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2020 Volvo S60 T8 E-AWD Polestar Engineered Test Drive Review: Half-Steps

This spunky sports sedan wants to get you ready for an electric future.

Billy RehbockWriter, Photographer

Volvo isn't hiding its desire to go electric. In fact, the Swedish automaker has publicly committed to "putting one million electrified cars on the road by 2025." It has also pledged to make electric cars half of its total sales volume, and there's even talk about a super-luxe hybrid XC100 SUV.

To warm consumers up to that transition, the hybrid E-AWD T8 drivetrain system, which consists of a supercharged and turbocharged four-cylinder gas engine driving the front wheels and an electric motor powering the rear wheels. Rather than switching over to an engine with more cylinders for the brand's performance models, Volvo has opted to equip its sportiest Polestar Engineered cars with an even hotter version of the T8 hybrid system. We sampled one such vehicle, an Osmium Grey Matte Volvo S60 T8 Polestar Engineered, test driving it for two weeks to see what it's like to live with one of the more obscure performance vehicles on sale today.

Drivetraining

Volvo states a net output of 415 horsepower and 494 pound-feet of torque from the combined efforts of the gas engine and electric motor. The twist makes for some pretty exciting acceleration runs off the line; our friends at MotorTrend managed to hit 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds from a standstill. Doing too many of these runs will deplete the fairly small 11.6-kWh battery quickly, which can be frustrating when you do get the chance to drive on fun roads for prolonged stints. Volvo claims the S60 Polestar Engineered can travel up to 22 miles on an electric charge but I'm not sure who wants to tootle around with a severely handicapped performance car.

The eight-speed automatic transmission can get a little confused at times, but is at its smoothest when both sources of propulsion are active. In the normal drive setting, which Volvo calls Comfort, light acceleration relies solely on the electric motor. Push the pedal a little harder and the gas engine springs to life. When the battery gets depleted however, the engine runs full time. When this is the case, the special feeling of driving a cool hybrid Polestar evaporates, and all you're left with are the sounds of the complicated four-banger humming and whirring up front.

I'm glad I had the car for as long as I did because it gave me some time to let the car train me how to drive it better. I live in a pretty modest apartment on the West Side of Los Angeles and my building doesn't have any outlets in the garage. Since I couldn't top off the battery when I got home, and social distancing precautions made it awkward to leave the car somewhere just to juice it up, I relied on the onboard systems to get some charge back.

The regenerative braking, indicated as a B on the PRNDB gear selector, was a great start for getting some juice back in the battery. Then, I used the tablet-like infotainment system to select the Charge mode which disables the electric motor and uses the gas engine for both propulsion and electricity production. I found that I could get a half charge in about 45 minutes to an hour, especially when traveling primarily downhill.

It took some getting used to but eventually I felt like a pro when it came to mastering Volvo's hybrid system. It didn't hurt that I got another two weeks in the S90 T8 R-Design right after my time with the S60 Polestar Engineered was up. Looking back, the powertrain suits the smaller sports sedan a bit better than its bigger sibling because it doesn't have to haul around quite as much mass.

Chasing the Polestar

I had enough time with the S60 Polestar Engineered to put it through its paces on all of my favorite roads in the region, both in the twisty Malibu canyons and on the sweeping pavement of Angeles Crest Highway. Although Volvo equips its sports sedan with manually adjustable Öhlins dampers, I found the standard setting to be perfect for just about any task. The suspension system, which has more than 20 levels of damping control at each corner, is configured via gorgeous gold-colored dials. I made the mistake of trying to mess around with the knobs after hours of driving in full California summer sun and paid the price, burning my fingers and leaving blisters on my thumbs. Not my brightest moment.

Making the suspension softer makes a noticeable difference to the ride quality but ultimately, I found it unnecessary. The factory-recommended configuration is firm but offers enough compliance to make road surfaces of moderate quality bearable. In the canyons there's just enough chassis roll for the car to communicate its movements to the driver, but not so much that it gets unsettled during spirited driving. Stopping power from the gold-painted Brembo brakes was well calibrated, with great actuation and feel. I never felt like the stoppers gave up any might in any of my numerous excursions to the hills.

I had so many moments where I felt totally in sync with the car in the canyons, and even though the steering isn't revolutionary in terms of feel, the Polestar Engineered drive setting stiffens the S60 T8's steering to the point of immediate responsiveness and precision, letting me fly through familiar roads, dumbfounded at how easy it was to extract performance from the car. The best part of this car is how much of its capabilities I felt I could access and how confident it made me feel behind the wheel. It certainly didn't hurt that summer tires came as standard.

I found some frustration in the manual shift mode, however. The transmission changes gears automatically when the tach hangs on around the same spot for too long which gets pretty frustrating in the winding stretches of road that only require second or third gear. Spending more than a couple minutes driving swiftly also depletes the battery, leaving the gas engine with the responsibility of kicking in earlier to help out. I can't imagine how perfect this car would be with a silky turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine and real 40:60-split all-wheel drive.

Stealth Wealth Dream Machine

My fiancée and I drove up to the Bay Area to visit her parents (after taking two weeks to properly self-isolate) and found the Volvo S60 T8 to be a great road trip companion. Basically no one knows what these cars are; the Polestar brand is still fairly under-marketed, so aside from the striking paint job, the car's sole option ($7,000), I was driving a stealth missile with the perfect drivetrain for traversing hundreds of miles at a time. On California's notoriously rough section of Interstate 5 through the San Joaquin Valley, the suspension maintained immaculate composure, even on the craggier bits.

The standard equipment on this car is fairly robust and adds some great comfort and entertainment features to smooth out the rough edges of long-distance driving. Like other Volvo cars, its nine-inch display is very legible and easy to navigate. The standard Bowers & Wilkins audio system sounds fantastic. Volvo's suite of safety intervention technologies can be a bit sensitive, as we just noted in our review of the XC90 T6 R-Design, but the 360-degree camera view makes it easy to avoid curbing the gorgeous 19-inch wheels.

A Half Step Is Good, But it Isn't Enough

In all, Volvo produced a very attractive and fun-to-drive sports sedan for a fairly expensive starting price of $65,795—the 2020 BMW M340i starts at just $54,995! The BMW may be down on power, fuel efficiency, and equipment, but it manages a quicker 0-60-mph time than the Volvo. It also weighs about 500 pounds less, even when configured with AWD. If having all-electric range isn't a dealbreaker, buyers looking for a more consistent performance experience may want to consider the benefits of the inline-six powered 3 Series. There's some rarity to be had with the S60 T8 Polestar Engineered, but ordinary folks don't exactly know what this car is; people passing by told me they loved the paint but kept asking, "What is it?" Adding the fancy Osmium Grey Matte paint hikes the price up to a grimace-inducing $72,795. This car is also available via a Care By Volvo subscription, but the program is only offered in some areas.

There's just not enough drivetrain excitement or performance to be had for the money. Volvo's modular engine system, while I'm sure it's brilliant as a cost-saving measure, doesn't enhance the experience of living with what should feel like a really special car. While it did succeed in getting me acquainted with what to expect from electric performance cars in the future, it also made me wistful for a more exciting all-gasoline or all-electric powertrain that would have really sealed the deal. Here's hoping 2025 brings us a more cohesive Volvo performance sedan.

2020 Volvo S60 T8 E-AWD Polestar Engineered Highlights

  • Brisk acceleration: 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds
  • Adjustable Öhlins dampers
  • Slick-looking gold Brembo brakes with plenty of stopping power
  • A claimed 22 miles of electric range
  • Great technology and mobile phone connectivity

2020 Volvo S60 T8 E-AWD Polestar Engineered Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $65,795/$72,795 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 2.0L supercharged and turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4 plus electric motor(s)/415 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 494 lb-ft combined
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine AWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 28/33 mpg (city/highway)
L x W x H 187.4 x 80.3 x 56.6 in
WHEELBASE 113.1 in
WEIGHT 4,461 lb
0-60 MPH 4.3 sec
TOP SPEED 155 mph (est)