AUTO REVIEW: Volvo’s Sporty 2020 XC60 Polestar SUV Introduces Hybrid-Performance Brand

BANFF, Alberta (Detroit Free Press/TNS) -
 Volvo XC60
2020 Volvo XC60 T8 E-AWD Polestar SUV. (Mark Phelan/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

Volvo will launch its Polestar performance line in a big way this fall with a couple of electrically augmented models, the 2020 XC60 Polestar SUV and V60 Polestar station wagon.

Both vehicles get a slightly more powerful version of Volvo’s T8 E-AWD plug-in hybrid drivetrain, which consists of a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0L engine and an electrically powered rear axle.

Volvo also announced new services:

—Lifetime free towing to the nearest Volvo dealer.

—A lifetime guarantee on replacement parts and service costs.

The two Polestars should reach dealerships any day, along with an updated version of Volvo’s bigger XC90 SUV, which has three rows of seats, and a beefed-up Cross Country version of the V60 wagon.

Polestar is Volvo’s performance arm, in the same way AMG is Mercedes’s in-house speed shop. Polestar tweaks the engineering of Volvo vehicles and will build Volvo-based electric performance vehicles under its own name. Polestar was an independent racing company that specialized in Volvos until the automaker bought it in 2015.

You can recognize Polestar engineered Volvos by their gold seat belts, big yellow Akebono brake calipers and an asterisk-like etching on a small chrome plate. Volvo sold a handful of Polestar modified S60 sedans last year. The XC60 and V60 mark the sub-brand’s real introduction to American buyers.

Volvo charges a significant premium for Polestar’s cosmetic and performance changes: start at $71,000 and $67,300, respectively, for the XC60 Polestar.

I recently drove the 2020 XC60 Polestar, V60 Cross Country and XC90 on highways, logging roads and mountain trails in the Canadian Rockies.

 Volvo XC60
Volvo’s Polestar electric performance models have gold safety belts. (Mark Phelan/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

All the vehicles bristle with advanced safety and driver assistance features. Volvo’s stated goal is to eliminate all deaths and serious injuries in its vehicles.

XC60 Ride and Handling Is Improved

The XC60 adds power from the Polestar treatment. Its 415 horsepower and 494 pound-feet of torque are nothing to sneeze at, but they’re only up 15 hp and 22 pound-feet from the base XC60 T8 hybrid, 3.6% and 8%, respectively. The added power trims 0.1 second from the T8 hybrid’s 0-60 mph time, from an already respectable 5.0 seconds to 4.9.

The steering and suspension upgrades that come with the “Polestar engineered” tag deliver plenty of value, though. Firmer steering, a bar connecting the front strut towers and a taut, but still comfortable, ride are apparent. Polestar retuned the steering, throttle response and shift points, but the big improvement comes from an adjustable suspension with Ohlins dampers. They keep the Polestar XC60 flat and stable in quick maneuvers and heavy braking while also absorbing bumps for a comfortable ride.

The massive Akebono calipers and 14.6-inch front brake discs deliver all the stopping power you’d ever want. Even more useful in daily driving, the retuned brakes also provide smoother, more natural pedal feel when they’re being used to recharge the hybrid’s 11.6 kWh lithium-ion battery.

Visual differences from the regular XC60 in addition to the golden seat belts that look a lot better than you’d expect, and the brake calipers Volvo insists are the same color but aren’t, include a glossy black frame around the grille and Polestar alloy wheels.

Volvo considers the Audi SQ5 the XC60 Polestar’s main competitor.

The XC60’s Polestar’s $71,000 base price is daunting, but it includes Nappa leather, adaptive cruise control, a big sunroof and much more. The plug-in hybrid’s projected battery-only range of 18-21 miles is not particularly impressive, and the big tablet-style touch screen that controls many features is less responsive than the best competitors’.

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2020 Volvo XC60 T8 E-AWD Polestar at a glance

Five-passenger luxury-performance SUV

All-wheel drive

Base price: $71,000 (excluding destination charges)

Reasons to buy: Looks, handling, features,

Shortcomings: Price; electric range; touch screen responsiveness

Where built: Gothenburg, Sweden

Engine: 2.0L super- and turbocharged four-cylinder engine, rear wheels electric-powered

Total system power: 415 hp, 494 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

EPA fuel economy rating: TBD

Estimated EPA battery range: 18-21 miles

0-60 mph acceleration: 4.9 seconds

Wheelbase: 184.6 inches

Length: 112.8 inches

Width, including mirrors: 78.7 ins.

Height: 65.3 inches

Base curb weight: 4,745 pounds

Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds

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V60 Cross Country AWD Handles Rocky Trails

The V60 Cross Country AWD is a lifted, version of the V60 station wagon, with bigger wheel arches, burly tires and moldings for a rugged appearance. It’s got 2.5 inches more ground clearance than a standard V60 wagon. That, and the hill descent feature to use engine braking when going down particularly steep grades, proved very useful when I drove a V60 Cross Country down a steep, twisting and rock-strewn trail from a 7,700-foot mountain peak to the road below.

Volvo softened the wagon’s suspension for off road. Unlike the Polestar plugin-in hybrids, the gasoline only V60 Cross Country has a mechanical all-wheel drive system

Prices for the V60 Cross Country start at $45,100.

Volvo didn’t make a V60 Polestar available to drive. The Polestar wagon has the same mechanical upgrades and visual touches as the XC60: asterisk badging, gold seat belts, big yellow Akebono brake calipers and black grille surround.

Prices for the V60 T8 E-AWD start at $67,300.

XC90 luxury SUV Adds Six-Seat Model

The XC90 three-row SUV launched Volvo’s resurgence with a bang when it debuted in 2015 as a 2016 model. For 2020, it gets some upgrades and new features to face new competitors like the Audi Q7 and Lincoln Aviator.

The big changes are inside: a new Orrefors crystal shifter, wool upholstery for buyers who want an upscale interior without the karmic burden they feel from leather and bucket seats in the second row for a six-seat interior.

Other new features include the bigger, 11.6 kWh battery, which should improve electric range 2-3 miles from the previous rating of 18; automatic braking linked to the cross-traffic and blind spot alerts; and optional Harman Kardon audio. The main exterior changes are a concave grille other Volvos will adopt, new colors and wheels.

Prices for the 2020 Volvo XC90 start at $48,350.