The Volvo XC60 T8 looks like an eminently sensible vehicle. It’s an SUV with a fuel-efficient plug-in hybrid powertrain, made by a company with a reputation for conservatism and safety obsession. But looks can be deceiving.
Thanks to upgrades from Volvo’s Polestar performance division, the XC60 T8 can be boosted to 421 horsepower. That means it now shares the title of most powerful production Volvo ever with the larger XC90 T8 plug-in hybrid SUV. So the two most powerful Volvos you can buy are also among the most practical.
The Polestar upgrades consist mostly of software changes to the T8 plug-in hybrid powertrain, which consists of a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that is both turbocharged and supercharged, working with an eight-speed automatic transmission and electric motor to drive all four wheels. Without the Polestar treatment, the XC60 T8 produces a combined 400 hp from both gasoline and electric sources.
Volvo did not quote performance figures for the Polestar tuning package, but expect the extra horsepower to get the XC60 T8 from 0 to 62 mph a bit quicker than the 5.3-second time of the stock version. Volvo claims the Polestar package also allows the transmission to shift faster, changes shift points to access power more easily, and holds gears during cornering at high lateral-g forces. This ensures the car doesn’t get thrown off balance by a mid-corner shift, and keeps power on tap for a fast exit.
While the XC60 got a handful of tweaks rather than a complete overhaul, Polestar does engineer its own cars. The Volvo S60 and V60 Polestars get chassis and styling upgrades as well as extra power, imbuing them with a sporty attitude that’s the opposite of stereotypical Volvo serenity. Volvo plans to build more models like these in the future as it tries to place a greater emphasis on performance.
Volvo wants to turn Polestar into a performance sub-brand akin to BMW M or Mercedes-AMG. But it also wants Polestar to play a role in its ambitious electrification plans. Beginning in 2019, every new Volvo will be a mild hybrid, plug-in hybrid or all-electric car. That includes two electrified Polestar models, set to launch sometime between 2019 and 2021.