Volvo S60 Polestar Engineered Review: The Unconventional Sports Saloon

It's heavy and doesn't have a particularly ideal drive layout, but somehow, the S60 works very well as an unconventional performance saloon

Twelve. That’s how many times Volvo has printed ‘Polestar Engineered’ on the range-topping ‘T8’ version of the new S60, assuming it’s one equipped with a special pack provided by the Swedish firm’s performance arm.

The script is printed on each of the front brake calipers, every one of the dampers, on the rim of each wheel and once on each exhaust tip. But Volvo can be forgiven for shouting so loudly about the car’s connection to the ladies and gents that brought you the Polestar 1, as this car has received more than just a few token cosmetic tweaks.

Certainly, there are a few visual upgrades - the Polestar goodies include 20-inch forged wheels and some very un-Volvo orange seatbelts. But to go with that you have Brembo mono-block brake calipers using six pistons (at the front) to squeeze fancier pads into new slotted discs. Öhlins shock absorbers nicked from the aforementioned 1 super coupe, along with a strut brace from the car. And finally, it’s had a 10bhp boost, bringing the total output to 409bhp. Torque, meanwhile, is at 494lb ft.

The Polestar Engineered version of the Volvo S60 includes Öhlins dampers and bigger Brembo brakes
The Polestar Engineered version of the Volvo S60 includes Öhlins dampers and bigger Brembo brakes

There are some special bits fitted here, which does mean the option comes at a price - the expectation is for a £4000 premium over a T8 R-Design. So is it worth it?

Well, that’s a little tricky to determine, as the Polestar S60 has ended up with a somewhat confused personality. Those Öhlins dampers, for instance, have 22 levels of adjustability, apparently handy if you want to take your Volvo S60 on track. Which you won’t, because it’s a Volvo S60.

That and the whole orange theme seems to be suggesting that the car is some mega-focused BMW M3 wannabe, but it really isn’t. For a start, it’s much softer than the old V60 Polestar, a car memorable for its shockingly firm ride.

Volvo - Volvo S60 Polestar Engineered Review: The Unconventional Sports Saloon - Features

In fact, Volvo’s dynamics people will even tell you it’s deliberately been made to be a lot softer, and it’s paid off - it actually rides properly. And yet, the one we tried was noticeably less prone to roll than the T6 R-Design we drove the same day, which didn’t really feel any more cosseting. Better control without an obvious trade-off in comfort? Hell yeah, we’ll take that.

It’s an impressive set of dampers, and together with the new strut bar, they give the car a newfound composure as well as improved steering. The setup still doesn’t deliver a whole lot of feedback, but this is the first time I’ve driven one of the new era Volvos and come away happy with the way it steers.

Volvo - Volvo S60 Polestar Engineered Review: The Unconventional Sports Saloon - Features

The S60 T8 is technically all-wheel drive, but there’s a fairly hefty caveat: there’s no driveline between either axle, so the only thing driving the rear wheels is a circa-90bhp motor. The rest is all shoved through the front wheels, so power understeer does happen with relative frequency. It doesn’t torque-steer, at least, but there’s another snafu with that hybrid arrangement - the battery pack that sits on the car’s spine (eating into the cabin space very slightly) weighs around 200kg.

So it’s predominantly front-wheel drive, is not that stiff and is quite heavy. It should come as no surprise, then, that the S60 Polestar Engineered isn’t a dynamic match for a BMW 340i, let alone an M3. A very inconsistent brake-by-wire pedal (a by-product of the regenerative effect) doesn’t help matters either. And yet, there’s something really satisfying about the way the thing makes progress.

Volvo - Volvo S60 Polestar Engineered Review: The Unconventional Sports Saloon - Features

The S60 quickly and confidently dispatches corners in a way that suggests it’s just lapping up whatever you throw at it. The hybrid boost means it feels urgent when you put your foot down, and while the somewhat muted turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-litre engine doesn’t feel like it’s offering up as much as 409bhp, you can’t argue with the way it builds speed. All the while, you’re effortlessly blitzing through cogs with the reasonably slick eight-speed automatic gearbox.

And then we have to consider the way it looks. Yes, we know we should all be irked by Volvo’s Russian doll approach more than we actually are, but it’s hard to be mad when the results look this handsome. If anything, the S60 is the best looking car of Volvo’s recent efforts, and a world away from the fussy new BMW 3-series.

Volvo - Volvo S60 Polestar Engineered Review: The Unconventional Sports Saloon - Features

The interior also provides a welcome departure from the more obvious German choices. It’s an understated space where pretty much everything you touch feels utterly lovely, although I remain unconvinced that putting the majority of controls - climate stuff included - into a touchscreen is the best approach. It always feels more fiddly than having physical buttons and dials, but I suspect you’d become better attuned to the system in time.

Inconsistent pedal feedback is a common problem with hybrids, but the S60 T8 fares worse in this regard than many rivals
Inconsistent pedal feedback is a common problem with hybrids, but the S60 T8 fares worse in this regard than many rivals

The icing on the rather different-tasting cake is an all-electric range of up to 28 miles, and in pure electric mode the S60 becomes supremely wafty. As it’s a plug-in hybrid, those with shorter commutes could use it all week without ever using a drop of fuel.

So, to Polestar or not to Polestar? I’d have to cautiously say yes, if you’re a keen enough driver to appreciate the noticeable changes while also understanding that what you’d end up with is not an Audi S4 beater. Which might end up being a small group of people, given that with the Polestar stuff added, the S60 is expected to be well over £50k, putting it in an awkward no-mans land between the Mercedes-AMG C43 and C63.

But for the comfort, the looks, the cool-factor and the way it doesn’t run with the pack, shirking the usual German options for one of these is a decision I’d understand completely.