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The 2019 Volvo S60 Polestar Engineered Has 416 HP but the R-Design Feels Like the Real Sports Sedan

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The Volvo S60 has always been kind of an oddball choice for a midsize luxury sedan. It’s nice, it’s comfortable, it does things differently than your average BMW or Audi, but it also doesn’t really stand out in a major way. But the 2019 Volvo S60 is all-new, and now it aims to be more of a true sport sedan than ever.

(Full Disclosure: Volvo wanted me to drive the 2019 Volvo S60 and V60 so badly they flew me out to Los Angeles and put me in the go-to automaker event hotel on the beach in Santa Monica. It was my first time in California, and it was nice. They also fed me breakfast, lunch and dinner just to keep me alive long enough to drive some cars.)

What Is It?

The 2019 Volvo S60 is the latest all-new model in the automaker’s four-year overhaul strategy, that lately has seen the replacement of pretty much every old Volvo with a sleek and sexy new one. It’s based on a modified layout of the same Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform as the S90 and V90, as well as the XC60 crossover, and it’s the first model built at Volvo’s new Charleston, South Carolina production facility.

Volvo is labeling the S60 as a “sports sedan,” and believes its radical approach to go hybrid or fully electric across all models by the end of next year can make up for its lineup of all four-cylinder engines.

The car undoubtedly looks the part, but that label is going to come down how it is to drive. And the results are a little mixed.

Specs That Matter

The S60 is available in three power levels:

  • The T5 is front-wheel drive only and has a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder with 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque.
  • The T6 is all-wheel drive only with a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 316 HP and 295 lb-ft of torque.
  • The T8 gets the same setup paired with a battery and electric motor boosting output to 400 HP.

All cars come with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The T5 starts at $35,800, the T6 at $40,300 and the T8 at $54,400.

Beyond the three powertrains, the S60 also gets the Momentum, R-Design and Inscription trim levels. The Momentum is the lower trim level available on the T5 and T6 models. These come with 18-inch wheels, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, eight-inch touchscreen, and a panoramic sunroof standard.

The R-Design is the medium flavor available on all three power configurations, which gets sport chassis tuning, paddle shifters, special 18-inch wheels, gloss back exterior accents, R-Design pedals, gearshift and steering wheel, an upgraded 12.3-inch driver’s screen standard, as well as keyless entry, dual tailpipes, and cross-traffic and blind spot alert.

The top-trim Inscription is the luxury option, which also gets the bigger touchscreen, same tailpipe and safety upgrades as the R-Design, and adds navigation, an updated sound system, different chassis tuning, and ventilated front seats.

All cars come with automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, and cross-traffic alert and braking, drive-mode selection, road-sign information in Volvo’s new digital driver display standard, and the Pilot Assist semi-autonomous system standard.

Then there’s the special Polestar Engineered option on the T8, which boosts power on the hybrid model even higher to 416 HP and 494 lb-ft of torque. Volvo says it’s also capable of an estimated 21 miles on electric power alone.

This is the one that was briefly available as a subscription on the rough-starting Care By Volvo program before all 20 cars were snapped up in less than an hour. Volvo was keen to tell me that there will be more available soon enough, maybe even to own.

S60 T8 Polestar Engineered

I started with the S60 T8 Polestar Engineered, since it sounds like an absolute beast on paper. Truth is, it’s not the alien-vaporizing thunderstrike of Thor’s hammer you want it to be.

To be completely clear, I had about 40 minutes of seat time behind the wheel of the Polestar Engineered, but I got it in both morning Los Angeles highway traffic and bombing through canyon roads, most of which was done under the watchful eye of the California Highway Patrol. No, Volvo didn’t pay to get the road shut down. One officer just spotted our very suspicious convoy of black Volvos, ready to pounce themselves as they zoomed by.

I was the one who got followed by the CHP for a bit, so I wasn’t exactly tearing rubber with the full might of the Polestar’s potential torque and power.

The experience I did have was not at all bad, though. This Polestar is not slow by any measure—you look down and realize you’re going 20 mph faster than you feel like you are, or planned to (when there isn’t the Explorer of the Law behind you). The upgraded suspension carries the car’s extra weight perfectly through a good road, with the help of the strong gold-painted brakes, to. It also has gold seatbelts, which sort of makes the S60's otherwise refined and quiet interior feel like a pop up night club in a bank.

But overall, the Polestar’s experience is disconnected. If I have 416 HP, I want it actively kicking me in the ass, even if it has to be in the “Dynamic” driving mode. I want to hear it. I want to feel the tension in the steering wheel, an energetic vibration in the go pedal. I want all the connecting points of the car—and my passengers—all stressing when I slam it. It’s missed in this car, where everything is a bit too sedated.

The Polestar also gets a bespoke gear selector from the rest of the S60 fleet, and it’s not great. Instead of a traditional PRND selector, it’s one of those things that’s more like a joystick, which returns to center after each motion. You have to push it twice to put it in reverse, twice again to get into drive, with a separate button for park. There are steering wheel paddles for shifting, but no locked “manual” selection on the selector, so the car goes back to calling the shots too soon after you make a shift.

It might just be that the Polestar is so refined and calculated that the visceral experience of the power fades away. All of the driver inputs are electrified, so there’s not a strong feeling of connection regardless, but I didn’t have the same sense of disconnect from the car in the less powerful R-Design. The actual control and stability of the car is without issue, I just didn’t feel plugged into it. Maybe it’s the weight, maybe it’s the electrified drivetrain, maybe it was the cop.

I was told by the Volvo folks and a few of my colleagues that it comes alive at the limit, a limit I apparently never approached in the environment we were in despite my trying. Maybe it’s just power the average driver may only experience when passing on the Interstate, perhaps.

Ultimately the Polestar left me wanting more, though I’d like to drive one again, with fewer cops around next time.

S60 T6 R-Design

If you want a 2019 S60 that feels like an actual Sports Sedan, the T6 R-Design is your ticket to Speed Town.

I wouldn’t be so hard on the Polestar model if the R-Design didn’t drive as good as it does. The R-Design has the “standard” gear selector, with locked positions for park, reverse, drive, and a slap-over manual mode that will l actually hold the gear you select until you hit redline.

It’s that climb to redline in the R-Design that leaves no doubt in my mind this is the S60 to linger around at the dealership. There was so much more feedback in the steering, the subtle vibrations that remind your hands are linked to the road surface. The throttle response feels physical and satisfying, and while the car sounds a little rough on startup, it makes a good noise when you’re pushing it.

It’s also just as solid on the road and in the bends as the Polestar was, and I’m confident I could have pushed it a lot harder than possible on most of the roads we drove on. It’s a Volvo that wants to have fun, even if the squeezing seatbelt has the potential to rupture a bladder if you even think about getting a little bit of air.

It all adds up to a sportier, more engaging and more involved driving experience, despite the R-Design having nearly a 100 HP deficit compared to the Polestar Engineered. It’s turbo-super-charged fun, and it makes me struggle to think why this wouldn’t make a shortlist if you’re still shopping for sedans.

R-Design stands for Right, correct, yes, this one.

What’s Good

No matter which S60 you choose, it’s going to be comfortable. The ride is smooth, and even on the sportiest models, the suspension still soaks a lot of the aggressive bumps in the road up with no issue. The seats hug you, the materials are the type of plastics and metals that could fill out a Tumblr about a e s t h e t i c s, and the standard panoramic roof and longer wheelbase over the outgoing model make the back seat seem like it might spoil the kids too much.

Also, have you looked at it? Look at it. It looks incredible. I even think the smaller proportions makes the design language edge out the S90. It’s tighter, sharper, smoother and subtly sportier. In person, looking at a white S60 is like a lesson in shadow and highlight contrast. It pops on the road, especially in the orange-red color the R-Design I drove.

There’s no gaping grille, no weird body colored point driving into the headlights, and it doesn’t look like it’s spent a small fortune on botox, like most of the other “compact” sport and luxury sedans.

What’s really solid about the S60 is the clever strategy behind it. While it doesn’t have as many trims as most of its competitors do, when you compare model to model at each level of pricing the V60 is more powerful than most of them. Volvo’s four-cylinders punch way above their class in terms of power.

The Care By Volvo subscription program has been more than a bit of a mess in the United States, struggling with a number of issues in relation to insurance and getting cars to drivers. But when it’s working as intended, is also extremely clever. You pay a flat monthly payment which covers everything—there’s no down payment, maintenance is included, insurance is included and you can upgrade to a new Volvo every year. The T6 AWD Momentum will be available for $775 a month, and the T6 AWD R-Design for $850 a month.

You’ll have to do some math to compare that to covering the lease, insurance, taxes and maintenance on anything else you’re considering, but it’s promisingly competitive. It’s basically Apple Care and the iPhone upgrade program all in one, but, you know, a car. Something you can drive, not something that makes you irrationally mad at somebody in a blue shirt.

What’s Bad

Beyond my slight frustrations with the Polestar Engineered version and its arcade joystick selector, my only other notes on what stood out as non-ideal came from the infotainment system. The system was updated to respond quicker than on past Volvos, and it is responsive. But to access most of the car’s adjustments is a little overwhelming at first.

If you want to adjust the heads-up display, for example, you swipe to the right on the main screen, where you’re ambushed by rows and rows of icons for just about every function on the car. This is how most of the adjustments are made (happily not stuff like wiper speed, as on a Tesla Model 3). That includes the safety alerts, engine start-stop, rear-headrest remote folding, and cruise control settings.

One swipe left from this menu takes back to the main screen, which has four modules for Navigation, radio, phone and then other device features. Another swipe to the left shows the infotainment applications, like Spotify, Pandora, weather, etc. It’s not the worst system I’ve used, not by far, but the sheer amount of small icons could be distracting while driving.

On this note, the drive mode selection takes over the entire 12-inch screen, despite being a physical dial, and lingers for around 10 seconds, which is frustrating if you’re trying to check the map or see which radio station you’re on. This pop-up should probably be in the driver display, instead.

Otherwise, the only other negative note from the brief time I had in the cars was some of the harder, simpler plastics used on the center cupholder area on the lower Momentum trims.

Early Verdict

The 2019 Volvo S60 is one of the best sedans the company has ever built, and one of the best four-door options on the road today. Gone are the days of the S60 mostly being known for good seats—it’s become the total package.

If you want something with style that doesn’t look inspired by roadkill or a melting blob of ice cream on a hot parking lot, that also has a quality, comfortable interior, an excellent platform with smooth suspension, plenty of power, which is built in the U.S., get the R-Design.

I’m sure the other S60s will suit you just as well, but the R-Design will be hard to say no to.