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Auto review: Volvo's 2020 XC60 Polestar SUV offers sporty performance

Polestar, an independent racing company until bought by

Polestar, an independent racing company until bought by Volvo in 2015, will make the automaker's 2020 XC60 T8 E-AWD Polestar SUV. Credit: TNS/Mark Phelan

Volvo launches its Polestar performance line in a big way this fall with a couple of electrically augmented models, the 2020 XC60 Polestar SUV and V60 Polestar station wagon.

Both vehicles get a slightly more powerful version of Volvo’s T8 E-AWD plug-in hybrid drivetrain, which consists of a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0L engine and an electrically powered rear axle.

Volvo also announced new services:

  • Lifetime free towing to the nearest Volvo dealer.
  • A lifetime guarantee on replacement parts and service costs.

The two Polestars should reach dealerships any day, along with an updated version of Volvo’s bigger XC90 SUV, which has three rows of seats, and a beefed-up Cross Country version of the V60 wagon.

Polestar is Volvo’s performance arm, in the same way AMG is Mercedes’ in-house speed shop. Polestar tweaks the engineering of Volvo vehicles and will build Volvo-based electric performance vehicles under its own name. Polestar was an independent racing company that specialized in Volvos until the automaker bought it in 2015.

You can recognize Polestar-engineered Volvos by their gold seat belts, big yellow Akebono brake calipers and an asterisk-like etching on a small chrome plate. Volvo sold a handful of Polestar modified S60 sedans last year. The XC60 and V60 mark the sub-brand’s real introduction to American buyers.

Volvo charges a significant premium for Polestar’s cosmetic and performance changes, starting at $71,000 for the XC60 Polestar.

I recently drove the 2020 XC60 Polestar on logging roads and mountain trails in the Canadian Rockies. The vehicle bristles with advanced safety and driver assistance features. Volvo’s stated goal is to eliminate all deaths and serious injuries in its vehicles.

The XC60 adds power from the Polestar treatment. Its 415 horsepower and 494 pound-feet of torque are nothing to sneeze at, but they’re only up 15 hp and 22 pound-feet from the base XC60 T8 hybrid. The added power trims 0.1 second from the T8 hybrid’s 0-60 mph time, from an already respectable 5.0 seconds to 4.9.

The steering and suspension upgrades that come with the “Polestar-engineered” tag deliver plenty of value, though. Firmer steering, a bar connecting the front strut towers and a taut, but still comfortable, ride are apparent. Polestar retuned the steering, throttle response and shift points, but the big improvement comes from an adjustable suspension with Ohlins dampers. They keep the Polestar XC60 flat and stable in quick maneuvers and heavy braking while also absorbing bumps for a comfortable ride.

The massive Akebono calipers and 14.6-inch front brake discs deliver all the stopping power you’d ever want. Even more useful in daily driving, the retuned brakes also provide smoother, more natural pedal feel when they’re being used to recharge the hybrid’s 11.6 kWh lithium-ion battery.

Visual differences from the regular XC60 in addition to the golden seat belts that look a lot better than you’d expect, and the brake calipers Volvo insists are the same color but aren’t, include a glossy black frame around the grille and Polestar alloy wheels.

Volvo considers the Audi SQ5 the XC60 Polestar’s main competitor.

The XC60’s Polestar’s $71,000 base price is daunting, but it includes Nappa leather, adaptive cruise control, a big sunroof and much more. The plug-in hybrid’s projected battery-only range of 18-21 miles is not particularly impressive, and the big tablet-style touch screen that controls many features is less responsive than the best competitors.

2020 Volvo XC60 T8 E-AWD Polestar

Base price: $71,000 (excluding destination charges)

Where built: Gothenburg, Sweden

Engine: 2.0L super- and turbocharged four-cylinder engine, rear wheels electric-powered

Power: 415 hp, 494 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

EPA fuel economy rating: TBD

Estimated EPA battery range: 18-21 miles

0-60 mph acceleration: 4.9 seconds

Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds

Bottom line:

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