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Volvo made some major adjustments to the V60 station wagon lineup for the 2020 model year. The midlevel T6 with its all-wheel-drive layout is gone, and in its place is the V60 T8 Polestar Engineered, a plug-in hybrid that promises some serious performance chops.
While its higher price tag might not sit well with everyone, the latest iteration of V60 Polestar delights in all the same ways as the old model, with some serious updates in all the places that count, not to mention an electrified twist.
Sharp and sinister
I will admit my bias for station wagons to every human being in earshot, so it’s no surprise that I’m smitten with the way the V60 Polestar looks. It’s far sleeker than its previous iteration, slimming down the silhouette while incorporating a bit of aggression. The complete lack of chrome on the outside goes well with my tester’s $645 metallic gunmetal paint job. Aside from the charging port on the front fender, this car stands apart from other V60s with white Polestar emblems front and back, in addition to gold brake calipers and unique 19-inch wheels.
Part of the reason I like wagons is that they offer superior cargo space over sedans without forcing folks to adopt the higher center of gravity that comes with a crossover. While the V60 Polestar’s 23.2 cubic feet of cargo space tops the S60 sedan, it’s not the most efficient use of space on the planet — my 2016 VW Golf Sportwagen, for example, is roughly the same size yet it has 30.4 cubic feet of capacity. Style always comes with a trade-off.
The illusion of space continues inside, where there’s a surprisingly small amount of area for stashing. The door panels have trouble fitting anything larger than a standard plastic water bottle, and while the center console looks nice and deep, flipping up the armrest reveals a space that’s barely large enough for a phone and a handful of charging cables. Things aren’t much better in the second row, where the door cubbies are even smaller.
Otherwise, the interior is a pretty swell place to hang. The front seats offer just the right amount of lateral bolstering, and the combination of leather and fabric looks and feels great. The second row has both headroom and legroom in spades, but the drivetrain tunnel leaves an awfully tall lump in the middle that makes things a little awkward when three people need to plop back there. Visibility is ace, thanks to tall windows on all sides.
The T8 in the V60 Polestar’s name hints at the powertrain, which is one of Volvo’s more complicated getups. Under the hood is a 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged I4 that mates to an electric motor and an eight-speed automatic transmission, in addition to a second electric motor powering the rear axle. All that good stuff jams together to generate some serious power — 415 horsepower and 494 pound-feet of torque, to be exact.
Depending on which vehicle mode I’m in, the V60 Polestar practically feels like two different cars. Most people will spend their time in the standard Hybrid mode, which focuses on using the plug-in powertrain for efficiency. When angling green, the V60 Polestar doesn’t really feel like a sports car. The lithium-ion battery under the body provides an EPA-estimated 22 miles of electric driving range on its own, and I love that it doesn’t require proximity to a plug. There’s a Charge mode that will rely on the gas engine and regenerative braking to add juice on the go, although it fills faster in the city — on a long stretch of highway, it took about 100 miles to top off a depleted battery.
Once it’s full, I can engage Hold mode to maintain that charge until it can be best put to use, since electricity is rather inefficient at highway speeds. On a trip from Detroit to Chicago and back, I relied on EV propulsion alone in urban driving. While the threshold for the I4 to kick in is low, there was still enough leeway in the throttle to get up to speed. In low-speed driving, the transition between EV and ICE is surprisingly smooth, but it can get a little jumpy and uncomfortable if you need to bring haste into the equation on short notice.
In my experience, 22 miles of range from the battery is optimistic but achievable, especially with the powertrain set to maximize regenerative braking. The EPA claims the V60 will reach 30 miles per gallon combined with the gas engine alone, but I saw figures closer to 28 without electric assistance. Some of that likely comes from the fact that much of my highway time is spent charging the battery for later use, which siphons off some of the efficiency.
The engine stays quiet most of the time in Hybrid mode, thanks in part to a whole bunch of sound-absorbing material in the engine bay, which also helps hide the fact that Volvo’s four-pot sounds more than a little agricultural.
Those looking for a little extra excitement can change to Polestar Engineered mode. The gauge cluster ditches the power gauge in favor of a good old-fashioned tachometer, and every inch of the powertrain shifts to delivering forward motion on demand. It’s fun for backroads, delivering torque for days and rattling off sharp shifts, but it left me feeling almost guilty for not using the electricity for greener purposes.
As for ride quality, it’s on the stiff side, which is expected given its performance-oriented provenance, but it could be worse if Volvo didn’t stick with 19-inch wheels on this car. Left at the stock setting, the manually adjustable Öhlins dampers stay cushy enough for long drives, but there’s still a fair bit of movement translated to the cabin. Since this is now the only way to get an all-wheel-drive V60, I’d recommend playing with the settings (after remembering the default position) to find your sweet spot.
My only true gripe about the driving experience comes from the gear lever. Every shift requires you to go through Neutral, so when going from Reverse to Drive (or vice versa), you have to tap the lever twice, something other automakers don’t ask from drivers. It’s a weird little quirk that isn’t that big of a deal on its own, but it will take some getting used to in multicar households.
Tech is a hit, but it’s not perfect
The V60 Polestar sports the same infotainment as every other new Volvo on the market. Dead center on the dashboard is a 9-inch portrait touchscreen running the automaker’s Sensus Connect infotainment system, which packs perks like Spotify integration, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It’s a potent setup, with a whole bunch of connected features easily accessed by swiping my finger left from the home screen. Combined with a 12-inch display in the gauge cluster, it’s not hard to check the information you need at a quick glance.
However, that variety is also one of Sensus’ downfalls. Swiping left or right from the tiled home screen presents me with a whole crapload of functions, not all of which are arranged in a straightforward manner. Swipe right, and you get a bunch of adjustable vehicle settings, and swiping left presents most of the connected-car features, but its information-dense layout is intimidating and will take some getting used to, especially when operated at any speed above a standstill.
The tech has some other problems, too. Despite receiving a faster processor in 2019, my tester still requires about 30 seconds after starting the car to fully boot the infotainment, adding considerable lag to any input before that time, including climate-control adjustments. Thankfully, the car will save seat-and-wheel-heat settings so you’re not left freezing for 30 seconds every morning, but the slow bootup is still frustrating. There are two USB ports in the center console, which is nice, but rear-seat occupants are stuck with nothing more than a 12-volt port.
On the safety front, the V60 Polestar is as well-equipped as any other new Volvo. Automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring and lane departure warning are all standard, as is Pilot Assist, which combines adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist to hold the vehicle in its lane on the highway. This hands-on system is one of my favorites, offering smooth inputs that keep me from feeling too worn down by the five-hour drive from Detroit to Chicago, and even on the closest setting, the car still maintains a safe distance from those ahead in the event harder braking is required. That said, I don’t use it all that much, because the V60 Polestar is such a fun car to drive that it’s hard to let robots do even a smidgeon of the work.
How I’d spec it
The 2020 Volvo V60 Polestar doesn’t come cheap, with a starting price of $67,300 and an as-tested price of $68,490 after a $645 metallic paint upgrade and the mandatory $995 destination charge. Everything is standard, so the only real price-moving decision is whether you want to stick with black paint, which is the only free color on offer — personally, I’d go with the metallic white getup. It’s nice to see expensive vehicles that don’t weigh buyers down with so many options that they need to be categorized in the Dewey Decimal System.
Down to brass tacks
Trying to find competitive premium wagons is not easy. The BMW 3 Series wagon no longer exists in the US, and the Audi A4 Allroad is more about converting crossover buyers with its higher ride height and body cladding. The Buick Regal TourX would be a competitor if it weren’t a fair bit cheaper, both on the window sticker and how it feels.
To that end, the 2020 Volvo V60 Polestar lives in a class all its own, especially when taking the plug-in hybrid powertrain into account. Thankfully, it exists in a sort of quantum superposition, simultaneously offering a surprising amount of efficiency alongside driving dynamics that make me happy Polestar is still lending its prowess to Volvo’s cars. If you can afford it, the V60 T8 Polestar Engineered won’t let you down.
Keyword: 2020 Volvo V60 Polestar Engineered review: A potent plug-in performer