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2021 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Review – A hotter plug-in hybrid

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Polestar may be occupied making all-electric cars right now, but that doesn’t mean it’s too busy to give co-owner Volvo a hand with some performance upgrades for the Swedish automaker’s most popular models. The 2021 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered is fine example, a plug-in hybrid promising not only green credentials but a bump in power under the hood and in pleasure from behind the wheel.

Volvo’s T8 Polestar hybrid powertrain combines a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas engine – with both supercharging and turbocharging – with an electric motor. Gas power gets pushed to the front wheels; electric to the back. The result is what Volvo calls eAWD, along with a total of 415 horsepower and 494 lb-ft of torque.

That’s up 15 hp and 22 lb-ft over the non-Polestar version, and it means 0-60 mph arrives in 4.9 seconds. Driven more sedately, expect 26 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 27 mpg combined, or 57 MPGe. In pure electric mode, Volvo says you’ll get about 19 miles from the 9.1 kWh battery.

Charging is via a port on the front driver’s side wing. Figure on a three hour charge if you have a Level 2 30 amp outlet to hand; more like a day if you only have a regular 110V socket. The XC60 T8 uses regenerative braking to automatically top up the battery while you’re on the move, and in its most potent drive mode will actively top up the battery when it can to make sure you always have the most power on tap.

Opting for the most-expensive Polestar Engineered trim doesn’t just coax a little more out of the drivetrain. The styling gets a boost, too, with 21-inch 5-Y Spoke black polished forged alloy wheels, dual integrated tailpipes, and gloss black trim where the regular XC60 might typically wear chrome. The gold Akebono brakes clamp on vast discs, and also look mighty fine glimpsed between the wheels’ spokes.

As you might expect for a performance-minded crossover, there’s adjustable damping too. Volvo’s pick of Ohlins system, however, can’t be controlled through its dashboard touchscreen or the drive mode dial. Instead, you have to physically click a knob on each damper, giving you 22 different settings to choose from. Frankly, the idea of pulling over and trying to tweak the firmness because there’s a sinuous ripple of road up ahead – or because those onboard are complaining of the stiffness – is laughable.

Thankfully, then, Volvo dials it in at a reasonable compromise out of the factory. Firmer than a standard XC60, certainly, but only to the point where things stay flat and even in eager driving. Big wheels and stiff suspension are usually a recipe for a more percussive ride, but the Polestar manages to avoid anything too aggressive.

In fact it feels very much set up for impromptu play. Leave it in Hybrid or Constant AWD modes and the XC60 will thrum around with smooth finesse, reliably planted and with no shortage of torque for overtaking or spurting away from the lights. Volvo’s blend of internal combustion power with the electric motor is handled neatly; most of the time you’d swear you were in a regular AWD crossover, and the times you wouldn’t are when the rear’s instantaneous shove gives you a welcome surprise.

Notch over to the Polestar Engineered drive mode, however, and things get feistier. Never unruly, though with all that torque there’s plenty of opportunity to test Volvo’s commitment to traction. It’s fun and punchy, though a similarly-priced Porsche Macan is still more engaging in the corners.

Inside, Volvo’s cabin remains a pleasant place to find yourself. The seats are comfortable for long-distance cruising, and there’s plenty of high-quality materials for your fingers to find like real metal and Nappa leather. Gone is the open-pore wood in the regular XC60, replaced with silver mesh trim for the Polestar, but there’s no compromise on cargo space: up to 63.3 cu-ft with the rear seats down, and a 3,500 pound towing capacity.

There’s a 12.3-inch display for the driver’s instrumentation – complete with an easy-to-follow gauge showing you where the electrons are flowing – and a superb Bowers & Wilkins audio system on the options list. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard, as is a head-up display, navigation, panoramic sunroof, heated front and rear seats plus steering wheel, and a 360-degree camera.

A few areas are beginning to show their age. The 9-inch Sensus touchscreen seemed vast when Volvo debuted it in 2015; these days, it feels a little cramped. Its interface is still straightforward – as long as you remember which side to swipe to find the driver-aids and settings – but Android Automotive on the XC40 Recharge is a pointed reminder that there’s better to come. The wireless charging pad in the center console, meanwhile, is a little too small for the largest smartphones to fit on properly.

I can’t fault Volvo’s safety tech, however. Adaptive cruise control, LED headlamps with corner-bending lights, front and rear collision mitigation and lane-keeping assistance, blind spot warnings with rear cross-traffic alerts, and parking assistance are all included. Pilot Assist, Volvo’s hands-on driver assistance package with lane-keeping, is available, and works well, though I’m more excited about the Highway Pilot system the automaker aims to introduce from 2022.

Still, waiting for that would mean missing out on the XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered’s charms today, and that would be a shame. It’s a handsome, practical, and safe hybrid crossover that makes as much sense when you’re driving sedately as it does when you put your foot down. In fact the only problem is price.

A regular 2021 XC60 starts from $41,700 (plus destination), and a Volvo XC60 Recharge Hybrid from $53,500. This Polestar Engineered version kicks off at $70,195 however – albeit before any US tax credits and incentives – at which point you’re pretty much in Porsche Macan GTS territory. No, the Macan isn’t a plug-in hybrid, but it’s a far more rewarding driver’s car.

In the end, though I can’t really question the Polestar treatment here – weird, manually-adjusted dampers aside – I also struggle to recommend this top-spec XC60 versus its regular PHEV sibling. Sure, you miss out on a little power, but you still get the reassurance of eAWD and the crossover’s general practicality and handsome looks. The 2021 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered is speedy and capable, but that performance fettling nudges it into territory with some heavy hitters.

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Mini John Cooper Works convertible and coupe pack style and performance

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Mini has unveiled its convertible and coupe John Cooper Works sports cars. The hardtop is rated for a combined fuel economy of 7.1-6.8 l/100 km, with the convertible rated for 7.4-7.1 l/100 km. The vehicles also have low CO2 emissions making them sporty, fun to drive, and green. Mini said that the cars have fresh design features and new equipment for the current year model.

Both versions of the John Cooper Works have round LED headlights and a larger hexagonal radiator grille. The larger radiator grille works with larger side openings to channel more cooling air to the drivetrain and brakes. Mini also paints the bumper strip in body color and has modified the side scuttles on the front side panels and the rear diffuser on both models.

Power comes from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with TwinPower turbo technology. The engine produces 231 horsepower and 320Nm of torque. The car can reach 100 km/h in 6.3 seconds in hardtop form when fitted with the standard six-speed manual transmission. When fitted with the optional eight-speed Steptronic Sport transmission, the vehicle can reach the same speed in 6.1 seconds.

The convertible is a little slower to 100 km/h needing 6.6 seconds with the manual and 6.5 seconds with the automatic. Buyers of the convertible get an electrically powered textile soft top and can choose an optional Mini Yours soft top with woven in Union Jack graphics. The top can be opened at speeds up to 30 km/h.

Both models feature Brembo brakes and 17-inch wheels; 18-inch wheels are an option. The latest version of the optional Adaptive Suspension is available to provide a balance between sportiness and ride comfort. The car also gets standard heated steering well, lane departure warning, and stop & go function for the active cruise control. An 8.8-inch touch display is used for the infotainment system. Pricing for both models is unannounced at this time.

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Opel Manta GSe ElektroMOD teases innovative Pixel-Vizor front grille

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Last March, Opel gave us a teaser of its latest Manta GSe ElektroMOD concept, an all-electric version of the brand’s popular sports coupe from the 1970s. The German carmaker is back to reveal more about its latest electric restomod, notably its unique Pixel-Vizor front grille that allows the car (and driver) to send animated messages to other road users.

“The Manta GSe ElektroMOD is the work of passionate designers, 3D modelers, engineers, technicians, mechanics, product and brand experts,” said Pierre-Olivier Garcia, Opel Global Brand Design Manager. “With the Manta GSe, we are building a bridge from the great Opel tradition to a very desirable sustainable future. This mixture of zeitgeist and modern is absolutely fascinating.”

Other EVs like the Mustang Mach-E and Kia EV6 have blanked-out grille designs, while others have illuminated units. Opel’s Pixel-Vizor front grille takes it further. It’s a digital screen spanning across the entire front of the vehicle. It can display a bevy of messages to communicate with pedestrians, onlookers, and other cars on the road.

In Opel’s video, you can see the car displaying “My German heart has been ELEKTRified,” “I am an ElektroMOD,” and “I am on a zero e-mission.” You can also see an animated manta ray gliding over the screen between the headlights. Yes, we’re talking about a concept vehicle, but we can’t see any reason why this feature won’t make it to production.

Opel utilized a Manta A model from its classic warehouse in creating the GSe ElektroMOD. If you’re old enough to remember, the original Manta was an iconic sports coupe with twin round headlights, a Hemi Cuda-esque hood, and a sporty two-door coupe silhouette.

Opel’s first electric car, the Elektro GT, debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1971 and is based on the Opel GT sports car from 1968. It came with a pair of Bosch electric motors and an all-electric range of only 27 miles. Despite this, it rockets from zero to 60 mph in under six seconds, pretty quick even by modern standards.

As you can see, Opel’s been dabbling with electrification since the early 70s, and it seems the incoming Manta GSe ElektroMOD is bridging the gap between the old and the new. We have no idea if this electric Manta is entering production, but there’s a glimmer of hope.

According to Opel, the Manta GSe ElektroMOD is getting its final touches at the company HQ in Rüsselsheim, Germany. It will also reveal the concept in all its glory this May 19, 2021. Until then, we’ll be back to share the deets.

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Ferrari 812 Superfast Versione Speciale has the most potent Ferrari V12 engine

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As the name suggests, a standard Ferrari 812 Superfast is, well, a stupendously quick supercar. However, Ferrari recently unveiled a ‘faster’ and more potent version of the 812 Superfast. It will debut on May 5 as having the most powerful and highest-revving V12 engine in Ferrari’s history.

Ferrari refers to it as Versione Speciale or Special Version, although the name might change upon the vehicle’s debut in the next couple of weeks. Despite this, Ferrari was able to whet our appetites by releasing a couple of tidbits about its latest high-speed creation.

The Versione Speciale will have the same 6.5-liter V12 engine as a standard 812 Superfast. However, it now pumps out an astonishing 830 horsepower, 30+ more horses than stock. It has the same power output as Mansory’s Stallone GTS convertible (a highly-tuned version of the 812 Superfast), and we reckon it’s going to just as quick.

Officially, the 812 Versione Speciale’s V12 is the most powerful gasoline engine in a roadgoing Ferrari. Granted, the Ferrari SF90 Stradale and Spider have 986 horsepower from a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, but the SF90 is a hybrid.

The new V12 also revs with authority, spinning close to 9,500 rpm. Considering a stock 812 Superfast produces maximum power at 8,500 rpm, we’re pretty sure the Special Version will sound more epic at full chat. Ferrari failed to mention the torque numbers, but we expect the new V12 to have more twists than a stock motor’s 530 pound-feet output.

We have no word yet on the performance numbers. But with more power than stock, the Ferrari 812 Superfast Versione Speciale will go like stink. A standard 812 Superfast goes from zero to 60 mph in 2.9-seconds, zero to 124 mph in 7.9-seconds, and has a top speed of 211 mph. Meanwhile, the Mansory Stallone GTS accelerates to 60 mph in 2.8-seconds and has a top speed of 214 mph, all while having the same power output as Ferrari’s latest 812 VS.

Other juicy features include Ferrari’s Slide Slip Control vehicle dynamics system and four-wheel steering for better handling. The exterior mods consist of more oversized air intakes, a new lip spoiler, new bumper fins, and an aluminum lover panel covering the rear glass. We also heard it’ll weigh less than a stock Superfast, tipping the scales at under 3,362 pounds (1,525 kg).

We’ll know more about Ferrari’s most extreme version of the 812 Superfast in the coming weeks.

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