What is it?
Volvo has spent £280 million developing what it reckons to be the world’s first series-production plug-in diesel hybrid and, happily for the company, Swedish utility firm Vattenfall has paid half the R&D bill. Why? Because it produces an electricity surplus in Sweden and is keen to see motorists buying volts, amps and ohms instead of oil for their personal propulsion. Volvo has developed this hardware for the V60 estate, although it plans to offer the technology in several models.
Even though this V60 delivers a spectacular 155.2mpg combined and CO2 emissions of just 48g/km – excluding grid-supplied go-juice – Volvo is pitching it as a performance car. And not without justification. This twin-engined, four-wheel-drive estate is good for 60mph in 5.8sec, with a 142mph top speed. That’s not all. It can be front-wheel drive, four-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive, with enough grunt for a battery-powered top speed of 77mph and, say smiling Volvo engineers, the scope for excellent ice-lake drifting fun.
What is it like?
Its default operation is as a hybrid, and the striking difference between a plug-in and lesser hybrids is that you can drive extensively with the electric motor alone and at decent speeds, your quest to avoid triggering the diesel aided by an easily understood dial. There’s also a pure electric mode that’s good for a 31-mile range and is most efficiently deployed in low-speed city driving. A Save button reserves the battery’s charge for later city use, which could prove very handy in zero-emissions zones. Performance lovers can guiltily hit the Power switch, the electric motor’s instant 148lb ft of torque giving serious off-the-line shove by filling in the turbo-lag torque hole of a diesel that itself delivers serious thrust.
The result is genuinely sporting performance that’s heightened by a responsive six-speed automatic and, if you’re advancing in electric mode before sinking the accelerator, impressively tremor-free feeding of the diesel motor’s beef into the mix. With all-wheel drive, a well balanced chassis, unique suspension settings and even a strut brace bar, this Volvo proves pretty adroit through bends. We didn’t have the scope to push it hard in rear drive or the all-wheel drive setting that optimises traction rather than performance, but there’s enough go to provide an engaging drive, even if the V60 isn’t the last word in dynamic sensitivity. Its ride can turn a bit sharp at times, too, but in every other way this is a refined car.
Should I buy one?
Volvo aimed to make this V60 as easy a drive as possible, and in default hybrid mode it proceeds as straightforwardly as any automatic, complete with instruments configurable for simplicity. Those fascinated by its technology or craving economy can call up additional instrumentation, a power flow graphic and energy consumption graphs as aids. Volvo says this plug-in diesel hybrid is, in the real world, half as thirsty as the standard D5 diesel AWD.
Recharging from a modest 10-ampere power supply needs 4.5 hours, this process ensuring that the battery and engine cooling systems are temperature-optimised to further boost economy. Highly sophisticated, intelligently integrated and impressively refined, this Volvo makes an intriguing eco performance car.
Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid SE Lux Nav
Price £48,775; 0-60mph 5.8sec; Top speed 142mph; Economy 155.2mpg (combined); Co2 48g/km; Kerb weight 1955kg; Engine 5 cyls in line, 2400cc, turbodiesel plus electric motor; Power 215bhp diesel plus 70bhp electric, 280bhp combined; Torque 325lb ft plus 148lb ft; Gearbox 6-spd automatic