2020 Volvo XC60 Polestar Review: Less Than the Sum of Its Parts
Making a normal car sporty isn’t simply a matter of more. Adding a pile of parts and a gob of power doesn’t guarantee improvement. The approach must be thoughtful, balanced, and holistic, even if that means doing less than what’s possible.
It’s established that the Volvo XC60 is a very nice midsize crossover. Superb styling, a lovely interior, and solid practicality make it great to live with every day. Volvo intends the range-topping Polestar specification to be the enthusiast’s choice. Starting with the plug-in hybrid T8 powertrain, Polestar increases output, enhances the chassis and rolling stock, and revisits styling for a sporty demeanor. Each separate element seems like an upgrade supporting the XC60 Polestar’s performance intents. It’s how they all come together that leaves driving aficionados wanting more.
The disparities start to arise as soon as the golden seatbelts are buckled. Like in the standard XC60’s interior, snazzy stitched leather and textured metal abound. The biggest difference is the seats, which are supportive and trimmed in grippy faux suede. But padding is thin and stiff, leading testing director Kim Reynolds to say, “Front seat bottom side bolsters are made of plywood, I think.” Although seat heating can be toggled between three levels, cooling is unavailable. Sporty as they are, the seats feel at odds with the upscale ambiance.
Twisting the ignition knob brings the “Twin Engine” hybrid powertrain silently to life, so called because of its two distinct power sources. The front wheels are turned by a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter I-4, while an electric motor drives the rears—there’s no mechanical connection between the two. Combined system output is a stout 415 hp and 495 lb-ft of torque, more power than the Audi SQ5’s 354 hp, and more torque than the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio’s 443 lb-ft. But how that power is delivered is hard to comprehend.
The car defaults to hybrid drive, with initial zoom provided by the electric motor. Then the gas engine decides to join in, but only after it shuffles through the transmission’s eight speeds and the twin chargers start spinning out boost. This being a front-wheel-drive platform, there’s a fair amount of torque steer to wrestle—no central differential to distribute power here. Still, the electric motor provides enough shove that power feels mostly balanced between the two ends.
Given the electric motor’s flat, responsive delivery and the gas engine’s laggy feel, “linear” is not a word that describes the XC60 Polestar’s throttle responses. Unpredictable, too, are the paddle shifters, which in our time with the car, responded instantly to some commands and never to others. These reactions yield a 5.1-second 0-60 mph run, not especially quick for the segment, behind the Porsche Macan S’ 4.6-second time and the BMW X3M’s 4.0-second launch.
It’s easy enough to mute those foibles, though. Roll the drive mode dial, and the XC60 Polestar will run on rear-wheel electric power as much as possible. Unlike some hybrids’ all-electric settings, which force extreme chastity upon the driver’s foot, the XC60 Polestar allows reasonably deep pedal application before the gas engine kicks in to help. It’s terrific for quiet, relaxed driving, or any situation when efficiency is prioritized over sportiness.
No matter the mode, the big Akebono brakes are great. With gilded calipers gleaming behind optional 22-inch wheels, the stoppers feel, according to road test editor Chris Walton, “extra firm” with “super-short pedal travel,” although he noted a delay between pedal pressure and actual braking. Unlike some hybrids that have a noticeable transition between regenerative and friction braking, the XC60 Polestar’s pedal feels linear.
That said, there’s room for stronger regenerative braking. Even in its maximum setting, it’s nowhere close to allowing one-pedal driving. Regardless, 60-0 stopping distances were short and consistent, varying just 3 feet after a 106-foot best. That’s a foot ahead of the Porsche Macan S, and a foot behind the carbon-ceramic rotor-equipped Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S Coupe.
Among the XC60 Polestar’s sporty aims, handling is a high point. Beyond a smidge of numbness on-center, steering is quick and accurate, with nice heft. The chassis allows the car to be confidently tossed through corners, feeling stiff enough to provide a connected sensation, but never to the point of being uncomfortable. Through a figure-eight test measuring 25.5 seconds at 0.72 g, Reynolds noted “nice grip for its configuration,” with some understeer on entry and mild drifts available on exit.
This handling prowess comes with a huge caveat, however. During its transformation to Polestar trim, the XC60 gained trick Öhlins manually adjustable suspension dampers at all four corners. Each offers 22 clicks of adjustment; turning the adjustment knobs clockwise firms responses, counterclockwise softens them. The dampers’ operation is brilliant. At one extreme the ride is nearly devoid of body roll; at the other it’s plush despite the car’s massive wheels. With so much adjustment the driver can dial in their exact preference, and single clicks are noticeable from behind the wheel.
It’s the process of making those adjustments that ruins the dampers’ presence in the first place. To adjust the front pair, the driver must open the hood and twist knobs at either side of the anti-roll bar. Adjusting the rears requires reaching into each wheelwell above the tire, pulling off a dust cover, and twiddling the dial. Compounding the annoyance is that adjustment clicks sometimes aren’t obvious, so the driver isn’t sure if settings are matched—side-to-side and end-to-end variations are possible. Only once that’s done and everything’s closed up can driving resume. In many comparable vehicles, damping can be altered on the fly, from within the car, depending on the situation. Given the time-consuming and hand-dirtying procedure in the XC60 Polestar, only the most committed drivers will use this feature. The rest will ignore it entirely.
The pervasive discombobulation doesn’t make the XC60 Polestar a bad crossover. It’s still attractive, given the stylish sheetmetal and big wheels. It’s still comfortable, if requiring some manual labor to get there. It’s still quick and efficient, thanks to its multifaceted hybrid drivetrain. But it’s hard to prefer over any other XC60 trim as a daily driver, and much less so over sporty crossover competitors. These other options are more holistic and thoughtful in their execution. It seems, then, that the XC60 Polestar is less than the sum of its parts.
|2020 Volvo XC60 Polestar|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$71,940|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.0L/328-hp/317-lb-ft turbo + s’charged DOHC 16-valve I-4 plus 46-hp/110-lb-ft front, 87-hp/177-lb-ft rear elec motor; 415 hp/494 lb-ft comb|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,730 lb (54/46%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||184.6 x 74.9 x 64.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.1 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||13.6 sec @ 100.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||106 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.92 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.5 sec @ 0.72 g (avg)|
|EPA COMB FUEL ECON||27 (57 MPGe) mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||125 (59)kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.72 (0.34) lb/mile|
Source : Erika Pizano Link