XC60 battles vehicles such as the BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC for the heart of the popular luxury compact SUV market. It’s useful to note here how the XC60 T8 Polestar differs from the already-higher performing but much less racy (and more comfortable) XC60 T8. The ‘base’ T8 starts at $72,200, and offers a turbo and supercharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder plus an 87 hp electric motor that provides a combined 400 hp.
The XC60 T8 Polestar version starts at $89,150, which offers the same electric motor, 11.6 kWh battery and 27 km of electric range, but with 415 hp coming from the hard-working four. That’s a major jump in price for a fairly minor 15 increase in horsepower, which is interesting because the regular T8’s 400 horses already outmuscles plug-in hybrid rivals like the BMW X3 PHEV or Mercedes-Benz GLC 350e.
But don’t be fooled by the ‘Hybrid’ designation that Volvo places on all these plug-in T8 versions. Similar to the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, Volvo for some reason believes it’s more advantageous to label these vehicles ‘hybrids’ than plug-in hybrid or PHEV. This may cause some confusion if buyers are considering actual gas-electric hybrid rivals such as the Lexus NX 300h.
Once you delve into the specs of these two, you’ll realize that the major fuel efficiency savings for any XC60 T8 will be realized most by folks with relatively short urban commutes, and can charge their vehicle at night. Once you’re back to using premium fuel and acting as a regular hybrid, its combined fuel consumption of 9.1 L/100 km is notably thirstier than the much slower and more frugal Lexus NX Hybrid’s 7.5 L/100 km combined figure – and the Lexus uses regular fuel.
This Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar can run its owner from rest to 100 km/h in 5.4 seconds, helped along by its generous 494 lb-ft of torque (combined engine and electric motor power). It feels like a fleet athlete when the accelerator is mashed, and the gas engine comes on in a flurry of sound and speed, but is whisper quiet in most city running.
If there’s anything that crosses this T8 Polestar off many shopping lists, it’s the painfully harsh ride, even in Eco and every day Hybrid driving mode default. Granted, this tester came with attractive but super low-profile 22-inch wheels, which look like sticky rubber bands enveloping those Y-spoke rims that are great at showing off the Polestar signature gold calipers (with manually adjustable Öhlins shock absorbers exclusive to the Polestar version).
Though the official e-range is 27 km, the dash figure promised as high as 32 km at full charge but achieved closer to 25 km in a few full charges, with regular air conditioning use. But it’s hard to measure this EV range exactly, as the engine will come on not only with sharp accelerator prods, but occasionally at random times also, as there’s no EV only mode.
Shift paddles here actually shift the transmission for performance, not any battery regeneration shenanigans, as on PHEVs like the Mitsubishi Outlander. Speaking of the transmission, the shifter needs two pushes in any direction to push for either Drive or Reverse, making it easy to unintentionally catch the one-push Neutral.
Inside the XC60 T8, the gold seatbelts catch the eye right away, matching those signature Polestar brake calipers. The bucket seats have infinitely adjustable power operation up front, including useful extendable thigh support along with embracing yet welcoming Nappa leather sport seats.
Volvo’s signature large vertical screen still looks graceful and modern, but perhaps a touch less modern than when it first debuted on the XC90 many years ago. There’s a great sound system – with as much bass as you’d want while still seeing out your shaking mirrors. There’s no wireless charging though. A huge panoramic roof floods the interior with natural light, while the roomy rear seat has a pass-through for longer objects, allowing owners to carry four people and longer gear like skis or hockey sticks.
That said, it does have a large and useful cargo bay, with its 505 litres of space showing no bulky signs of the advanced lithium-ion battery underneath. There’s also a handy foot sweep function to open or close the rear tailgate.
As with any Volvo, both active (crash preventing) and passive safety is a priority. Its active cruise control works well with adjustable distance control that can follow along curves in the road and bring the car safely to a stop in heavy highway traffic, in the city. Visibility is great, with a button to lower the rear seat head restraints, as well as 360-degree camera views around the car as soon as it’s placed into Reverse and stays on for a few seconds afterwards.
At the end of the day, the Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar is an expensive performance SUV meant for hardcore handling enthusiasts with a green streak, and not the other way around. Buyers looking for a more well-rounded luxury SUV will likely find more of a value sweet spot with the regular XC60 T8 that starts just over $72,000, which is basically just as quick, just as green, and much, much more comfortable.
2020 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar eAWD
BODY STYLE: Performance plug-in compact SUV
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, electric all-wheel-drive, eight-speed automatic transmission
ENGINE: 2.0-litre inline turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder, plus 65 kW (87 hp) electric motor (combined 415 hp, 494 lb-ft torque)
FUEL ECONOMY: (Premium) 9.5/8.7/9.1 L/100 km city/highway/combined
CARGO VOLUME: 598 litres (21.1 cu ft)
TOW RATING: 750 kg (1,653 lb.)
PRICE: $89,150 not including destination fee, taxes and options