2012 Volvo XC60T6 Review:
If a company can design and build a great car, why should it turn to an outsider for enhancement?
It’s something that happens infrequently but often enough to raise the question. Most vehicle manufacturers do their own thing. For example, Dodge has its high-performance SRT arm; Ford calls its tuning group SVT, and BMW has its M division. Most recently, Mazda is promoting its in-house Skyactiv technology.
But outsiders, almost since the dawn of the automotive age, have been tinkering with, tweaking and tuning the best that the major manufacturers have produced. It’s why we have an entire hot rod culture.
In some cases, as with AMG of Germany, they did it so well that their target company—in this case, Mercedes-Benz—absorbed it and made it part of their own.
Volvo of Sweden, though now with Chinese ownership, is on the road to doing the same thing with its longstanding partnership with Polestar, a high-performance tuning outfit.
Though the name sounds not so vaguely like a female performer in a gentlemen’s club somewhere, it actually amounts to geek-like modifications to software that considerably improve performance.
As most people nowadays know, the modern automobile is a computer creature. Computers control virtually everything that makes a motor vehicle go, and they are the reason that munchkin engines cleanly deliver Oz-like horsepower and torque, while at the same time sipping fuel at tin man rates that are unprecedented.
That’s what Polestar is all about. A Volvo partner since 1996, the company has developed Volvo racecars and performance parts for Volvo production cars. Though independent, its engineering and performance teams are fully integrated with Volvo operations, according to Andreas Naeslund, Polestar’s North American sales manager.
Think of Polestar as computer tuning. On Volvo’s turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine, it boosts horsepower from 300 to 325, and torque—a measure of twisting force—from 325 to 354 pounds-feet without, it is claimed, any loss of fuel economy or increase in emissions.
That’s the engine that powers Volvo’s mid-size crossover utility vehicle, the one with the mouth-filling title of XC60T6 AWD R-Design, which is the subject of this review and had the Polestar modifications as part of its standard equipment.
Polestar looks great on paper but the modifications were not readily apparent in the driving experience, mainly because there was no non-Polestar model available for a fender-to-fender comparison.
However, there was little question that the two-ton mid-size crossover had sharp responses to throttle inputs, both from rest and in passing. Similarly, the six-speed automatic transmission, which can be shifted manually with the shift lever, reacted quickly and accurately. However, there were no shift paddles on the steering column or wheel.
For a fairly tall vehicle, the XC60T6 had good moves around corners, although there was a bit of steering slop in straight-line driving, when small off-center steering-wheel inputs did not noticeably alter the course. Freeway driving, even at extra-legal speeds, was pleasantly quiet, with minimal wind, mechanical and road noise.
In other respects, the XC60 tester presented itself as a high-performance mid-size crossover that could compete credibly with the likes of the Cadillac SRX, Volkswagen Touareg, Lincoln MKX, BMW X5, Audi Q5 and Lexus GX.
It has a classy, comfortable interior with Volvo’s famously supportive and well-bolstered front seats. Luxurious soft-touch surfaces abound. The outboard back seats are a tad tight on knee room for anyone over 5 feet 10 inches tall, although there is adequate headroom. The center-rear seating position, as is the case is most vehicles, is a high, hard perch.
Other negatives included a perforated cheesecloth-like material as a sunshade for the motorized glass sunroof, which did not effectively block bright sun. This has become a cliché in some luxury vehicles. Nevertheless, sunshades should be opaque. Similarly, the sun visors did not slide on their support rods and were ineffective in blocking sun from the sides.
The tested R-Design XC60T6 with the Polestar modifications had a starting price of $44,575, which included full safety equipment (traction and stability control; side air bags and side-curtain airbags, tire-pressure monitoring and whiplash protection). It also had Volvo’s optional collision warning, pedestrian detection and automatic braking system.
Leather upholstery and automatic climate control are standard. Platinum and technology packages added voice-controlled navigation, rear camera, power tailgate, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, rain-sensing windshield wipers with heated washers, and heated front and rear seats. Tested price was $52,675.
The cool thing about Polestar, especially for enthusiasts, is that it can be added to new cars and even retrofitted to some Volvo models dating back to 2008. For example, the snappy C30T5 sports coupe with a stick shift and Polestar had a puppy-like eagerness to run with whatever the driver tried to communicate. Similarly, the XC70T6 wagon with Polestar had a distinctly un-wagon-like feel.
As an accessory on the five-cylinder turbo T5 engine, Polestar costs $1,295. It adds 23 horsepower and 37 foot pounds of torque. On the T6 engine, the extra cost is $1,495.
Polestar’s Naeslund concedes that without a side-by-side comparison it’s difficult to convey the performance bonus.
In the end, he said, “What we are really selling is a feeling.”
- Model: 2012 Volvo XC60T6 AWD R-Design four-door crossover utility vehicle.
- Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder, turbocharged, 325 horsepower.
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
- Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
- EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/31 cubic feet.
- Weight: 4,012 pounds.
- EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 17/23 miles to the gallon.
- Base price, including destination charge: $44,575.
- Price as tested: $52,675.
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