By on December 13, 2021

2021 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered

2.0-liter turbo-and-supercharged four with plug-in hybrid motors (414 combined hp, 494 combined lb/ft torque)

Eight-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive

27 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

57 combined (EPA Rating, MPGe)

9.8 city, 8.7 highway, 9.3 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

4.0 combined (NRCan Rating, Le/100km)

Base Price: $70,495 US / $92,563 CAN

As Tested: $71,140 US / $93,463 CAN

Prices include $995 destination charge in the United States and $2341 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

There’s a meme floating around, as memes do, with little localized variants. The one I see here in my little slice of Ohio reads something like: “Treat yourself like Interstate 70. Never stop working on yourself, no matter how much it inconveniences others.” Like most humor, there’s a bit of truth there – it always seems as of I-70 west of Columbus stretching at least to Indianapolis is in a constant state of either construction or in need of construction.

It was here on the pockmarked slab west of town I found myself driving on a brisk Sunday morn in the 2021 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered, hoping to experience the floaty-but-controlled ride I knew from my old 740 wagon and other spawn of Gothenburg. Not here. That Polestar Engineered badge adds a serious dash of sporting intent to the midsized crossover – a car already quick from three, count ‘em three, power adders to the ubiquitous two-liter four.

Really, this crossover has the feel of a buttoned-down hot hatch. How does it work, as the Brits like to say, on the school run?

As an aside, if I were paid by the word, I should simply type the complete model name of this wagon a bunch of times to pad my invoices to editor Tim. For brevity and clarity, I’ll heretofore refer to this as the XC60 Polestar.

So, what is Polestar Engineered? Not to be confused with the Polestar marque —which is a nominally-separate brand — the Polestar Engineered badge is derived from a racing team that once raced Volvos, and as such is the highest-performing trim of a particular model. Here, the standard XC60 T8 Recharge – typically powered by a two-liter four-cylinder that is boosted by turbocharging, supercharging, and a plug-in hybrid system giving 400 combined horsepower – gets the Polestar Engineered treatment bumping power to 415 combined horsepower. Not an overwhelming difference, but I can attest that the XC60 Polestar does scoot.

I did not test the upper limits of the 12.3” digital display, however – and this time it wasn’t due to the presence of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. All 2021 model year Volvos are electronically limited to 112 mph, as part of Volvo’s longstanding efforts toward road safety. I’m sure this will get to the artificially-low limit with alacrity, of course.

The other big change to a more typical XC60 with the Polestar Engineered badge sits at all four corners. The XC60 Polestar is fitted with manually-adjustable dampers. Yes, a crossover/wagon thing with knobs just like the Civic your buddy slammed on cheap coilover shocks back in the heady days of Sport Compact Car magazine. The fronts are easily adjusted with a twist of an underhood knob – the rears require lifting the corner with a jack to reach the adjusters.

My first instinct is to ask “why”? Most track-day organizations won’t let anything this tall on track, so twisting knobs for apex hunting is a little weird. I’m also concerned about the stereotypical crossover driver being so oblivious to the function of the damper adjustment that they’d set radically-different settings at each corner – assuming, of course, they found the hood release themselves, which isn’t altogether likely for the stereotypical crossover driver.

I didn’t have time to break out the floor jack and fiddle with the rear knobs, so I didn’t mess with the settings from how it was delivered. The resulting ride was…fine, at least on reasonable pavement. It isn’t what I’d expect out of Volvo, to be honest. The ride quality was very firm, and expansion joints announced themselves with a firm thwack to the backside. Potholes were even worse. Again, I live in Ohio. From my limited travels, I can tell you that roads to the south of me are generally much better, while most to the north are in roughly the same rough shape as what I found on my Sunday jaunt west on I-70. I can’t even fathom what driving the XC60 Polestar in Michigan must be like – much of what I’ve seen there can only be called roads in the loosest of definitions.

Thankfully the cabin is as serene as the rest of the Volvo lineup. A dash of goldish yellow appears on the seatbelts to lend life to the charcoal and grey mixed material throughout the interior – the highlight color chosen to match the six-piston front brake calipers and the Öhlins dampers. It’s a cool look, and the interior is a nice place to spend some time. Rear seat room is very good for the too-tall tweens, and the cargo hold managed everything we would typically haul without hassle.

I don’t love Volvo’s touchscreen controls for nearly everything – yes, mercifully, there is a large knob for volume, flanked by shuttles forward and reverse for track/station, and a couple of buttons to activate max defrost and rear defrost. But everything else must go through the screen, from volume control to temperature settings to seat heating. It’s a clean look, but not as intuitive as it should be. In the past, I’ve found the controls to be slow to respond.

New this year, while the screens generally look much the same, the processing behind it is all new – and powered by Google. It’s basically an Android Auto interface – but with design, colors, and fonts all recognizably Volvo. Works well – obviously – with my recent Android phone, and they say it retains all Apple compatibility, though I don’t have an iPhone to confirm. The Bowers & Wilkins 15-speaker audio system (optional on other trims, but standard on the XC60 Polestar) sounds as incredible as you’d hope. The new audio controls do work better than in the past – but it’s still an awkward process to dial in the HVAC system.

I suppose that’s how I find the entire 2021 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered – awkward. I think the styling is quite handsome – I appreciate that the typically de rigueur plastic lower-body cladding so often found on crossovers is nowhere to be found here. If the roads are well maintained, the ride quality is decent – and the car can be genuinely fun to drive on the right roads. But for a family hauler, a firm, manually-adjustable suspension that seems more appropriate for a touring-car racer than a tall wagon is an unusual choice. I appreciate when automakers go outside the boundaries a bit – I really do. But this would be a tough one to bring home.

[Images: © 2021 Chris Tonn]

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33 Comments on “2021 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered Review: A Hot Hatch for the PTA President?...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Volvo has really lost the plot with interiors, used to have some of the best ones.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Depends on the Volvo, I’d say. My old 740 certainly didn’t knock it out of the park in this respect, and this one’s a coal pit. But, aside from the touchscreen, the design and execution of Volvo interiors is usually a real brand strength.

      Saw this car yesterday, BTW…no way I’d buy one used, as the jury’s out on the turbo/supercharged engine thing, but it’s gorgeous. Look at the way the wood trim contrasts with the aluminum on the door panels. Just lovely.

      https://tinyurl.com/2p9e7b2r

  • avatar
    ajla

    The T8 Volvos are somewhat interesting as a lease proposition (the longer term durability doesn’t seem promising). The Polestar-Engineered stuff is quite expensive though so I assume it only goes to the most diehard Volvo fans.

    That fancy stereo is also $3200 on lesser trims so it better be so amazing I need to change pants afterwards.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Haven’t tried the T8 drivetrain, but I have driven a S60 T6. Good-looking car, and it had a very nice interior, but I wasn’t all that impressed. It didn’t feel all that solid, and the engine felt – how do I put this? – unsettled, as if it couldn’t figure out what power curve it was on. Probably a byproduct of the turbo/supercharger setup.

      BTW, saw a LOVELY MY 2011 or so XF Supercharged yesterday. No price on it, but it was in spectacular condition. When Jags looked like Jags…

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        I’m not a big fan of the twin-charged T6 either. I don’t think that’s even offered in the US-market S60 any longer though.

        There isn’t much joy in their current ICE lineup so I’d say the best move is wait for the full EV Volvos and hope they don’t look like sh*t.

        I’m not as into the early XF as I am into the earlier retro Jags but they did offer a lot of motor and until prices went insane you could get them super cheap.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          “retro Jags but they did offer a lot of motor and until prices went insane you could get them super cheap.”

          Still, nobody is buying them so if you want one make offers. The “I’m poor and I need four wheels” crowd still knows to avoid them for they are not for the faint of heart.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        One of the rotating cast of medical residents that show up periodically at the rental house two doors down just bought a used XE 35t in a kind of dead-leaf brown color. It’s more attractive in person than it is in pictures, but it still has a bit of generic compact luxury sedan to it. Definitely not something that screams “Jag!” at first sight.

        But the first XF is by far my least favorite of the old-style Jags. I’d take an X308/X358 XJ every time, horrible maintenance costs and all.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    At $93k, they’ll sell all 20 of them.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    The Polestar gingerbread on this vehicle is just kind of silly, although the wheels are pretty. But we looked very hard at buying an Inscription version of this car priced around $65k, before deciding on a two-car strategy instead. (And my wife is the board president of a preschool, so your wisecrack is more on target than you know.)

    Equipped with the Inscription interior, B&O audio, and the air suspension, it’s a wonderfully comfortable commuter that’s very pleasing to the senses and quick when you want it to be. It would do nearly all of our in-town driving on electric power and has enough cargo space that we could plausibly use it for a road trip.

    28, not sure what you’re saying about the interior—it is the nicest interior I’ve sat in in the past decade short of six figures. If you step up a size to the XC90, you can even get it in wool, which is just unbelievably classy—I’ve seen one in person and it is every bit as nice as it is in a Century.

  • avatar
    Dan

    Selling their up powertrain as a “T8” indicates that they know perfectly well what a desirable powertrain is.

    And it isn’t this.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Well, if you like high-tech, smaller-displacement engines, Volvo does them well. I’m not real sold on the long term durability of this setup; nonetheless, it’s got balls.

      But I’m with you – for less money, an Audi SQ5 looks a lot better to me.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    The point has been beaten to death here, but add me to the list of those who wouldn’t touch this powertrain with a 10 foot pole.

    It’s hard to believe a “regular” 2.0T with a bigger electric motor, or even a full EV wouldn’t be a better solution here.

  • avatar
    THE_F0nz

    I personally own a 20′ T8 Inscription that I bought lightly used before used car prices went nuts. I have the standard suspension, and I thought it offered better road feel than the air ride. I have the upgraded stereo and the tech package that allows for self driving.

    I upgraded with the Polestar tune, the rear sway bar with a solid unit, and the front strut brace. It makes for a more solid ride and I really like it. The powertrain is an interesting one, and I appreciate the novelty of it.

    This car is great for my purposes: The carpool lane in California, and charging stations at work.

    If you read reviews out there that are honest, the non-polestar T8 suspension rides much nicer, and my sway bar upgrade made the car more neutral.

    The Polestar (performance) mode is fun. They go to great lengths to keep the RPMs high and the turbo spooled. The Polestar tune from the dealership really is more of a transmission shift upgrade and improves gear handling.

    Kind of surprised that hate in these comments. Just about everyone that has seen or rode in my car has been really impressed. Its the right size, really powerful, quiet, comfortable, and was WAY nicer than the X4 and Q5 plug-in competitors when I was shopping. I bought mine used for about the same as a stripped X3 plug-in that I thought was completely outclassed. The Audi had some hesitation in the pedal that I just couldn’t get over, and the Volvo interior was just so far nicer it wasn’t a competition.

    The Volvo needed the strut bar and rear sway bar improvement before it could be on the level of the X3 or Q5 in terms of handling.

    • 0 avatar
      Astigmatism

      The only reason we’re not getting a T8 Inscription is because my wife wants to go full electric. I’ve loved the XC60s we’ve rented, other than finding the engine a touch under-powered, but the T8 more than solves that. The interiors are better than anything else even close to the price point, the car tracks great on the highway and gets out of its own way in the suburbs, it look great, it’s quiet, and it holds a ton of stuff. I do think the Polestar treatment is a complete miss on this car, primarily because of what it does to the suspension.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        My wife wanted to go full electric but wanted an XC90 T8 more (to the point where she still occasionally brings it up). It’s the only PHEV she’d consider. At the time the XC60 was the limit of our budget. Today we could afford the XC90, but I just can’t justify buying a car in this market.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Unless you daily drive a T8 the author would never know the benefits of the PHEV getting 1,000-3,000 miles per tank like my CT6 2.0E plug-in.

  • avatar
    redapple

    Turbo charged and
    super charged and
    plug in hybrid and
    air suspension and its a
    European brand?

    You are just begging; really begging to get bent over once you re out of warrantee.

  • avatar
    mcw

    I have a 2018 XC 60 T8 R-Design, not Polestar. I also have the $3,200 Bowers and Wilkins audio and air suspension. Total price was around $67000 before the federal and state (California) tax credits.

    It’s been a great car. One air suspension warning light under warranty and that was about it. Car is crazy fast in sport mode, sound system is great, smart cruise control works great on the highway and in traffic, still looks sporty and not out of date, fits my bike in the back with the seats down and the seats are really comfortable. I am at 42,000 miles so out of warranty now so we shall see how it holds up. Fortunately my company pays for my auto repairs.

    Carvana offered me $39,000 for it recently but what would I trade it in for? My car pool sticker for California expires in 3 weeks but with Covid I work from home. I plan to stick with it at least until new car supply increases.

    Nice to be able to do 90% of my driving on electric.

    My wife has a 2021 XC90 T-8, so we are obviously big fans. Don’t get the hate at all for the Volvo.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Owning a CT6 2.0E plug-in with +40 miles of range the XC90 T8 intrigued u DINKs with dogs. Most of our non-vacation trips are 3-8 miles but seldom over 20 miles round trip.

      But we just don’t put enough miles to justify even a lease. So we ended up with a 2005 Hummer H2 and aside from 15 mpg couldn’t be happier. It rides like a Lazy-Boy sits and looks the part the wife likes. The $20K entry fee was the cherry on the cake!

      Now I have my carbon offset!

  • avatar

    I am totally confused. Is it a Polestar or Volvo? Cannot be both. And what is the battery range?

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Made somewhere or other in Geely-Volvo’s world-wide network of factories. Yowza. 19 miles of plug-in range. Woo hoo. Polestar engineered. Woo hoo. Ridiculous adjustable shocks. Woo hoo. $94K plus tax in Canada.

    Audience dissolves in laughter.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      At that price you’d think they would have the magnetic shocks you can adjust from the cockpit. (I will say that Ohlins is a respected brand on the race circuit).

    • 0 avatar

      19 miles? No kidding. Who is going to buy this thing when even indestructible Prius is going the way of dodo and Volt is already there. Welcome Pollster, sorry Polestar, or Volvo?

      • 0 avatar
        THE_F0nz

        I charge at work… and at home… So if my commute is less than 19 miles, I don’t need much gas. 1000 mile tanks of gas my friend! In a relatively large luxury SUV.

        I had a Volt before and went 6+ months on one tank of gas. Regenerative brakes meant I had the car for 7 years and still had the original pads and rotors. Oil changes? once a year at most – and not because of miles given how little the gas engine was on.

        People really love to look at the range and criticize. These cars are vastly more practical than people realize. Just less marketable to people that look at a range number.

  • avatar
    BSttac

    These look stunning in person. I still will never understand why they went with manually adjustable dampeners when everyone else has electronically adjustable ones. Just a head scratcher on a luxury car. Especially given what they charge for one

  • avatar
    jfk-usaf

    I like it and would consider it. I do believe that Volvo needs to remember who they are and work safety back into their ergonomic plans. Voice command isn’t where it needs to be to be a viable substitute and flipping through screens to get to a feature while driving is a safety hazard. Porsche seems to understand this… One other thing, stop requiring me to pay subscription fees to use features of the car that I’ve already paid for. Not a problem exclusive to Volvo.

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