Reviews from the Road: Taking a Spin with Volvo’s Newest 2020 S60 Polestar & the XC90 SUV

It’s no secret that Germans have dominated the luxury car market with the likes of Mercedes, BMW, and Audi. But did you know that there is a Swedish contender that may be worthy of inclusion in that prestigious lineup? Swedish company Volvo has designed and built a sensation that is worthy of some attention. I first drove the S60 Polestar for a weeklong test drive followed by the Seven-Seater XC90 Inscription eAWD. My first impression of both: “Simply magnificent.”

It’s clear, now that I’ve had the chance to explore these Swedish builds, that a great deal of design obsession has gone into every bit of detail. The S60 and the XC90 have very similar interior features and details. These Volvos are not cars that were built on performance alone; they were created with great attention to human ergonomics, phycology, safety, and even soul. The most massively striking feature that catches one’s attention is the Thor’s hammer inspired, jewel-like LED headlights. Eye-catching too is the fact that there was detailed thought put into carrying that fine horizontal midline accent onto the back taillights of the sedan—I love details like that. Volvo clearly shares my philosophy of design, that being the importance of maintaining some form of continuity (subtle or not) throughout the entirety of a space or, in this case, a vehicle. Everything else in between the headlights and the taillights is a mastery of design; fluid and graceful detail can be found in each aspect.

Take the classic Volvo philosophy of building the safest cars in the world and add an elegant Scandinavian design philosophy to it—this encompasses today’s Volvo. The Sedan is a blend of graceful forms and lines that travel down both sides: a distinctive diagonal Volvo badging on a beautiful front grill, artistically perfected lines in the headlights and front fascia, and a tail end that leaves you in awe as you ponder all that beauty driving away. It’s simply delightful.

Although the XC90 shares some of the front features of the sedan, the body lines are more subtle. The tail is still characteristic and yet slightly different with its high taillights.

The cabin in both gives you a clear sense of design that is understated yet very elegant—clean and uncluttered, with beautiful upscale materials and textures throughout. The instrument panel is the epitome of simplicity, the graceful lines of textured aluminum trim outlining a simple but functionally chic instrument panel. One touch of the air vent dials and you realize the amount of thought and quality that has gone into the design and construction of these. I’m again reminded of the concept of continuity as this metal trim seamlessly and accurately blends into the details of the door trim.

The designers at Volvo have also re-envisioned the concept of the infotainment system by designing a vertical screen with a menu that is effortless to navigate. The system supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto very well, and the optional Bowers & Wilkins sound system features a multitude of speakers, a sub, and a divergent-yet-distinctive centre tweeter speaker on the dash that exudes artistry. You find yourself part of a world that’s clearer and sharper, with sounds you never even imagined existed. However, if you’re a diehard for some old school AM audio, you’re out of luck. Volvo has opted to drop that band; I personally agree with the choice.

The infotainment screen has great responsiveness (even with gloves on) and a menu that is easy to navigate. Many of the vehicle’s functions are controlled through this large central touchscreen. HVAC hard buttons are non-existent, as these functions are cleverly and readily accessibly onscreen and easy to configure. To make this system easier and safer, Volvo has integrated a voice control system that responds to natural speech rather than set prompts.

The seats in both the S60 and the XC90 are not just your average leather seats. They are handcrafted combinations of smooth and perforated leather, sporty cloth inlays, and contrast stitching and piping that remind me of some of the finest furniture I’ve seen. And that’s not all; they cradle you with unbelievable comfort. You can add the option to have the heated and ventilated feature as well as a massage feature, making them some of the finest seats in their class. Both the S60 and the SC90 come with a standard panoramic sunroof.

Volvo instrumentation is simple, but customizable enough to convey exactly the information you need. I imagine the engineers decided to eliminate all redundancies and provide precisely what’s required to enable the best driving experience—nothing more and nothing less. A sensible heads up display delivers pertinent information, including navigation prompts and posted speed limits (which I love). Features like park assist, cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and collision mitigation all help you experience a safer drive. The Volvo’s “City Safety” technology will even go as far as steering you away from an oncoming car as a last resort. All of these are designed to lessen the driver’s cognitive load and allow you to focus on your driving enjoyment. In short, you are being supplied with tools that assist you in being the best driver you can be.

The S60 is available in four power configurations: the T5 with a front-wheel drive, 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder, producing 251 horsepower, and the T6 with an all-wheel drive, turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder, pushing 316 HP and a T8 plug-in AWD Hybrid that also delivers 316 HP. Then there is my tester, the T8, re-tuned by Volvo’s Polestar performance division and modified with upgraded gold coloured brake calipers and rotors, enhanced suspension performance with Öhlins, and pumping out 330 HP. All versions of the sedan can add the Polestar option, and all are paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission that translates that power smoothly.

The XC90 is available in similar setups: T5 AWD with a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder with 251 horsepower, the T6 all-wheel drive with a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder with 316 HP, and the T8 plug-in AWD Hybrid that adds two electric motors to the T6 setup and delivers 314 HP. All XC90 versions come with optional Polestar performance package and run through the same 8-speed automatic transmission as the sedan.

The S60 Polestar has a tranquilizing highway performance, yet it can deliver impressive power and handling when called for. There is very little lag from the turbo and superchargers thanks to the electric motors. It is worth noting, however, that braking, steering, and handling can at times be below par when compared to other performance sedans. To me, the S60 Polestar is a perfect balance of exhilarating execution and delightful comfort. The XC-90 is obviously an SUV and handles like one. It has similar comforts in ride but has a bit more lag on the low end and is a little sloppier in feel. The electric motors help here but it is, after all, a bigger and heavier vehicle. If I had to gripe on any one thing with these two models, it would be the electric range on both. You will get a range of approximately 30km on full electric—simply not enough. If Volvo could double or even triple that, it would be the perfect picture.

What is important to note (again) is that both these Volvos are the embodiment of fine design, where every feature has been thoughtfully planned. Take one look at the windshield wipers and you will understand what I mean. Not only are they heated to prevent freezing, but the fluid sprays evenly in fine streams that line the entire length of the blade to give even coverage on the windscreen; it is simply brilliant. Another example of design genius is in the rear hatch button, which is actually two buttons: one to simply close the hatch and another to close the hatch and lock all doors. It’s a great detail for when your hands are full and looking for the key fob after closing the hatch to lock the doors would be an unnecessary nuisance.

I often get asked which of all the vehicles I’ve tested I would like to own. It’s a very difficult question to answer as there are so many well-designed automobiles to choose from. However, Volvo has impressed me so much that they make the top 5 on my list.

 

Ramsin Khachi
Ramsin Khachi is a designer, writer, and media personality.

In the media, Ramsin shares his wisdom on various platforms such as the Marilyn Denis Show on CTV, the Toronto Star, the National Post, and various lifestyle magazines as well as his own online luxury magazine. Known for his vivacious personality and distinctive style, he educates on topics such as design trends, innovative products, and the latest in techie gadgets.

From real estate sales, commercial design, and construction to building custom homes, Ramsin’s experience has turned his once small, one-man construction company into a full service Design/Build firm. A leader in his field, Ramsin’s unparalleled integrity for quality and his knowledge of construction and innovation integration has made him a prominent member of the design community and a trusted influencer in design and lifestyle trends. In addition to his media appearances, Ramsin frequently lectures at public forums and to professional organizations and is a brand advocate to select partners.