2020 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered Essentials: Sweden’s plug-in thrill machine

What is it: The 415-horsepower 2020 XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered is the hotrod of Volvo’s SUV lineup. It’s what a Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 is to Mercedes-Benz’s standard, compact GLC300, only the XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered is electrified. Literally. It gets Volvo’s T8 powertrain, which adds an 87-hp electric motor for the rear wheels and offers a modicum of electric-only range.

Polestar. You know that name. It started as a race team fielding Volvo touring cars, became the official tuning brand for Volvo and then most recently the brand name for Volvo’s forthcoming pure electric cars, with its own factory and research center in China. The XC60 Polestar Engineered comes from Volvo’s home plant near Gothenburg, Sweden, to be sure, but it returns the Polestar name to a captive tuner role.

Key Competitors: Audi SQ5, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Lincoln Nautilus

Base Price: $41,145 As-Tested Price: $73,430

Full Review: 2018 Volvo XC60

Highlights: The XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered gets a 15-horsepower boost compared to other T8s, but it’s all Volvo’s turbo/supercharged 2.0-liter four. Calibration changes lift peak horsepower to 328, right at the 6,000 rpm redline, while torque increases 22 pound feet to 317, at a substantially higher 4,500 rpm. The synchronous electric motor that powers the rear wheels is identical to other T8s, with 87 hp and 177 lb-ft for maximum drivetrain output of 415 hp, 494 lb-ft.

Chassis upgrades include Öhlins manually adjustable shocks and a strut-tower brace. The Akebono brakes add 14.6-inch front rotors with six-piston, gold painted calipers. The standard wheels measure 21 inches in diameter, with a 22-inch Pirelli P-Zero upgrade.

Polestar appearance bits include badges and a mostly gloss-black body kit, grille and exhaust tips. Inside, there are gold seat belts and a high level of standard equipment, including the high-end Bowers & Wilkins audio system.

Our Opinion: With the XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered you’ll get good-looking SUV with one of the most appealing cabins in the competitive set. You’ll get useful space for a family of four in a relatively compact package, a tight unibody and a driving experience that’s quiet and vibration free. You’ll get all the Volvo safety stuff. Off course, you’ll get everything noted above in an XC60 T6 AWD with essentially the same engine, and a price that starts at about $46,000. The question is whether Polestar engineering is worth an extra $25 large.

Sure, you’ll get a battery and energy recapture that improves overall mileage three MPG combined, according to EPA. Not nothing. All ’20 T8s get a denser battery that increases storage roughly 10 percent to 11.6 kWh capacity, in the same volume, and the EPA says that’s good for 19 miles of electric range in the XC60. People of a particular lifestyle might go long stretches (of time) on the plug rather than gasoline, though Volvo’s control electronics make it more difficult to keep the XC60 operating on straight electric power than other manufacturers do with their PHEVs. And you can still get all that in a regular XC60 T8, starting at about $16K less. No one is buying Polestar engineering for the battery, are they?

Polestar Engineered customers will be buying speed, or at least the idea of speed, and this XC60 is as racy as Volvo gets these days. It goes great, and while the output increase may be less significant than the shape of the new power curves, the XC60 PE accelerates with an exhilarating charge that encourages you to keep the pedal down. Volvo claims a 0-60 mph time of 4.9 seconds, and no one is arguing. If we trust that figure and other manufacturer-published acceleration times, the Volvo is a couple of hairs quicker to 60 than an Audi SQ5 (5.1 sec), a couple of hairs slower than the 385-hp Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 (4.7 sec) and a bald spot slower than the V8-powered, 503-hp GLC 63 S (3.6 sec).

The XC60 PE is subtler than most factory-tuned SUVs, but it’s effective, and definitely sharp by Volvo standards. It may not send you in search of the most crooked, undulating canyon road you can find, but it will accommodate nicely should you come upon that road. It delivers good body control, both side to side and fore-aft, and it slows right now, as demonstrated on an airport slalom with the shocks set full firm (there’s an adjustment knob under the hood, on the right strut tower).

The rest of time the XC60 Polestar Engineered is just a good, comfortable, solid machine, and lively. The ride can feel a bit stiff on rougher surfaces, even with the shocks softened up, and it’s probably aggravated by the rubber-band tires on 22-inch rims. On smoother surfaces it’s mostly serene, and few who put a premium on performance are going to complain about the ride (unless the do most of their driving in the wrong locales). Best of all, Volvo appears to have worked most of the bugs from its gasoline/electric all-wheel-drive system, in terms of synchronized interchange front to rear. The XC60 seems to less frequently power back the engine as it tries to maintain some sort of AWD balance with the underpowered, electric rears.

Is that worth the upgrade price? It will be for some, maybe only a relative handful, but every brand has its cultists, and those who choose Polestar engineering will be rewarded with a subversively more aggressive XC60. And if you’re just not into SUVs, there’s good news. Volvo is rolling the Polestar Engineered goodies across its 60 range, including the S60 sedan and V60 wagon. The wagon might be the package to have, or at least Volvo’s next cult car.

–J.P. Vettraino

Base Price: $41,145 with destination (T5 FWD)

As-Tested Price: $73,430

Drivetrain: 2.0-liter turbo/supercharged I4, rear-mounted electric motor, eight-speed automatic, AWD

Output: 328 hp @ 6000 rpm, 317 @ 4,500 rpm (engine); 87 hp, 177 lb-ft (motor); 415 hp, 494 lb-ft (max. combined)

Curb Weight: 4,723 lb

Fuel Economy: 27 MPG combined, 57 MPGe, 19 miles electric range (EPA)

Pros: The sharpest, raciest Volvo we’ve tried in a while

Cons: Speed costs money, and the $25,000 uptick from lesser, very good XC60s is significant

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