LOS ANGELES—Is there another automaker that has evolved so far from its roots as Volvo? Current-gen Volvos are some of the most thoughtfully designed cars on the road today, with stunning exterior proportions that hide fantastic, elegant interiors, but these sleek sleds aren’t even tangentially related to the classic Volvos of yore.
The Volvo V60 and V90 are arguably the closest in spirit to the cardboard-box-couture Volvo wagons that established the brand’s foothold in the U.S. between the 1970s and the mid-1990s, but the sculptural, luxurious five-doors emerging from Gothenburg today bear little resemblance to the old, battered Volvo station wagon found most often trundling around the Pacific Northwest and the greater New England area.
Don’t mistake these musings about how far Volvo has come for some myopic longing for a past I didn’t even grow up in—my childhood was split between the backseat of an S10 Blazer and an Isuzu Trooper, not some fabulously demure Volvo 240. Two weeks with the 2020 Volvo V60 T8 Polestar Engineered plug-in hybrid is the source of all this historical rambling, and my time with it raised more questions than it provided answers.
2020 Volvo V60 T8 Polestar Engineered: We’re Just Happy It’s Here
Before we get into it, it’s worth celebrating the very existence of the V60 and the larger V90 on American soil. Non-premium workaday wagons simply don’t sell any more, at least in the U.S.—hence their evolution into the modern crossover. Just ask Volkswagen, which was likely the most voluminous peddler of long-roofed five-doors this side of Volvo before the German automaker decided (understandably) to switch its attention to SUVs and crossovers, in the process bidding goodbye to the beloved Golf Sportwagen. Now, any five-door still available with a factory warranty counts as a not-insignificant victory in my eyes, despite the overwhelming majority of said long-roofs residing squarely in the premium and luxury segments.
The shift up-market ushers in an inevitable rise in complexity, cost, and engineering for the sake of engineering. Case in point—the fabulously intricate V60 T8 Polestar Engineered. Breaking down this battlewagon’s powertrain is a bit like explaining the minutiae of a horologically significant mechanical wristwatch that carries a few astrological complications. Even the supporting internal combustion engine is a cube seemingly crammed full of Rube Goldberg machinations.
2020 Volvo V60 T8 Polestar Engineered: Like a Rolling Rube Goldberg Machine
Those familiar with the XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered will be happy to learn Volvo superimposed that plug-in drivetrain onto the smaller, lower V60. Volvo’s familiar 2.0-liter four-cylinder provides the core motivation to the front wheels, rated to a healthy 328 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque thanks to twin-charging, or forced induction via both a supercharger and a single turbocharger. Two electric motors augment this already complicated engine, contributing 46 and 87 horsepower, respectively, along with 111 and 177 pound-feet of torque, with electrical power supplied via an 11.6-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. When all of these systems harmonize, the result is a combined 415 horsepower and 494 pound-feet of torque on tap to play with.
This setup makes possible an all-wheel-drive system, the motors situated on the rear wheels working in tandem with the four-cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic transmission that drive the front wheels. All this, while balancing traction and stability control, regenerative braking, and the multifaceted ballet of switching between delivering power and returning charge to the battery when it inevitably goes flat.
There’s a lot going on under the skin, and it certainly drives like it. After you blow through the EPA-rated 22 miles of all-electric range—whether from full-EV driving or max-attack hybrid launches—the 2.0-liter forms a delicate balance between the battery and motors that occasionally displays a few dead zones and minor drivetrain hesitations as a result of the no doubt terabytes of back-and-forth communication between engine, electric motors, and battery. Those combined power and torque figures seem to always be on tap regardless of battery charge, but you’re going to have to dig into the throttle and wait a split-second longer than you would expect for the systems to wrap up their intra-office conference calls and figure out how to work together.
However, when it’s on, it’s on; the 0-60 mph run takes somewhere in the mid-to-high four-second range, more than quick enough to surprise the kids in the back, the stacks of mulch in the storage area, or a carful of coworkers on your way to a mid-day business lunch. What’s not so fun is Volvo’s universal 112-mph top speed, as self-mandated for new Volvos offered in 2020 and beyond. I never got near that limit at any time during its two-week stay, but it didn’t feel all that nice being so artificially restricted by a tutt-tutting Volvo engineer over my shoulder, especially considering this wagon’s prior limit was a more exciting 155 mph—the entire point of a performance wagon is to be a bit of a hooligan.
Speaking of hooliganism, I buried the lede here regarding the Polestar-ified V60’s party piece. In keeping with long-established Polestar tradition, the Swedish automaker teamed up with the similarly Swedish suspension company Öhlins to develop a bespoke suspension for the V60. In direct defiance to the rest of the electro-artificial systems onboard, this fancy-schmancy Öhlins setup is manually adjusted only, with damper settings accessed and modified via handsome gold-colored aluminum knobs poking out of the shock towers under the front hood and hidden in the rear wheel wells. I didn’t mess with the knobs during my stint, figuring I would likely do more harm than good, but it’s a neat way to have some semblance of physical interaction with a car that sells itself on its techno-dominance.
Over regular commuter-tier surface streets, it’s stiff but not overly so, with good body control and a distinct lack of hard impacts transmitted to the cabin over the craggier stuff. Out in the wickedly serpentine roads that run through the hills above Malibu, this trick suspension greatly outpaced the capabilities of the car itself, including the standard Continental PremiumContact 6 tires and Brembo brakes. Abusing the V60 through some of the more vicious routes was video-gamey to a fault, with the dynamic capabilities close to what I’d imagine an Audi S4 Avant would offer, but not quite matching the sedan variant available here in the States.
2020 Volvo V60 T8 Polestar Engineered: A Class of Its Own—Literally
Even with everything set to assault mode, particularly with things turned to the Polestar Engineered drive mode, the steering doesn’t feel much sharper than the electro-synthetic rack you get on a regular S60 or V60, but I would have to drive the two back to back to find the difference, if any. Overall, the V60 Polestar Engineered is a car that is capable of going moderately fast over a somewhat extended period of time, but is not one that rewards such a decision.
Despite the somewhat anodyne attitude, it’s still a reasonably fun way to cover distance rapidly, and, along the way, hassle any German counterparts you might find haunting your local country roads. I will say the regenerative braking system on the V60 is a vast improvement over the outrageously binary on/off binders found on the hyper-rare Polestar-fettled S60 T8 from earlier last year, offering strong stopping power and better modulation.
Any and all grumbles I have with the powertrain and dynamism—or lack thereof—would stand if the V60 looked like the current batch of BMW 3 Series or Mercedes C-Class. Instead, you get all this complication and forward-looking technology in a wrapper that’s just about the prettiest thing to have four (or five) doors I’ve seen in quite some time, both inside and out. Volvo absolutely knocked it out of the park with its current range of cars, and the subtly aggressive aesthetics bespoke to the Polestar Engineered—wheels, badges, seats, brakes, darkened trim—make it that much more pleasant to look at.
2020 Volvo V60 T8 Polestar Engineered: A Price to Pay
There is, however, a price to pay for this beauty and brawn. Specifically, you’ll need to liberate $68,940 from your coffers if you aim to call one of these battlewagons your own. That’s fairly steep, but also a bit of a damned if you do/damned if you don’t scenario, taking into account that there isn’t anything else occupying the V60 Polestar Engineered’s segment. You could squint and add the slightly larger Mercedes-Benz E450 wagon into the mix, as it aligns perfectly on price, but the Merc is slower, duller, not as nice to look at, and not loaded to the gills at this price point like the Polestar is. Yes, that $68,000-plus price tag might be a jagged little pill to swallow, but the only meaningful optional extras are $600 paint upgrades—pretty much everything else is included.
So, by merit of its very existence, I reckon the 2020 Volvo V60 T8 Polestar Engineered is going to make the several thousand individuals who pick one up every year quite happy. Even if a performance plug-in hybrid isn’t your jam, look on the bright side; at least the hybrid dusting you between stop lights will be pretty to look at.
2020 Volvo V60 T8 Polestar Engineered Quick Hits
One of the best-looking modern cars we’ve ever seen
Best-driving wagon in the U.S. short of the Mercedes-AMG E63 S
Powertrain is potent, but can get confused occasionally
Big price tag, but package includes everything you could want