Volvo needs this car to be good. More than good, in fact, because it doesn’t matter how many SUVs you can flog, if you choose to operate at the premium end of the mass market without a fighting-fit mid-size sedan, you’re headlining without a front man.
The third-generation Volvo S60 – the first American-built Volvo – is fresh, exciting and instantly desirable to behold, but nevertheless feels familiar, being built on the same platform as the S90 and the XC60 and XC90 SUVs.
Missing is diesel power. In line with plans to electrify every new car it launches from 2019, the brand’s Scandi-pure aura is increasingly built on its ecological conscientiousness, so the S60 is the first modern Volvo offered exclusively with petrol engines. None displaces more than two litres via anything other than four cylinders, and if that sounds a bit dry, perhaps that’s because it is.
T4 and T5 models are turbocharged alone, with no less than about 140kW on offer, while the ‘Twin Engine’ T6 and T8 models will have that first level of forced induction respectively supplemented by an Eaton-built supercharger and that same supercharger plus an electric motor. The tasty T8 makes 287kW and hits 100km/h in under five seconds, so nipping at the heels of BMW’s M3.
The S60 is broad-shouldered and, frankly, rather thuggish, yet there’s a subtle elegance. It is probably the prettiest sedan money can buy, and prettier still if you go for the T8 Polestar Engineered driven here.
MOTOR review: XC60 T8
The flagship is distinguished from the standard T8 by gold brake calipers, a 12mm ride-height squat and a set of dazzling 20-inch Y-spoke alloys shod with 245-section Pirelli P Zero tyres. Power increases to 302kW, with roughly 67kW of that delivered by the rear-mounted electric motor.
And it genuinely impresses, so long as you don’t pigeon-hole it as an M3 rival, tempting as that may be. With two distinct methods of propulsion and a 200kg battery pack, it weighs the thick end of two tonnes, so it never leaps forward with quite the urgency you’d like. Or the aural pleasure. The eight-speed automatic can also feel lazy by comparison to the BMW’s DCT, and it delivers most of its power to the front axle.
And yet there are things this Polestar-tickled S60 does superbly well. The manner in which the beefy body remains cushioned and controlled over almost any kind of undulation, resisting significant float but absorbing road ripples and the like, is conspicuously good. Breathtakingly so, in fact – as well it might be with Ohlins DFV dampers at each corner, which lend the S60 a composure unmatched in any car this refined.
Rarely will you push the T8 Polestar hard enough to call on the full force of the standard-fit six-piston Brembos and big discs, but do so and they’re effective to the extent you’ll instantly forgive their low-speed grabbiness.
BFYB 2015: S60 Polestar
But to drive the T8 everywhere in Power mode – with the EPAS steering weighted up, the throttle response sharpened, the gearshifts quickened and the electric motor permanently engaged – would be to tell only half this car’s story.
The other half begins with a car that steps off the mark in crisp silence thanks to 45km of pure electric range and then cruises with luxurious detachment. It’s that Ohlins witchcraft at work again, this time supplemented by minimal wind or tyre roar and the high-sided comfort, elegance and security of Volvo’s interior design.
MOTOR comparison: M3 Pure v C63 S v Giulia Q v RS5 Sportback v Alpina B3 S
The S60 T8 Polestar Engineered won’t arrive here until at least late 2019, and when it does it’ll cost over $100,000. Depending on how you look at it, that’s rather a lot for an overweight, under-engined performance sedan, or absolutely fair cop for a broad-batted plug-in hybrid that’s enviably refined, satisfying to drive and distinctive.
Were the powertrain as inspiring to exercise as the bodywork is to behold and the handling more expressive, this car would be knocking on the door of five stars. As it is, the T8 Polestar Engineered sits comfortably among the ranks of its German peers and deserves to be regarded as more than a curio.
In fact Audi, BMW and Mercedes could all learn a thing or two from Volvo about fusing comfort with control. Design, too. Not a bad mix of talents, is it?
2019 VOLVO S60 T8 POLESTAR SPECS
Engine: 1969cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, hybrid
Power: 302kW @ 5800-6100rpm
Torque: 670Nm @ 4500rpm
Weight: 2050kg (est)
0-100km/h: 4.7sec (claimed)
Price: $110,000 (est)
Like: Brutish looks; tech; performance; superb suspension control; interior refinement
Dislike: Grabby brakes at city speeds; lack of aural thrills; hefty weight dulls dynamics
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars