2021 Volvo S60 Recharge Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Oct 27, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Volvo deals!

Nearly four years ago, Volvo announced that it would electrify its entire lineup of cars and SUVs. Now, every vehicle it sells in the U.S. has a mild-hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or electric powertrain as standard or optional equipment. And for the 2021 model year, the automaker launches a new sub-brand called Recharge to describe its growing family of plug-in hybrid electric and electric vehicles.

There are six Volvo Recharge models from which to choose. The XC40 Recharge P8 is the only full electric, a compact SUV with over 200 miles of driving range. The rest are plug-ins, available in S60, S90, V60, XC60, and XC90 model series. For 2021, these Recharge T8 PHEVs add more affordable variants to make them even more appealing to customers.

Additional changes to the 2021 Volvo S60 lineup include standard blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning, full curve adaptive LED headlights, and keyless entry. Connected Safety car-to-car communication technology debuts for 2021, and the available Bowers & Wilkins premium audio system gets an update. Like all 2021 Volvo models, the S60 comes with a 112-mph speed limiter and a Care Key remote fob owners can program with a specific top vehicle speed.

2021 Volvo S60 Recharge T8 Polestar Engineered Black Front View

Speed was the test car's first, last, and middle name. For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a top-of-the-line S60 Recharge T8 Polestar Engineered equipped with Osmium Gray metallic paint. The price came to $66,440, including the $995 destination charge for shipping it to your dealer from Volvo's South Carolina factory.

What Owners Say… - Find the best Volvo deals!

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2021 Volvo S60, it is helpful to understand who buys this compact premium car and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

According to J.D. Power data, 63% of Volvo S60 owners are male, and their median age is 55 years, exactly matching the data for the segment.

Owners say their favorite things about the S60 are (in descending order) the feeling of safety, exterior styling, driving feel, powertrain, and driving comfort in a tie with interior design. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle rank highest in comparison to the compact premium car segment:

  • Vehicle protection
  • Operating vehicle remotely
  • Getting in and out of the second row
  • Rear seat comfort
  • Ride comfort

Owners indicate their least favorite things about the S60 are (in descending order) the setting up and starting, getting in and out, infotainment system, and fuel economy. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle rank lowest in comparison to the compact premium car segment:

  • Power of engine/motor
  • Sound of engine/motor
  • Fuel economy/driving range
  • Smoothness of engine/motor
  • Vehicle feel when started up

In the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the S60 ranked 6th out of eight compact premium cars.

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 S60 Recharge measures up in each of the ten categories that comprise the APEAL Study.

Exterior

When Volvo redesigned the S60 a couple of years ago, it was the last of the automaker's models to move to its Scalable Product Architecture platform and adopt modern Volvo design themes. The result is a handsome sedan (and wagon, in V60 format) that avoids the humpbacked look so many 4-door cars are adopting in the name of aerodynamics.

2021 Volvo S60 Recharge T8 Polestar Engineered Black Rear View

Led by its signature Thor's Hammer LED running lights and rolling on 19-inch Y-spoke forged aluminum wheels, the S60 Recharge T8 Polestar Engineered looks every bit the part of the sleeper sports sedan, right down to its gold-painted brake calipers. They're the only blatant outward signal that this plug-in hybrid might be a performance vehicle to contend with despite its power port cover on the left front fender.

Interior

That same gold color Volvo uses for the brake calipers repeats within the cabin for the seat belts. Otherwise, the S60 Recharge T8 Polestar Engineered's cabin is black, black, and more black, interrupted only by gray contrast stitching and aluminum trim and accents. A standard panoramic sunroof lightens the mood.

2021 Volvo S60 T8 Polestar Engineered Dashboard

Materials are of top-notch quality, storage is decent, and the dashboard and center console offer Volvo's now-familiar look and layout, from the 9-inch portrait-mounted Sensus Connect touchscreen infotainment system to the knurled metal engine start knob. Minimalism is the rule, but once you acclimate to Volvo's design quirks, a driver quickly makes sense of it all. 

Some versions of the S60 offer a four-zone climate control system, and Volvo's available Air Quality System filters airborne particulates to PM 2.5.

Getting In and Out

Crouching low on its performance suspension, the S60 Recharge T8 Polestar Engineered can pose a bit of a challenge when it comes to getting in and out. The deeply bolstered sport seats and rather small door openings don't help, but both front chairs are height adjustable to increase the entry and exit hip-point. Trunk space measures just 11.6 cubic feet, and a ski pass-through and folding back seat help expand utility. 

Setting Up and Starting

Volvo's Sensus Connect infotainment system works just like the smartphone you owned a few years ago. The touchscreen is recessed into a black plastic surround, and you use your fingers to swipe, scroll, pinch, spread, and pull-down menus. A "Home" button takes you back to the main display, which offers quick access to navigation, music, phone, apps, and climate systems.

Using Sensus Connect to set things up (when the car is parked) is pretty straightforward. You can even drag-and-drop tiles to preferable locations to make them easier to find and reference in the future. Making selections for the trip computer and other driver information data shown within the 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster is not quite as easy due to the undersized markings and the user interface.

Twist the engine start knob, and the Volvo S60 Recharge T8 feels like it will be something special. When it silently comes to life, you'll remember that it's a plug-in hybrid. But if the turbocharged and supercharged gasoline engine fires up, you might be disappointed by its granular and grumbling note.

Infotainment System

Just as using your smartphone while sitting on your couch is different from using it when you're driving, Sensus Connect is easy to use until the car is moving. Then, it becomes a distraction unless you're sticking to the Home screen with its five layered horizontal tiles, which expand and contract to provide access to primary features and functions.

As expected, Sensus Connect includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, 4G LTE Wi-Fi service, and voice control. With an unexpectedly cold and robotic tone, the voice assistant successfully responded to my usual test requests, including adjusting the cabin temperature. However, sometimes the response requires you to delve a second layer deeper to get precisely the information or action you seek.

For example, when asking for directions to my favorite coffee shop, the S60 returned several options. The list of outlets closest to my current location, however, required a second request before I could choose the one nearest to me. Ultimately, the system proved accurate but required extra effort.

As has long been established, Volvo's Bowers & Wilkins high-end audio systems are absolutely fantastic. Here, it supplies 1,100 watts of power and 15 speakers strategically located around the cabin. If you haven't sampled it, the experience is worth a visit to a Volvo dealership.

The test car also had a head-up display, but the information is virtually invisible when you're wearing polarized sunglasses.

Keeping You Safe

Long a Volvo hallmark, safety is at the core of the automaker's products. And for 2021, now that blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning, and headlights that help the driver see around dark corners are standard on every S60, Volvo's entry-level sedan is better than ever.

Highlights from the Volvo S60's menu of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) include:

  • Detection of pedestrians, cyclists, and large animals
  • Oncoming Lane Mitigation (responds when a Volvo crosses the double-yellow line and oncoming traffic is approaching)
  • Intersection Auto Brake (brakes if a Volvo's driver attempts an unsafe turn at an intersection)
  • Run-off Road Mitigation and Protection (attempts to prevent vehicle departure from the road, prepares cabin for hard impact if unsuccessful) 

Pilot Assist is Volvo's Level 2 driving assistance technology. It works well but is not designed for hands-free driving along the same lines as Cadillac Super Cruise. If you let go of the steering wheel and ignore the warning to put your hands back on it, Pilot Assist starts to slow the car down.

Used without Pilot Assist, the S60's lane-keeping system is subtle, except when you really need it. In cases where the driver wanders due to distraction or inattentiveness, it takes authoritative corrective action.

New for 2021, Connected Safety car-to-car communication technology debuts in the S60. This technology allows new Volvos to "talk" to each other. For example, if a new S60 gets a flat tire and is on the side of the road with its hazard flashers on, it will communicate this status to drivers of other new Volvos on that same road, alerting them to this fact.

Though loaded with technology designed to prevent a collision, the Volvo S60 might still get into an accident. As far as crash-test ratings are concerned, the car gets a "Top Safety Pick" rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Powertrain

The Volvo S60 Recharge is equipped with a plug-in hybrid powertrain. It supplies an EPA-estimated 22 miles of electric driving range before reverting to full hybrid operation, requiring the use of its gasoline engine.

Volvo's turbocharged and supercharged Drive-E 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine forms the basis of the S60 Recharge's drivetrain. It powers the car's front wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission. 

The gas engine pairs with an integrated starter generator motor mounted at the crankshaft and an electric motor located at the rear axle that drives the rear wheels and creating an electronic all-wheel-drive system. An 11.6-kWh battery is housed within the car's center tunnel.

Together, these components produce 400 horsepower and 472 lb.-ft. of torque. In the T8 Polestar Engineered model, output measures 415 hp and 494 lb.-ft. Acceleration is ungodly quick, the punch and thrust of the instantly available electric torque a highly addictive thrill. With a claimed run to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds, the S60 Recharge T8 Polestar Engineered can't quite match the Tesla Model 3 Performance for outright off-the-line speed, but it's a blast nevertheless.

Multiple driving modes govern the car's behavior. Pure is for electric driving, Hybrid is for normal driving, and Polestar Engineered is for having a great time while you're behind the wheel. The powertrain also offers a Hold mode to save battery power for specific driving situations, and a Charge mode to use the gasoline engine to help recharge the battery while driving.

Since it's a plug-in hybrid, you can also plug the car in to recharge it. The standard TurboCord charging cable is compatible with 110-volt and 220-volt outlets, and the vehicle recharges in 2.5 hours when using the latter. Using a 110-volt outlet, the test car recharged each night without a problem.

Fuel Economy

Though the EPA estimates 22 miles of electric driving range for the S60 Recharge, the car indicated 25 miles of range upon leaving home on the testing day. However, due to the route's hilly nature and an overall rise in elevation, the S60 Recharge delivered 19.4 miles of electric driving before the gasoline engine started.

In Pure mode, the gas engine will start when the driver presses too hard on the accelerator. Volvo provides a gauge to help drivers ensure pure electric driving, so keep an eye on it to moderate your right foot and prevent this from happening. 

Driven in Hybrid mode, the EPA rating for the S60 Recharge is 30 mpg. During a 130-mile test-drive, the car returned 34.1 mpg, with the electric driving factored into the equation.

Driving Comfort

In addition to its reputation for safety, Volvos are known for being comfortable, which is undoubtedly the case with the S60 Recharge. Despite the added seat bolstering, the front seats proved perfectly supportive for hours behind the steering wheel.

As previously mentioned, the rear door openings' size and shape forces some contortions when entering and exiting the S60's back seat. Once you've folded yourself into the car, however, the seat itself is exceptionally comfortable. Leg and foot space are generous for this segment, but hard plastic at the bottom of the front seatbacks is unkind to shins. Rear air conditioning vents on the middle roof pillars help to keep passengers cool.

Circumstances required a morning rather than an afternoon test-drive, and it was a cloudy and foggy one without much opportunity to test climate system effectiveness. The controls themselves are embedded into the Sensus Connect display. While this is a better implementation of virtual climate system buttons than you might find in other vehicles, it remains less than ideal.

Driving Feel

With its heavy electric drivetrain components located low in the car's platform, the S60 Recharge's reduced center of gravity promotes hooliganism limited only by 235/40R19 performance tires that give up a little earlier than expected.

Volvo installs Öhlins performance shocks on the T8 Polestar Engineered, manually-adjustable beauties that only hardcore driving enthusiasts will ever touch. Unlike how a recent XC60 Recharge T8 Polestar Engineered test vehicle arrived, in which somebody set the Öhlins dampers to the equivalent of Please Fuse My Spine, this S60 offered a softer and more compliant ride combined with clear road surface communication. 

Nevertheless, as was true with the XC60, the S60 T8 Polestar Engineered proved itself an absolute joy to drive. I preferred the steering effort level and weighting in Hybrid mode, and while the regenerative brakes with Brembo 6-piston front calipers clamping onto larger 14.6-inch ventilated front discs produce tremendous stopping power, the brake pedal itself feels too firm without much in the way of pedal travel.

These, however, are small quibbles with what is otherwise an engaging and dynamically enjoyable automobile.

Final Impressions - Find the best Volvo deals!

The 2021 Volvo S60 Recharge T8 Polestar Engineered is not without quirks and faults, but it ticks all of my boxes as a driving enthusiast who doesn't want to own the same car everyone else does.

Indeed, the Volvo costs just as much as a top-end Audi S4, BMW M340i, or Mercedes-AMG C 43. However, it is just as thrilling to drive as any member of this trio of German sports sedans, and only BMW offers a plug-in hybrid option. At 288 hp and 310 lb.-ft. of torque, though, the BMW 330e falls far short of the Volvo S60 Recharge in terms of total power output.

If you don't want the Polestar Engineered treatment or simply prefer to save money, the 2021 Volvo S60 Recharge lineup offers more affordable R-Design ($48,295) and Inscription ($54,045) trim levels. Both deliver nearly the same acceleration as the Polestar Engineered version while providing impressive levels of overall efficiency.

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. © 2022 J.D. Power

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