Until the arrival of the 850 T5 in the mid-1990s, memorable performance was something of an abstract concept for Volvo. The boxy new five-cylinder saloon and estate models changed that, supplementing the demure looks with a serious turn of pace.

With a ‘combined’ 400bhp produced by its petrol-electric plug-in hybrid powertrain, meanwhile, the S60 Polestar Engineered could never be described as ‘slow’ – although it is in danger of pulling off the same trick as its forebears, albeit to opposite effect. Against the stiff asking price, muscular looks, Pirelli P Zero tyres and gold brake calipers, our tested 0-60mph time of 5.4sec looks underwhelming and is some way shy of the more impressive 4.4sec to 62mph that Volvo claims.

Steering and brakes are a cut above Volvo’s usual and would work even better without the weight of the hybrid powertrain. In fact, a front-driven T5 version for around £42,000 might be more convincing all round.

Admittedly the car had damp test conditions with which to contend, but even with the entirety of this downsized engine’s power and torque delivered to the front contact patches, traction off the mark was not the problem – a fact that surprised some testers. In fact, even without a dedicated launch-control function, the Volvo leaped forward from a standstill mostly thanks to its electrically driven rear axle.

Thereafter, however, it struggled to deliver truly strong acceleration, and the drawbacks of the car’s powertrain layout became plain. Upshifts are suitably slick, but as your speed increases and the tachometer needle is kept usefully within the middle of the rev-range – a point at which the powertrain’s generous combined torque output should really be making itself known – the car’s apparent force of acceleration dwindles slightly.

At times it can seem as though the gearbox has failed to engage fully whenever a new ratio is selected, although moments of axle tramp suggest that the car’s chassis electronics may be intervening in order to maintain the best possible traction and prevent progress from becoming too ragged. In the dry this frustrating characteristic never manifested itself, but even in the damp we would expect any £60,000 performance saloon with four-wheel drive to accelerate with more panache than your average 300bhp hot hatch.

And it is the cost and the implied character of the car by which this powertrain should be judged. While it works well in casual driving, during which it gently slips into and out of pure-electric operation, buyers at this level have a right to expect more – and they frequently ask for it.

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To this end, although the electric motor is always quick to respond, in general the S60’s power delivery lacks the precision and linearity of non-hybrid alternatives. The Volvo’s hybrid rivals, meanwhile, including cars such as the BMW 330e, which channels the totality of its efforts through one transmission, also seem to offer more linear responses and better drivability.

Under load, this Volvo powertrain also lacks a quality which is abundant elsewhere in the S60 Polestar Engineered package: audible character.

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