This is what we’ve been waiting for. Something different! Actually, it’s downright weird, albeit in the best possible way.
At a time when all new vehicles are starting to feel eerily similar, your average four-door sedan has become about as exciting as boiled broccoli. Not until you climb way up the price ladder into the rarified territory occupied by BMW M and Mercedes-AMG do sedans really get frisky. Those in-house tuners at BMW and Mercedes transform otherwise practical, family-friendly four-doors into gasoline-gargling monsters. The Germans have been playing this game for quite some time, making a tidy profit off it, too.
However, even they have become entirely predictable in recent years. Complacent? Perhaps. But since M and AMG models continue to sell like pale beer during Oktoberfest, there’s not much reason to make something too different. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
What if there was another way, though? After all, we are entering the age of the electric car. The auto industry has been promised innovation and disruption. Can we not find a way to make sedans that are fast, fun and electric?
Step right up, Volvo. From the country that brought you Greta Thunberg comes, well, a car she would still probably hate, but one that’s at least more eco-friendly than its peers.
This is the 2020 Volvo S60 Polestar Engineered sedan. It builds on the strength of the cult-favourite V60 Polestar (a now-discontinued wagon introduced in 2015) as well as the new, electric Polestar brand. “Polestar Engineered” is Volvo’s new label for go-fast versions of its regular models. The Swedes are taking a decidedly different approach from that of the Germans. For starters, this is a plug-in hybrid. That’s right: it’s (half) electric. There’s no enormous engine, just a tiny 2.0-litre four-cylinder mill boosted by a turbocharger and a supercharger. It powers the front wheels. An electric motor powers the rear, giving this sedan all-wheel-drive ability. All told, there’s 415 horsepower on offer.
Compared to the lesser S60 models, the Polestar engineering brings exotic, manually adjustable Öhlins dampers, a strut brace over the front axle, big six-piston brakes and unique alloys. Inside, there are gold seat belts to match the gold brakes. It’s understated and, yes, cool.
The Polestar isn’t even loud. The car happily dawdles around town. The motor sounds innocent and doesn’t hint at the power within. Put pedal to Swedish metal, though, and this unassuming sedan takes off like a puck from a Mats Sundin slapshot. Some 494 lb.-ft. of electrically assisted torque presses you back into the leather seat. Flat out, it’ll do 0–100 kilometres/hour in 4.3 seconds. Not as quick as AMG’s C 63, but only by two-tenths of a second.
Round a corner a little faster than you normally would and the Polestar clings to the tarmac with undaunted precision. The car seems to get better the faster you go, but without a racetrack to probe the outer limits of its handling, we’ll have to leave it there. It’s got potential. There is enough electric juice here that you could likely conduct daily errands using only battery power, which makes this car a very interesting proposition indeed. Volvo hasn’t given an electric range estimate for Canada yet, but we’d figure around 25–35 km.
There are some rough edges, though. The steering could do with more tactile feedback. When accelerating hard mid-corner, some mild understeer creeps in to remind you this is a front-wheel-drive chassis despite the extra electric power going to the rear wheels. The brakes can be hard to modulate coming to a stop (blame the regenerative braking system), and the brake pedal requires quite a bit of pressure to keep the car from rolling forward.
At its default setting, the suspension is needlessly stiff. The fine Öhlins dampers do an admirable job taking the edge off impacts, but if you plan to use this as a daily driver, you’d be wise to get underneath the car and use the manual adjusters to soften them up.
On paper, the Polestar Engineered S60 is a rival to BMW’s M3 and Mercedes-AMG’s C 63, but in truth the Swedish car isn’t as much of a hooligan. However, I suspect there are more than a few drivers out there who will appreciate Volvo’s more understated, more relaxed, more eco-friendly take on the sport sedan. It’s also available as a Polestar Engineered V60 wagon or XC60 SUV for those who have given up on sedans entirely.
You can forgive this fast Volvo for having some slightly rough edges. After all, Volvo is the first manufacturer to try something so different with a compact sport sedan in years, maybe decades. It’s obvious now that plug-in hybrids have tremendous high-performance potential. Let this be a wake-up call to all the German hot-rod houses.
- Base price: $80,800
- Engine: 2.0-litre turbo and supercharged four-cylinder, and electric motor
- Transmission/drive: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.4, city; 7.0, highway
- Alternatives: Mercedes-AMG C 63, BMW M3, Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, Tesla Model 3 Performance, Audi RS5 Sportback
Aside from the flashes of gold, the only hint that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill Volvo are those square Polestar badges front and rear. It’s tastefully minimalist, especially in comparison to the muscle-bound German offerings.
For a car that costs $80,000, we’d like to see more special interior details beyond gold seat belts and bits of carbon fibre.
The blending of gasoline and electric power isn’t always seamless. It’s no track-day monster (like M and AMG rivals), so the dampers should be softer. As a fast, fun everyday prospect, it’s still mighty tempting.
Crucially, the Volvo emits far less carbon dioxide than non-hybrid alternatives. Canadian figures have yet to be released, but expect the Volvo to produce a fraction of the CO2 per kilometre that rivals do.
Rear seats are slightly cramped with four adults in the car, but the trunk is generous.
Not without flaws, but among the coolest new cars in recent memory.
Writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.
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