A Hot Hatch for the PTA President?

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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