Auto123 reviews the 2020 Volvo S60 T8 Polestar Engineered.
Year in and year out, Volvo ranks near the bottom of various reliability studies for vehicle brands (see J.D. Power's 2020 dependabiliy ranking, for example). The methodologies of some of those studies are debatable, and it’s worth keeping in mind that in the case of premium brands like this Swedish carmaker, a larger percentage of owners are not actually owners at all but rather lessors, who return the vehicle for a newer model before long-term reliability becomes an issue.
In any event, those who swear by the Volvo name – and there are increasing numbers of them, the company having made significant gains over the past decade – value their car or SUV for their many other qualities. Which brings me to the 2020 Volvo S60 T8 I had opportunity to drive very early this spring, with snow still making its last stuttering appearances on the ground.
The S60 sedan is built, like its V60 wagon sibling and like the 90 Series car/wagon duo, on Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) modular platform. New for 2020 you’ll find in it a 12.3-inch touchscreen, previously an option but now standard across the range. Steering collision avoidance system is now included as well. In this T8 version, the plug-in hybrid variant of the sedan, the battery pack is now larger at 11.6 kWh.
Volvo, long the perceived standard-setter in the car industry for safety, has made much of its desire to reduce if not eliminate the injuries and deaths resulting from crashes involving its vehicles. Thus it’s no surprise that the 2020 S60 T8 comes standard with a host of safety systems, namely adaptive cruise control, pilot assist with navigation, collision mitigation support, lane keeping aid, blind spot information system with cross traffic alert, 360-degree camera, park assist pilot, and road sign information systems.
Frankly, on this front it’s pretty difficult to find much fault with the products currently being put forth by the company that invented the seatbelt…
As you’ll see below, there are distinct areas where Volvo needs to do more work to truly rival the German products in this sparsely populated segment of luxury performance PHEV sedans. But looks ain’t one of them. This is a very attractive sedan with near-perfect proportions; it has its share of angles, cuts and lines but it never screams We’re Trying Too Hard, and all the while it keeps away from the Dull as Doornails abyss.
The Thor’s Hammer headlights look even better here than on the brand’s SUVs, in my opinion. But I’m equally a fan of the back end, the wrap-around lights of which are just bold enough to keep it from overly traditional. The profile is a study in perfect dimensions.
My usual test for assessing the looks of a car – beauty being so utterly subjective, after all - is to measure how often I find myself drifting to the front windows of my house to check out the car parked in front, during the week I have it. With the S60, I did that a lot.
This Volvo is as refined and comfortable as you would expect from a premium sedan. The seats are welcoming but not overly soft. Overall, the all-black interior of this T8 Polestar Engineered version reeks of class and sophistication. I’m a fan of the rotating knobs down by the driver’s right hip (here used for turning the engine on and off, and choosing the drive mode); it’s such a natural position from which to do things, as your right arm naturally settles there.
It’s too bad Volvo didn’t include a knob here, Mazda-style, for scrolling through the large centre screen on the console. Which brings me to the one, ongoing irritant with current Volvo interiors. That multimedia system with its vertically positioned screen is needlessly complicated to use, and that you have to reach over with your arm (and take your eyes off the road in the process, even if only for a moment) makes its complexity even more annoying.
I expect that owners will fairly rapidly learn all the ropes of the system and bound happily between menus faster than you can say S60 T8 Polestar Engineered, but be warned: in several weeks of accumulated Volvo driving, I have yet to feel fully confident of finding what I need, quickly. And frankly, there are other, superior systems out there for all to see and compare to.
Like most of Volvo’s current, lineup, the S60 can be had in four basic flavours: Momentum, R-Design, Inscription and Polestar Engineered. Our tester was the T8, as mentioned a plug-in hybrid variant, with the Polestar Engineered treatment.
The Polestar treatment
Here’s what’s notable about what the folks in the company’s Polestar department did to enhance the S60’s performance. The car runs on a 2.0L turbocharged and supercharged 2.0L engine that delivers 328 hp and a maximum 317 lb-ft of torque, supplemented by the electric motor that throws in another 87 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque maximum. Total output is thus very impressive at 415 hp and 494 lb-ft of torque, which helps it speed from 0-100 km/h in but 4.3 seconds, helped along by the instant torque available from the electric motor.
On the road
It makes for a very dynamic driving experience, and to fine-tune that experience to your liking you also get to choose from between four drive modes: Hybrid, Pure, Polestar and Individual. The first is the default mode, and it automatically manages the optimal division of labour between the combustion engine and the electric motor. Pure keeps you in electric as long as the battery pack has juice (generally somewhere near 35 km). Polestar obviously prioritizes performance, and it’s the one you probably will stick to even as you get the guilts over not minimizing fuel use.
What Volvo does with this very pretty-looking sedan, in addition to giving it ample brute power (especially in the Polestar Engineered version), is make it a nifty, responsive handler on the road. Steering is pleasingly tight and responsive without being overly light; the battery pack helps keep the centre of gravity low and ensures tight cornering; and the SPA platform’s shocks keep rocking and rolling under control at all times. It’s a firm ride, but not one that will damage your lower back.
The T8 Polestar Engineered comes with six-piston Brembo brakes that are crisp and trust-inducing. Do keep in mind the regenerative braking system, which does engender a need to adjust to the brake firmness, slightly uneven as it is during the act of applying pressure.
Of course, the hybrid system, though it doesn’t deliver a huge range for all-electric driving (I was never able to complete my daily commute of just over 30 km on electric power, though I always came achingly close – I invariably got within a block or two of home before the gas engine kicked in again), does mean you will spend less at the pump than otherwise. Official average consumption is 8.4L/100 km (city), 7.0L/100 km (highway) and 7.8L/100 km combined; in mostly urban driving, I averaged 8.7L/100 km in my week.
Well, this is where you have to weigh some of those savings at the pump against what you’ll fork over for the T8 PHEV version. Pricing for the T8 Polestar Engineering starts at a hefty $80,800; in comparison a bare-bones Momentum S60 costs $42,400, the prettier R-Design $52,400 and the Inscription $53,900. It’s a big leap from there to the plug-in hybrid version and the performance enhancements of the Polestar Engineered variant. The latter is unquestionably a better performer, and it will make you feel more ethical, but that’s a big financial gulf to overcome. The decision is yours…
The gorgeous looks
Refined, comfortable interior
Rip-roaring acceleration off the line
Power to spare
Decent savings at the pump
We like less
That multimedia screen
No USB ports in second row