BANFF, ALBERTA, Canada — We came here to see some of the product highlights that Volvo has planned for the 2020 model year. We also heard about how the company is doing. The short story is that sales are up in the U.S. even though the market is down from last year. Global sales are up too.
The name of the auto game is product, product, and product. And Volvo has been rolling out top-notch vehicles for the past four years. You need look no further than the new crossovers, sedans and wagons the company has been churning out to pinpoint the cause of its sales increase.
Specifically, we were going to drive the new XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered, the new Volvo V60 Cross Country and the refreshed 2020 Volvo T8 Twin Engine Plug-In Hybrid. It had 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque.
Among the tweaks for the XC90 was a new color, Birch Light Metallic, and third-row seats. Depending on the second-row configuration, the 2020 XC90 can now be configured for four, six or seven passengers.
Volvo staffers said the addition was made because American consumers wanted a third row. And Volvo promised easy access to that row. Alas, we just didn’t get the chance to check it out; even though the XC90 T8 was the first vehicle we put on the road. We had the six-seat model.
Volvo had a pretty long list of tweaks for the XC90 in the upcoming model year. Among them were a new concave front grille design, restyled front and rear bumpers, a new gloss black theme for the R-Design trim and all-new wheel designs.
Volvo said the electric motor sits on the rear axle of the T8s and provides 87 hp driving the rear wheels. The placement allows room for a large electric motor, which is useful in stop-and-go city traffic. The rear placement also makes all-wheel drive more efficient by providing the rear axle with an independent power source.
The XC90 T8 comes with what Volvo calls a TurboCord, which is a dual voltage (110v & 220v) charging cable. This allows customers to charge at home using a standard 110v or 220v wall outlet. The flexibility of the vehicle’s industry-standard J1772 connectors means customers can recharge their vehicle at thousands of public charging stations. With a 200v power source, the T8 can fully recharge in 2.5 hours.
We started our test drive in the 2020 XC90 T8 E-AWD Inscription. This crossover was super smooth. It was quiet and it seemingly glided down the road. At first, we thought there was too much power for the wide openness of the roads here. Then a colleague said it wasn’t the power, it was that the speed limits were too low.
Although we didn’t know it initially, we were on the Trans-Canada Highway, which, at almost 5,000 miles long, spans the country from east to west. And in this area, it was straight with gentle curves and hills but relatively flat, even though we were in the Canadian Rockies.
The fastest speed limit we saw was 90 kilometers per hour that’s about 55.9 miles per hour. On one stretch it was 100 KPH but that didn’t last long. And since we had been warned that the police were operating several speed traps in the area, we pretty much stuck to the speed limit.
The road may have been boring but the XC90 was not. Some of its features were Napper leather seats that were heated and cooled; the second-row seats were also heated too and there was gray ash wood trim. The front seats had cushion extenders, there were 21-inch alloy wheels, an air suspension and full LED headlights. Oh, those front seats would also massage too.
Volvo increased the battery size on the T8 to 11.6 kWh and added automatic braking to the blind spot information system with cross-traffic alert.
Interior enhancements included wool contour seats (we didn’t have them), a restyled crystal gear shift knob and a 1,400-watt 19-speaker premium sound system. And that was just the beginning.
The Volvo XC90 had Volvo’s double-wishbone front suspension. This means the wheel is attached to the car by two transverse links. The front suspension design also counteracted torque steer (the tendency to pull to the side during acceleration). Since we maintained constant, meaning slow speeds, there weren’t many places to aggressively accelerate. Most of the suspension parts were made of aluminum to reduce weight.
About the only thing we didn’t like was that the captains’ seats in the second row did not have armrests. The vehicle we were test driving had a sticker of $86,990.
We crossed into British Columbia and headed to the base of Kicking Horse Mountain. It’s a high-in-the-sky resort and we switched into the 2020 Volvo V60 Cross Country wagon.
It’s got some big treads to fill; station wagons are a Volvo specialty. This V60 was two and a half inches higher than the regular V60. The Cross Country sat on a unique chassis too, it had extended wheel arches (cladding around the wheel wells) and a studded chrome grille.
All-wheel drive was standard as were hill descent control, electronic stability control, corner traction control and a special off-road driving mode. It had a specially developed chassis and suspension that enhanced the car’s off-road capability.
Under normal conditions, the V60 Cross Country’s power was distributed to the front wheels. The system constantly calculated the need for torque and could redistribute up to 50 percent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels. When at a standstill, full all-wheel drive is always engaged to prepare for maximum traction during acceleration.
It had a turbocharged 2.0-liter 250 horsepower four-cylinder under the hood that made 285 pound-feet of torque. TheV60 Cross Country had a standard panoramic moonroof, standard LED headlights with Volvo’s signature “Thor’s Hammer” daytime running lights, advanced safety technology, including available pilot assist driver assistance system and an intuitive infotainment system with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
It is important to take note of where we were at 5,000 ft. in elevation. We were going to the summit of the mountain to a place called Eagle’s Eye Restaurant for lunch. It was at 8,000 ft. and to get there we drove up the access road which was a trail, not a road.
It was covered with gravel, there were stretches where over time rocks had become embedded in this path, in most places it wasn’t wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other simultaneously and it was, of course, hard-packed with dirt. The only thing to be grateful about was it was dry as in not raining. Oh, it was twisting too.
Before we began the ascent we set the 2020 Volvo Cross Country in off-road mode, one of five of its drive modes. The accelerator adjusted to reduce the risk for inadvertently exceeding 25 mph, hill descent control was automatically activated, steering was set to comfort mode, the engine and gearbox were optimized for traction, electronic stability control was set to traction/sport and the start/stop function was shut off. This wagon also had skid plates and 20-inch alloy wheels.
We were advised not to do more 20 kph that is kilometers per hour. Our speed ranged from 10 to 18 kph — most of the time, less than that.
This was a devilish stretch of road that was more like a trail as we said. Heck, the intersections were bike trails. It took about 30 minutes to drive perhaps two kilometers.
The Volvo V60 Cross Country was sure treaded, the tires slipped a couple of times but the all-wheel-drive system adjusted torque and we continued our steady assault up the mountain. When we got to the top, our exhale was audible and our really tight grip on the steering wheel loosened. We had lunch and took the gondola down; we didn’t complain about not driving back down that trail.
We got into a XC60 Polestar T8E-AWD Polestar Engineered and headed to a small private airfield. Once there they had set up a slalom course, a quick lane change or moose test and a quarter-mile run.
The X60 Polestar got through the slalom well. We weren’t pushing but we thought it significant that we got through the gates smartly without a lot of tire squeal. It spoke to the vehicle’s excellent handling.
The moose test showed us how quickly the XC60 Polestar could react to driver input. They call it the quick lane change or moose test and it is a standard reaction test in Sweden and the XC60 got through it with no problem.
And we managed to do 146 kph from a standing start. That was six kilometers better than the first time we tried because we think the tires had heated up during our first run and their grip was better.
This XC60 Polestar Engineered made 415 horsepower and 494 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to an eight-speed transmission. It had 22-inch alloy wheels, adjustable dampers and a host of other stuff like a laminated panoramic roof, paddle shifters, a heads up display and integrated tailpipes in black chrome with Polestar Engineered in logotype.
But none of that matter because we got lost — and get this we had a navigation system and it was on. We’ll spare you the long story of going back and forth on the Trans-Canada Highway. Suffice it to say we saw a lot of it; missing an alert from the navigation system because we were talking, getting off at the wrong place and then getting back on.
While we were touring we found that as Volvo said the XC60’s all-wheel-drive system provided more control and agility as the slalom showed. There were six drive modes, including a customizable individual mode that allowed the driver to tailor the powertrain to their preferences. None of this did we have time to do while trying to get to where we were supposed to be.
Working with Ohlins’ dual flow valve technology, the Swedish automaker developed a suspension system that provided great handling and stable cornering. We did a lot of U-turning. The suspension was also adjustable, allowing the driver to alter the stiffness of the dampers.
The XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered was fitted with brakes that were developed in collaboration with Akebono. Six-piston calipers and ventilated 14.6-inch brake discs on the front wheels offered impressive braking power, and also helped regenerate power that was stored in the battery.
A Polestar Engineered front strut bar sat in the engine compartment and connected the front suspension towers, adding additional rigidity to the chassis.
We stopped the route guidance and to our surprise reset our destination to the hotel. It was in the address book so we didn’t have to type anything into the navigation system while the XC60 Polestar was moving, which is normally not doable, just select that destination and we got there. To us, that was the most important feature on the vehicle. The suggested list price for the XC60 T8 E-AWD Polestar was $73,490.
They also brought a new V60 Polestar T8 but we could not drive it. Nonetheless, it was a plug-in hybrid that made 415 horsepower, had 19-inch wheels, a glossy black grille frame and glossy black integrated tailpipes. So it is coming.
As we said, Volvo understands the No.1 rule in the auto world: product, product, product.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.