First Drive: Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid
Volvo sees this as a corporate-focussed car in the UK, at least once it reaches full production. The first 1,000 cars begin leaving the line next November, but even as one of its biggest markets only 130 of those will come to the UK. It’s also undecided how they’ll be allocated, with demonstrators vital if Volvo wants to get potential customers to try the technology for themselves.
Visually, it’s hard to pick out from the conventional V60. Almost identical to the concept cars, with the only the distinctive flat white paint job absent, only the D6 and Plug-In Hybrid plaque and additional charge port on the wing give anything away. Launch models, which will be badged SE Lux in the UK, will be a single high-spec version finished in dark silver with gloss black aerodynamic parts.
Interior changes are as subtle. The boot floor is 60mm higher to accommodate the battery, there’s a futuristic partially-transparent gearknob and the dials have been replaced with an intuitive digital display. This is one of its best features, too, showing a plethora of information including how close the driver is to activating the diesel engine.
Clever features also include a new Volvo On Call smartphone app, which will allow owners to check and control charging times, monitor errors and pre-set the cabin temperature remotely. There’s a real sense that Volvo has been very thorough with its newcomer.
The bulk of its power comes from Volvo’s latest 215bhp 2.4-litre D5 diesel engine, which drives the front wheels. At the back, a 70bhp electric motor drives the rear wheels giving a 31 mile range on a full battery charge, with the double benefit of a silent switchover to four wheel drive on slippery surfaces and an 1,800kg towing capacity. These can work independently, or together for full power, via three selectable driving modes.
Its pace belies its tiny fuel consumption, with the torque delivery from its combined diesel-electric powertrain giving the V60 an effortless surge of acceleration while switching almost unnoticeably between its two power sources. The extra 300kg hasn’t blunted its agility either, thanks to a newly developed chassis setup.
And it’s just as easy to drive the V60 economically. Outside Power mode the diesel engine doesn’t cut in except under heavy throttling, and the power meter helps avoid using it at all. Volvo has even included a power saving mode which prioritises diesel power, letting drivers save the battery for inner-city use where the cost savings are biggest.
The finished car is still almost a year away, but it’s coming very close to market-ready. Volvo is being typically detailed in its final refinements, too, with a fleet of 200 pre-production cars planned to test it in real-world conditions before letting customers behind the wheel. But though it’s a complicated-sounding package, this combination of ferocious power and low running costs will put it on plenty of company car wish-lists.
Volvo wants to set itself apart from German competition with its future products, and this high performance hybrid should prick up a few ears. It’s really well executed, too, working best as a green alternative to a six-cylinder diesel. But, beyond tax, it’ll bring the biggest cost savings for short-distance commuters doing most of their driving on electric power.
Sector: Compact Executive
Type: Diesel-electric plug-in hybrid
Electric range: 31 miles
CO2 emissions (tailpipe): 49g/km
Charging port: Type 2