2020 Volvo S60 Polestar Engineered review: Little tweaks yield big improvements


Polestar or not, the S60 is one sharp-dressed sedan.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

In the two years since I first drove the Polestar Engineered S60, Volvo’s really only changed one thing: the brakes. But this seemingly small tweak actually makes a huge difference. With this important piece of the performance puzzle sorted, the S60 Polestar Engineered is finally the fully realized sport sedan it always intended to be.

LikePotent hybrid performanceThe brakes aren’t awful anymoreGorgeous design, inside and out

Don’t LikeMore expensive base price than rivalsT8 powertrain sounds wheezySensus infotainment is still a little buggy

The hardware was never the issue; the big, six-piston Brembo front brakes provided lots of stopping power. But the electronic brake-by-wire software — where the brake pedal sends a signal to a computer, which then tells the brakes what to do — was poorly tuned. Volvo tweaked the software and made a few minor hardware changes, resulting in a braking experience that not only provides better feedback to the driver, but vastly smooths out the transition between the S60’s regenerative and mechanical braking. 

The old brakes were so hard to gauge that you’d unknowingly apply too much pressure, the nose of the car would dive and the S60’s rear end would unsettle — right before a turn, no less. Even worse, those grabby attributes made the S60 Polestar Engineered kind of a hassle to drive in the city or in stop-and-go traffic. I’m happy to report that at all speeds, the new setup is way, way better.

I am 100% here for gold calipers.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

That’s a great thing, because the rest of the Polestar Engineered treatment makes the S60 a real hoot. The 2.0-liter I4 engine is the same one you’ll find in Volvo’s other T8-badged cars. It’s turbocharged, supercharged and works in conjunction with an electric motor mounted at the rear axle for a healthy total of 415 horsepower and 494 pound-feet of torque. The eight-speed automatic transmission largely fades into the background, so much so that I don’t even bother with the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. And with the electric motor a-hummin’, the S60 Polestar Engineered has through-the-road all-wheel drive to enhance grip, especially if you live in a place with lousy weather.

The Polestar-specific upgrades work a treat. The adjustable Öhlins dampers can transform the ride from lovely and plush to firm and taut, though it’s not something you can do at the push of a button. Instead, there are manual knobs on either side of the engine bay — painted in a rad shade of gold — where you can firm up or loosen the dampers to your heart’s content. I’ll admit, there’s something oddly satisfying about altering the dampers manually and it’s neat to try one setting, drive a few miles, make adjustments, do another run, rinse and repeat. But I have to wonder how many owners will actually take the time to get under the hood and tinker with these knobs on the regular. (Pro tip: Bring some gloves or a rag if you’re going to turn the knobs after running the engine for a while. They get very, very hot. Ask me how I know.)

With the dampers tuned somewhere between medium and medium-well, the S60 Polestar Engineered delivers a compliant ride. The steering has nice weight to its action but feels a little numb on center, but at least the wheel itself is a joy to hold, wrapped in leather and just the right amount of girthy. The 235/40-series Continental Premium Contact 6 tires offer lots of grip, but have just enough sidewall to keep the 19-inch wheels from being too punishing. And hey, since the brakes are no longer a washy-then-grabby affair, you can carry more speed into corners, knowing the pressure you put on the stop pedal will be accurately and smoothly translated to those big, bold Brembos.

Most people will probably leave the S60 in its default Hybrid mode, where the engine and battery work together to deliver appropriate power without killing overall efficiency. A Hold setting can keep the battery’s state of charge as-is and if you want to add more juice on the go, push a button for Charge mode, which sends supplemental engine power into the 10.4-kilowatt-hour pack. A model-specific performance mode — unimaginatively called Polestar Engineered — puts everything on full boil. And you can even drive the S60 under fully electric power if you wish, though only for short distances (22 miles, according to the EPA).

Entertaining as the S60 is when you’re really on it, what’s great is that it’s also perfectly happy to take a chill pill and simmer down when you just aren’t in the mood. I actually think the added breadth of the hybrid package — the ability to go from silent and docile to full-blast rocket — increases the Polestar’s appeal. Some sport sedans work too hard to party all the time, whether it’s with a super-stiff ride (Mercedes-AMG C43) or go-go-go throttle tuning (BMW M340i). Combining that with the S60’s cabin — which is so quiet it borders on serene — and what are absolutely some of the best front seats in any car at any price, makes this Volvo a car I’d love to have as a daily driver. It’s as much at home running to CVS for some toilet paper as it is blasting down my favorite canyon road.

Matte paint is a $7,000 option. Woof.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

The other pros and cons are similar to other S60 models. The exterior is handsome as heck and I love all the gold accents inside and out. The interior is equally stately, with great materials everywhere. There’s a boatload of driver-assistance tech standard, including all the modern amenities like adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring and more. The Sensus infotainment system is beautiful and feature-rich, though the 9-inch touchscreen’s responsiveness is still a hit-or-miss affair. Honestly, if there’s one major complaint to register, it’s that the hybrid powertrain sounds kind of wheezy and coarse, which is particularly disgraceful given the more aggressive mission of the Polestar Engineered trim.

I’ve always thought the S60 was kind of underappreciated amongst compact luxury sedans and that’s true of this Polestar trim, too. There’s a lot to like about an Audi S4, BMW M340i or Mercedes-AMG C43, but none of them really stand out as truly better options. Some have better cabin tech. Some are a little more luxurious. But I have no doubt the S60 Polestar Engineered could stand toe-to-toe with these heavy-hitters as far as dynamics are concerned, though it’s worth noting the Volvo is a bit more powerful than these core competitors.

At $65,795 to start (including $995 for destination), the S60 Polestar is more expensive than its aforementioned rivals, but only if you compare the base MSRPs. Load up an Audi S4 or Mercedes-AMG C43 with all the good stuff — like what’s standard on this S60 — and you’re looking at roughly $65,000. In the end, it evens out. And now that the Polestar’s big performance caveat is thankfully a thing of the past, there’s even more reason to consider the S60 as an alternative to one of the German go-tos.


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