So you’ve had starters to rave about, a main course to die for, dessert to swoon over and wine you’ve compared to liquid velvet. All you need now for the perfect posh-nosh special evening you’ve planned for so long is a nice pot of tea and a few little chocolate nibbles.
Only the tea is awful, tepid, weak and acrid.
And there’s nothing to nibble. You hate to quibble because in the overall scheme of things it was a lovely evening. But you love your cup of tea. And dagnamit you’re paying more than plenty for the silver service. Should you complain? Would it dash the intimacy of the evening? Make it a memory for the wrong reason?
I found myself in a parallel position behind the wheel of this week’s review car, the Volvo XC60 hybrid SUV with Polestar engineering.
Only I have made up my mind to volubly whinge about a few things – one particularly annoying – and to hell with it.
Yet there is so much that is good about the car that it would be unfair to front-load the whines. So I’ll leave them for afters if you don’t mind.
Let’s see if we can get this high-performance XC60 into some sort of context. The conventional XC60 is a mid-size SUV that competes with the likes of the Mercedes GLC, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Land Rover Discovery Sport etc. I like it a lot in its conventional guise; I loved the previous model and still recommend that people buy a secondhand version if they can find one.
However, with the enhanced petrol-and-battery powered hybrid that I had most recently on test, they have changed the dynamics and the ambience big time.
They’ve called in the experts at their Polestar electric arm to enhance the engineering to suspension, wheels, brakes and the engine’s control unit.
The result is a range-topping plug-in hybrid. With a beefed up 2-litre petrol engine that drives the front wheels while an electric motor takes care of the rear, the end product is a boost in power, pace and performance as well as a much tauter ‘sporty’ suspension.
So welcome to this ‘Polestar Engineered’ XC60.
Thanks to its engineering input, there’s 14hp more from the engine – 318hp. With the electric motor mixed in you get more than 400hp in output. That’s a wow factor on its own. It just goes to show what can be done at the top end of the ‘electrified’ menu.
I noticed people crouching to look at the wheels as I sat wondering if there was something wrong. They were drawn to the large gold-painted Akebono brake callipers. There are gold-coloured dampers too. And gold-coloured seat belts in what is a luxury interior if ever I saw one. I spent a lot of time static – traffic, waiting etc – and I seriously wallowed in the comfort.
Volvo know how to make you feel good on that front.
Indeed it is mighty impressive on several fronts – design, room, layout, performance.
Only it is horrendously expensive. Around €90,000? No thanks.
And due to a combination of poor steering feedback (especially) and what I considered to be too hard a dampening system, it never got the thrill factor going. It has all the ingredients; it just hasn’t blended them as well as I anticipated. I was disappointed.
Even with the ‘Polestar Engineered’ driving mode selected (it puts the engine and motor to maximum response) I failed to get that feeling of something really special. The body control was excellent but the suspension settings felt too hard. On the plus side it was extremely mannerly in town traffic.
In a way it leaves itself open to accusations of being a contradiction. It is a so-called plug-in hybrid but you’d do well to get 30kms pure electric drive judging by my experience. It really soaked up the juice too. What’s the point, I asked myself a few times?
The point is that regardless of my misgivings, regardless of how eco-friendly or not it is, it shows a potential sliver of tomorrow’s world that I hope can blossom.
And that is? Proving that highly specialised cars of this calibre can become the sporty drivers of the looming electric era.
It wouldn’t take that much to make this a motor to truly enthuse about. It’s got three of the four or so courses mostly right.
But there is no doubt they need to look again at the bill. It’s just too much – even for a special occasion.
Facts & figures
Volvo XC60 hybrid Polestar
2-litre 4cyl petrol, 65kW motor, 8spd auto, AWD, 73g/km, €170 tax, 3.2l/100km. Optimised powertrain, lowered sport chassis, 20ins Brembo/Akebono brakes, 21ins alloys, Sensus connect, Harman Kardon, 13 speakers. Options: ACC + Pilot Assist, 4-zone air con, panoramic sunroof, 360º camera. Test car: €93,189. Basic XC60: €53,850.