Volvo XC60 D5 Polestar – Full Test

Some cars are perfect for blending in with the background. Painted in an unassuming black, grey or silver they’ll become just another part of the backdrop, allowing you to drive around unnoticed. Then there’s the Volvo XC60 Polestar and its Rebel Blue hue - it’s the polar opposite of a stealth car.

Volvo XC60 D5 Polestar Review

Volvo XC60 D5 Polestar Review

Once people realise it’s your car they’ll start spotting you from a distance and from then on your movements will be tracked by a network of amateur spies. ‘Oh, I saw you drive past earlier’ will become a familiar greeting. As will ‘Was that you in your big blue car earlier?’ and ‘I knew it was you, I recognised the car’.

The Rebel Blue paint is the biggest factor here. It’s relatively new to Volvo’s palette (it can be specified on the new V40 too) and makes a bold statement on a car as big as the XC60. Now I’m not a person who likes to draw attention to myself but I actually really like the colour and, even though it’s a £300 option, I’d find it hard to pick an XC60 in any other shade.

The size of the XC60 also works against it in the stealth stakes. It’s footprint isn’t much more than the V60 estate on which it is based but the extra 29cm height makes it stand head and shoulders above most cars. You’d never lose it in a car park – just look for the blue glow above the rest of the herd and you can be pretty sure it’s your Volvo.

Another bold statement is the wheel upgrade on this particular XC60. It wears a set of twenty-inch ‘Cratus’ alloys that would look ridiculous on a smaller car and yet suit the XC60′s size perfectly. Personally I love them but I’d be terrified of going anywhere near a kerb because they’re such an expensive option (more of which later).

Volvo XC60 D5 Polestar Wheels

20-inch Cratus wheels are a tempting but expensive option

What’s Under The Bonnet?

This is the D5-powered XC60. That means you get 2.4-litres and five cylinders that would normally be good for 215bhp and 420Nm. I say ‘normally’ because this is also the Polestar version with the Volvo-approved ECU remap that lifts power to 230bhp and torque to 470Nm.

The Polestar just slips under 8.0 seconds for the 0-62mph sprint but it’s the thick slab of torque that allows the XC60 to shrug off its bulk and hustle along at quite a pace. Keep the revs between 2,000 and 3,500 and it can see off most traffic on the road. Hills? They’re barely noticeable as the XC60 powers its way across the terrain.

All the time you’re treated to the cultured sound of five cylinders beavering away beneath the bonnet. It is so much better than the drone of a four-cylinder diesel and is an important part of the big Volvo’s character.

Volvo XC60 D5 Polestar Review

A little blue badge for a big blue car

One surprise feature of this XC60 is the manual gearbox. It’s almost a given that a large SUV has to have an automatic transmission but when manuals are as good as this six-speed box it seems pointless spending the extra cash. The shifts are precise and nicely weighted and the XC60 has a clever trick up its sleeve. Dip the clutch for an upshift and the revs will drop and briefly hold at the engine speed that matches the next gear, allowing you to slot the lever in and lift the clutch for an incredibly smooth change that flatters your driving style. It doesn’t work for downshifts or block shifting but it is a nice touch and helps to add to the feeling of refinement.

The manual box also helps with the economy and CO2 figures. Official figures rate the manual at 50.4mpg (combined) and 149 g/km of CO2 (Band F) against the automatic at 41.5mpg and 176 g/km. For me that kills the automatic as a viable option.

Sadly that 50.4mpg is a tad optimistic. In a week of mixed driving that included a bit of solo hooning and plenty of gentle cruising with the family I saw a return of 38mpg. I’m sure I could hit 40mpg if I reigned in my enthusiasm for using the Polestar’s performance but I can’t see it equalling the official figures.

Big Fun

Not only does the D5 engine do a good job of masking the XC60′s 1,847kg kerb weight but so does the chassis. The R-Design specification of this car includes a lower ride height and stiffer setup and that translates into admirable body control. It’s no GTI but it can be chucked about with a surprising amount of enthusiasm and for the most part remains composed, inevitably giving way to understeer if you push your luck too far. From the inside it’s easy to forget that you’re driving such a big, heavy car and simply concentrate on making good progress.

Volvo XC60 D5 Polestar Review

All-wheel drive means lack of traction isn’t an issue

What’s also impressive is that it is incredibly comfortable to cruise in. Even with the lower profile tyres wrapped around those 20-inch rims the ride isn’t overly firm or fidgety and isolates you and your passengers from the worst parts of the road. The outside world is also kept at bay thanks to excellent soundproofing.

Traction isn’t an issue thanks to the all-wheel drive package that comes with the D5. Even the wet and muddy back lanes of Lincolnshire and a heavy right foot couldn’t outfox the Haldex system as it shuffled the torque around each corner. The XC60 simply grips and goes.

Big On The Inside

If you’re familiar with the V60 then you’ll know exactly what to expect inside the XC60. If not, check out my V60 review from earlier in the year and compare the interior shots. See the similarities?

Volvo XC60 D5 Polestar Dashboard

Quality cabin and a perfect driving position

Not that there’s a problem with copying an interior as good as the V60′s. The same R-Design leather upholstery that is supportive and oh-so comfortable. Heated seats that banish winter chills in seconds. A seating position that can be adjusted to suit almost any driver.

The centre console uses the same ‘floating’ centre panel with a little shelf behind the console. The myriad of buttons can be intimidating at first but once you realise you won’t use half of them in everyday driving it’s not so bad.

A Volvo wouldn’t be a Volvo without a long list of safety kit and the XC60 is no exception. There are enough airbags to refloat the Titanic while you get the reassurance of side impact and whiplash protection. Anti-lock brakes, stability and traction, brake distribution and emergency brake assist systems are all standard, as is the second generation of Volvo’s reassuring City Safety system.

Volvo XC60 Safety Systems

The XC60 really does care about your wellbeing

It’s not just the driver who enjoys a comfortable seat. Passenger space in the rear is also generous with plenty of leg and head room. The leg room doesn’t come at the expense of boot space either, which has a very handy capacity of 655 litres of space with the rear seats up (1,455 with them down). Just don’t forget that making the most of the Polestar power will have anything unsecured launching itself at the rear hatch.

Big On Price

Everything’s rosy with the XC60 until you get to the the price. With the same specification as this press car it would cost you over £47,000. I’ll bet that made you wince.

It’s the tempting extras that are to blame. You certainly don’t need those big wheels at £1,100 but they do look great. The panoramic sliding sunroof costs £1,200 but really brightens up the cabin. Do you need a powered tailgate for £400? The £1,500 sat-nav is bordering on ridiculous but does a good job of avoiding traffic jams, and you don’t need to spend £1,600 digital TV with 5.1 surround-sound speakers until you see the benefits for entertaining bored children.

Cut the options back and you could have a D5-powered XC60 for £34,425 with the Polestar upgrade an extra £815. Is the Polestar upgrade worth the money? I can’t answer that question as I’ve not driven a standard D5 but I’d still be very tempted to tick that box, not least because it doesn’t affect your warranty or the CO2 rating.

Some options are harder to dismiss. The R-Design specification costs £1,025 but gives you the stiffer chassis setup and some visual tweaks. The Winter Pack (£1,075) adds the heated seats as well as bright and clear Xenon headlights with active bending system. Digital radio is also a must-have for £325. What about the laminated windows that cost £500 but could turn an attempted smash’n’grab attack into little more than a nuisance insurance claim?

You should also give consideration to the Driver Assistance Pack that comes with collision warning, automated braking, adaptive cruise, lane departure warning and blind-spot warnings. It costs £1,850 but it might just save your bacon in an emergency.

No, It’s Not Perfect

The XC60 may be very good at a lot of things but it’s not perfect. The optional traffic sign recognition system isn’t foolproof and on a number of occasions told me either the wrong speed for the road or just gave up and didn’t tell me anything. The high-beam assist was also a bit hit-and-miss. Most of the time it worked well and switched the headlights to full beam as soon as the road ahead was clear but it did manage to upset a couple of oncoming drivers by being a little slow to dip the beams again. It’s a job I’m happy to do myself.

Less of an issue is the low resolution of the digital displays in the instrument panel. When you’ve sampled the displays on rivals the XC60′s big-pixel white on blue displays seem quite old fashioned. It’s shame because the new V40 has a wonderful display but I’m sure it won’t be long before that starts migrating over to the rest of Volvo’s range.

Volvo XC60 D5 Polestar Instrument Display

Low-res digital displays only let-down in the XC60′s cabin

The Final Reckoning

I’ve never been a fan of the term ‘SUV’ but it describes the Volvo XC60 D5 perfectly. The Polestar-tuned engine and R-Design chassis allow it to make a good claim to being sporty while the all-wheel drive and big boot means that it certainly covers the utility aspect.

In isolation the XC60 may seem expensive but its closest rivals, the BMW X3 and Audi Q3, both cost similar amounts of money and can be specced up to ridiculous prices. If you exert some self control as you browse the options list the XC60 needn’t cost too much while the diesel engine and manual gearbox help to keep running costs at a sensible level. The XC60 also feels like a car that is built to last and if you’re the sort of person who buys a new car for the long term then it becomes easier to justify the price tag.

What you get with the XC60 is a very practical and safe car that is perfect for ferrying around that most important of cargoes – your family. If I had the money I’d buy the XC60 just for the peace of mind that it gave my wife, who loved the Volvo’s feeling of solidity and security.

If sensible isn’t at the top of your priority list and you’re prepared to splash a bit of extra cash you can also have a bright blue XC60 that makes a big statement and almost drives like a hot hatch. Just don’t blame me when everyone seems to know exactly where you’ve been.

Volvo XC60 D5 Polestar Scores

PERFORMANCE Strong engine but can’t completely overcome XC60′s weight 8
HANDLING Not nimble but very tidy with lots of grip and traction 7
AFFORDABILITY Avoid expensive options and price doesn’t look too bad 5
DESIRABILITY Yes please, and I’ll take it in Rebel Blue too 9
DRIVING SPIRIT More fun than its size suggests 7
Overall Rating 7.2/10

Volvo XC60 D5 Polestar Specifications

Engine: 2,400cc 5-cyl Turbodiesel
Power: 230 bhp @ 4,000 rpm
Torque: 470 Nm @ 1,750-2,250 rpm
Kerb Weight 1,847 kg
0-62mph: 7.9 seconds
Top Speed: 130 mph (estimated)
CO2 Emissions: 149 g/km (Band F)
Miles Covered: 370
Official MPG: 50.4 mpg
Actual MPG: 38.0 mpg
Price (OTR): £35,270*
Price (as tested): £47,460*

* Prices from Volvo website, December 2012


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Author: Chris Auty

Voted the Breakthrough Blogger of 2013 by SEAT and the Guild of Motoring Writers , Chris has lived and breathed cars since he was old enough to say 'faster'. With a penchant for hot hatches and an allergy to public transport, he would much prefer to drive a bad car than never drive at all. Fortunately his family has learned to put up with this obsession and the internet has provided a channel for his ramblings.

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6 Comments

  1. Great review!
    If I had the money this would be the car for me and the family/dogs. Prefer the white colour myself.

  2. Thanks Stu. There’s plenty of space in the boot for dogs so you wouldn’t have any worries there. Keep an eye on Auto Trader, you might spot a bargain.

  3. My XC70 D5 AWD man MY13 with after-sales Polestar upgrade is about as nimble as my 2002 S60, and about as quick as my 1995 850 T5 Auto. The Polestar upgrade has improved avg. fuel consumption from 41.5 to 45.0 mpg, and torque to that of my ex-1980 RR Silver Shadow.

  4. Thanks for letting us know Jan. The Polestar upgrades seem a no-brainer to me – more power, more torque, better fuel economy. What’s not to like?

  5. Was thinking about upgrading my 2yr old XC60 D5 and then I read this review and Jan’s comment. I’m convinced, particularly by Jan’s near 10% fuel consumption increase.

    Wonder if I can persuade my local dealer to do a quick respray to rebel blue.

  6. Go for it Nick. You know you want to. And you want the Rebel Blue too!

So what do you think? Come on, have your say.