2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Oct 16, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Volvo deals!

Volvo is serious about saving the planet. The company has committed to a range of climate-related initiatives, from electrifying every redesigned car and SUV it introduces starting in 2020 to making the entire company and all of its operations carbon-neutral by 2040. Volvo also expects half of its global sales to be electric vehicles by 2025, with the other half hybrids.

As a part of this plan, starting with the 2021 model year, Volvo’s range of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and electric vehicles (EVs) will wear the name “Recharge.” The automaker has redesigned its website to emphasize the Recharge lineup and is offering Recharge PHEVs at lower price points than before. Once the all-new XC40 Recharge small electric SUV arrives in early 2021, the only Volvo model without a PHEV or EV option will be the V90 wagon.

Specific to the popular XC60 compact SUV lineup, the Recharge offerings expand beyond the performance-tuned Polestar Engineered model to include Inscription Expression ($53,500), R-Design ($59,650), and Inscription ($61,000) trim levels. Additionally, the 2021 Volvo XC60 adds several standard driving assistance systems and Connected Safety vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology. 

Volvo also limits the top speed of all of its models to 112 mph this year, offers a programmable Care Key to further limit maximum velocity for specific drivers who might use the vehicle, updates the available Bowers & Wilkins audio system, and makes changes to interior color and trim selections.

2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge Polestar Engineered Osmium Gray Front View

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated an XC60 Recharge Polestar Engineered equipped with extra-cost paint. The price came to $71,140, including the $995 destination charge.

What Owners Say… - Find the best Volvo deals!

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2021 XC60 Recharge, it is helpful to understand who buys this compact premium SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

According to J.D. Power data, 52% of Volvo XC60 owners are male (vs. 54% for the segment), and the median age of an XC60 owner is 58 years (vs. 59).

Owners say their favorite things about the XC60 are (in descending order) the exterior styling, feeling of safety, driving feel, interior design, and driving comfort. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle rank highest in comparison to the compact premium SUV segment:

  • Vehicle protection
  • Operating vehicle remotely
  • Driver’s seat comfort
  • Exterior styling
  • Quality of materials inside the vehicle

Owners indicate their least favorite things about the XC60 are (in descending order) the getting in and out, powertrain, setting up and starting, infotainment system, and fuel economy. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle rank lowest in comparison to the compact premium SUV segment:

  • Fuel economy/driving range
  • Using voice assistance
  • Sound of engine/motor
  • Ability to hold personal items
  • Power of engine/motor

In the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the XC60 ranked 4th out of 14 compact premium SUVs.

What Our Expert Says… - Find the best Volvo deals!

In the sections that follow, our independent expert provides his perceptions about how the 2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge measures up in each of the ten categories that comprise the APEAL Study.

Exterior

Volvo XC60 owners love the way this SUV looks. It wears the now common design elements first introduced with the current-generation XC90 SUV, and from the Thor’s Hammer running lights to the traditional taillights that frame the rear window, it looks terrific.

2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge Polestar Engineered Osmium Gray Rear View

This is especially true when decked out in Polestar Engineered specification. A blacked-out grille, standard 21-inch Y-spoke forged aluminum wheels, and gold brake calipers add an appropriately sporty look to go with the SUV’s enhanced performance.

Interior

The 2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge Polestar Engineered has the same now-familiar collection of displays, controls, and quality materials that you’ll find in the company’s other vehicles. Exceptions include gold seatbelts that match the SUV’s brake calipers and well-bolstered sport seats wrapped in premium Nappa leather. 

2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge Polestar Engineered Front Seats

Collectively, the cabin presents a minimalistic look that can force some ergonomic compromises, but with time you acclimate to the automaker’s approach. What you might not get used to is the lack of excess storage for everyday personal items. There is just enough of it, and no more.

Getting In and Out

The XC60 Recharge Polestar Engineered model’s added seat bolstering can impede front-seat entry and exit. But this is to be expected with a performance-tuned model equipped with sports seats. This issue does not affect rear-seat access.

Cargo space measures 22.4 cubic feet behind the back seat, expanding to 63.3 cubic feet with the back seat folded down. These numbers are on par with other compact premium SUVs. The 60/40-split folding rear seat also has a small pass-through for carrying longer items while simultaneously ferrying passengers.

Setting Up and Starting

Volvo takes a non-traditional approach to its driver information center, its infotainment system, and its controls and displays. This can lead to frustration during the setup process unless you first consult the owner’s manual. And even after initial setup, it is sometimes hard to remember how to perform a task or ascertain why a feature is functioning as it is.

Rather than use an engine start button on the dashboard, Volvo supplies a lovely knurled metal knob on the center console that you twist to start the vehicle. With the XC60 Recharge, this action is often accompanied by silence because the default driving mode is Pure for electric vehicle operation. If you buy the Recharge, you’ll enjoy the silence.

When the battery is low, or there is a heavy accessory load such as a blasting air conditioner, the gasoline 4-cylinder engine will fire up with a characteristic, and somewhat unsatisfying, 4-cylinder grumble.

Infotainment System

In 2015, Volvo introduced its portrait-mounted Sensus infotainment system with its 9-inch touchscreen display, swipe and scroll functionality, configurable app tiles, and handy “Home” button at the bottom, and it was a revelation. Essentially, Volvo replicated the smartphone experience on the XC90’s dashboard.

More than half a decade later, Sensus is looking dated. From its recessed screen, small icons, and tiny typography to its 9-inch display size and penchant for collecting fingerprints, it resembles the equivalent of an iPhone 5. The time has come for a reboot.

Even so, like an iPhone 5, Sensus remains relatively easy and intuitive to use. Volvo provides volume and tuning controls for the stereo, and Sensus includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Wi-Fi, and four free years of Volvo OnCall with emergency SOS service. The test vehicle also had navigation and an excellent 15-speaker Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system.

After going through all of the different menus and settings, using Sensus was a snap, though, as is true of any technologically-complex vehicle, it’s easy to forget where you found a setting that you’d like to change. The voice recognition technology worked well except for changing a radio station, whether requesting a genre or specific channel.

Keeping You Safe

Volvo equips the XC60 Recharge Polestar Engineered with all of its advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS), and they work smoothly and subtly. Sometimes you’ll question whether they’re active at all, prompting a visit to the Sensus menu containing the ADAS settings to make sure you’ve got everything turned on.

There are a few things to note. First, the XC60’s standard City Safety technology can detect pedestrians, cyclists, and large animals. Second, the standard lane-keeping assist did not resist attempts to cross the double yellow lines on two-lane roads when giving cyclists a wide berth. Third, Volvo’s Level 2 highway driving assist technology, Pilot Assist, genuinely adds an element of ease to long freeway trips. 

In addition to the long list of ADAS and Volvo’s stated intention to eliminate collision-related fatalities for people driving or riding in its vehicles, the XC60’s crash-test ratings are reassuring. In 2020, the XC60 earned a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the XC60 top 5-star ratings in all assessments, plus a rollover resistance rating of 4 stars.

Powertrain

The Volvo XC60 Recharge is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. That means it has a gasoline engine, a battery pack, and an electric motor, and it can operate only on electricity, only on the gasoline engine, or using a combination of both.

In the XC60 Recharge, a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine pairs with an 11.6 kWh lithium-ion battery and an 87-hp electric motor to deliver a combined 400 horsepower and 472 lb.-ft. of torque. The Polestar Engineered version is slightly more powerful at 415 hp and 494 lb.-ft.

An 8-speed automatic transmission powers the front wheels, and an electric motor located at the rear axle supplies electronic all-wheel drive. Polestar Engineered driving modes include Pure, Hybrid, Polestar, Constant AWD, and Off-Road. Additionally, drivers can choose Hold and Charge PHEV settings. Hold preserves battery charge for use in specific situations, while Charge uses the gasoline engine to recharge the battery as you drive.

The XC60 Recharge offers 19 miles of EPA-rated driving range on electricity, which is unimpressive. The portable charging cord lives under the cargo floor, and it’s not a heavy and clunky thing like those provided by many PHEVs and EVs. This makes it easier to take it out and plug the Volvo into a standard household power outlet, which recharges the SUV overnight. You can also use a 240-volt charging station, which replenishes the battery in 2.5 hours.

When you choose a gear using the stubby electronic shifter on the center console, the XC60 has a quirk: you need to double-select reverse and drive. Evidently, Volvo wants to make sure you want to perform that action before it agrees to shift into gear.

In Pure mode, the XC60 Recharge operates solely on electricity unless you push too hard on the accelerator. The right gauge within the cluster shows the demarcation line between EV operation and when the gas engine will turn on to assist the electric motor, such as when the driver accelerates hard to get onto a freeway or when the powertrain is tasked with getting the 4,693-pound SUV up a hill.

Choose Hybrid mode, and the electric motor works in concert with the gasoline engine to provide maximum horsepower and torque. The response is immediate and robust, supplying satisfying acceleration.

Naturally, Polestar mode kicks everything up a notch. Volvo claims this SUV accelerates to 60 mph in under five seconds, and it’s a credible one. Request maximum thrust with a deep press of your right foot, and the XC60 Recharge Polestar Engineered explodes away from a stop. It is both intoxicating and addictive.

Fuel Economy

Setting off on the testing loop in Pure mode, the XC60 Recharge indicated 21 miles of available electric range. In spite of (or perhaps because of) hilly terrain, I traveled 21.7 miles before the gas engine started up. However, on three occasions, the gas engine kicked on to assist the SUV when accelerating up hills, so the reported 21.7-mile achievement isn’t as pure as the driving mode’s name suggests.

For the remainder of the 140-mile route, I kept the SUV mainly in Hybrid mode. Coming down a mountain grade, I switched over to Charge mode and quickly recouped about six miles of battery range. I sampled Polestar mode on the twisty two-lane road portions of the drive, rapidly depleting the battery again.

Ultimately, including Pure-mode electric driving, I averaged 27.3 mpg. Considering that the EPA says the XC60 Recharge should get 27 mpg when used as a hybrid, this result is disappointing given that 15% of the distance traveled was on electricity.

Volvo provides an 18.5-gallon fuel tank in the XC60 Recharge, so based on my driving, you can travel 518 miles on both a full battery and a full tank. The more realistic distance is 475 miles.

But that doesn’t take into account regular battery charging. Most likely, if you keep the battery topped off between commutes and errands, you’ll travel much farther than that before needing to visit a gas station.

Driving Comfort

Equipped with 14-way power-adjustable front Contour-style seats, the XC40 Recharge offers excellent comfort, even with the more robust side bolsters. Plus, for cold weather, they’re both heated, along with the steering wheel.

On testing day, the snow was not falling, and the wind was not blowing. It was a sunny fall day in Southern California, with temperatures in the upper 70s. Driving into the afternoon sun with the climate control set to 70 degrees, I wished for seat ventilation, which is unavailable with the Contour-style seats.

The XC60 provides just enough rear-seat legroom to accommodate average-size adults. Again, the seats are mighty comfortable, and in the test vehicle, they included heated cushions.

Due to the Polestar Engineered model’s oversized wheels and tires, road noise is evident. Also, at highway speeds, wind noise sneaks into the cabin from the rear of the SUV. But the impressive Bowers & Wilkins sound system effortlessly overcomes both of these aural irritants.

Driving Feel

Driving enthusiasts will love that the XC60 Recharge Polestar Engineered comes with manually adjustable Öhlins performance dampers. To change the settings, you must open the hood to access the front shock adjusters and reach into the rear wheel wells to modify the rear settings. They’re not clearly marked, either, so unless you know what you’re doing, stick with the factory settings.

As delivered, the test car was stiffly sprung and communicated every nuance of the road surface directly into the cabin. This was great when running the SUV hard on mountain roads, but less enjoyable when driving in the city and suburbs of Los Angeles. Frankly, as enthusiast-cool as the Öhlins dampers are, nearly everyone would prefer adaptive damping tied to the SUV’s driving modes.

Thanks to Polestar tuning, added structural braces, Akebono performance brakes, and forged aluminum 21-inch wheels wrapped in summer tires, the XC60 Recharge Polestar Engineered proved riotously fun to drive. Aside from its sheer grip, the added weight low in the chassis reduces the SUV’s center of gravity, supplying a sensation of solidity and stability that often goes missing from this type of vehicle. Add the stiff suspension setup, and this plug-in performance SUV demonstrates little of the excess body motion that typically plagues taller and heavier vehicles.

True, the steering is relatively light and lacking in feel, but it is accurate and precise. And while the brakes are stout, so is the pedal controlling them. It doesn’t offer much daylight between light application and hard braking, making the pedal harder to modulate.

Nevertheless, the XC60 Recharge Polestar Engineered is almost always delightful to drive.

Final Impressions - Find the best Volvo deals!

Though its electric driving range is modest, and the Polestar Engineered version of the XC60 Recharge is priced high, this luxury PHEV SUV demonstrates how design, utility, safety, technology, efficiency, and performance are possible in a single vehicle. Forego the Polestar treatment, and you can save almost $20,000 by choosing the new-for-2021 Inscription Expression version of the XC60 Recharge, giving up some of the performance but little of the overall appeal.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience in test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2020 J.D. Power

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