2021 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Review - A Hotter Plug-In Hybrid

  • Handsome and practical
  • Plug-in hybrid drivetrain is potent and entertaining
  • Ample safety tech comes as standard
  • Price lands it in some fierce crossover territory
  • Adjustable dampers are inconvenient
  • Volvo has better infotainment tech elsewhere now

Polestar may be occupied making all-electric cars right now, but that doesn't mean it's too busy to give co-owner Volvo a hand with some performance upgrades for the Swedish automaker's most popular models. The 2021 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered is fine example, a plug-in hybrid promising not only green credentials but a bump in power under the hood and in pleasure from behind the wheel.

Volvo's T8 Polestar hybrid powertrain combines a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas engine – with both supercharging and turbocharging – with an electric motor. Gas power gets pushed to the front wheels; electric to the back. The result is what Volvo calls eAWD, along with a total of 415 horsepower and 494 lb-ft of torque.

That's up 15 hp and 22 lb-ft over the non-Polestar version, and it means 0-60 mph arrives in 4.9 seconds. Driven more sedately, expect 26 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 27 mpg combined, or 57 MPGe. In pure electric mode, Volvo says you'll get about 19 miles from the 9.1 kWh battery.

Charging is via a port on the front driver's side wing. Figure on a three hour charge if you have a Level 2 30 amp outlet to hand; more like a day if you only have a regular 110V socket. The XC60 T8 uses regenerative braking to automatically top up the battery while you're on the move, and in its most potent drive mode will actively top up the battery when it can to make sure you always have the most power on tap.

Opting for the most-expensive Polestar Engineered trim doesn't just coax a little more out of the drivetrain. The styling gets a boost, too, with 21-inch 5-Y Spoke black polished forged alloy wheels, dual integrated tailpipes, and gloss black trim where the regular XC60 might typically wear chrome. The gold Akebono brakes clamp on vast discs, and also look mighty fine glimpsed between the wheels' spokes.

As you might expect for a performance-minded crossover, there's adjustable damping too. Volvo's pick of Ohlins system, however, can't be controlled through its dashboard touchscreen or the drive mode dial. Instead, you have to physically click a knob on each damper, giving you 22 different settings to choose from. Frankly, the idea of pulling over and trying to tweak the firmness because there's a sinuous ripple of road up ahead – or because those onboard are complaining of the stiffness – is laughable.

Thankfully, then, Volvo dials it in at a reasonable compromise out of the factory. Firmer than a standard XC60, certainly, but only to the point where things stay flat and even in eager driving. Big wheels and stiff suspension are usually a recipe for a more percussive ride, but the Polestar manages to avoid anything too aggressive.

In fact it feels very much set up for impromptu play. Leave it in Hybrid or Constant AWD modes and the XC60 will thrum around with smooth finesse, reliably planted and with no shortage of torque for overtaking or spurting away from the lights. Volvo's blend of internal combustion power with the electric motor is handled neatly; most of the time you'd swear you were in a regular AWD crossover, and the times you wouldn't are when the rear's instantaneous shove gives you a welcome surprise.

Notch over to the Polestar Engineered drive mode, however, and things get feistier. Never unruly, though with all that torque there's plenty of opportunity to test Volvo's commitment to traction. It's fun and punchy, though a similarly-priced Porsche Macan is still more engaging in the corners.

Inside, Volvo's cabin remains a pleasant place to find yourself. The seats are comfortable for long-distance cruising, and there's plenty of high-quality materials for your fingers to find like real metal and Nappa leather. Gone is the open-pore wood in the regular XC60, replaced with silver mesh trim for the Polestar, but there's no compromise on cargo space: up to 63.3 cu-ft with the rear seats down, and a 3,500 pound towing capacity.

There's a 12.3-inch display for the driver's instrumentation – complete with an easy-to-follow gauge showing you where the electrons are flowing – and a superb Bowers & Wilkins audio system on the options list. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard, as is a head-up display, navigation, panoramic sunroof, heated front and rear seats plus steering wheel, and a 360-degree camera.

A few areas are beginning to show their age. The 9-inch Sensus touchscreen seemed vast when Volvo debuted it in 2015; these days, it feels a little cramped. Its interface is still straightforward – as long as you remember which side to swipe to find the driver-aids and settings – but Android Automotive on the XC40 Recharge is a pointed reminder that there's better to come. The wireless charging pad in the center console, meanwhile, is a little too small for the largest smartphones to fit on properly.

I can't fault Volvo's safety tech, however. Adaptive cruise control, LED headlamps with corner-bending lights, front and rear collision mitigation and lane-keeping assistance, blind spot warnings with rear cross-traffic alerts, and parking assistance are all included. Pilot Assist, Volvo's hands-on driver assistance package with lane-keeping, is available, and works well, though I'm more excited about the Highway Pilot system the automaker aims to introduce from 2022.

Still, waiting for that would mean missing out on the XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered's charms today, and that would be a shame. It's a handsome, practical, and safe hybrid crossover that makes as much sense when you're driving sedately as it does when you put your foot down. In fact the only problem is price.

A regular 2021 XC60 starts from $41,700 (plus destination), and a Volvo XC60 Recharge Hybrid from $53,500. This Polestar Engineered version kicks off at $70,195 however – albeit before any US tax credits and incentives – at which point you're pretty much in Porsche Macan GTS territory. No, the Macan isn't a plug-in hybrid, but it's a far more rewarding driver's car.

In the end, though I can't really question the Polestar treatment here – weird, manually-adjusted dampers aside – I also struggle to recommend this top-spec XC60 versus its regular PHEV sibling. Sure, you miss out on a little power, but you still get the reassurance of eAWD and the crossover's general practicality and handsome looks. The 2021 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered is speedy and capable, but that performance fettling nudges it into territory with some heavy hitters.