Road Test: Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid
Sector: Compact Executive Price: £44,275 (after govt grant) Fuel: 155.2mpg CO2: 48g/km
Volvo’s approach to electromobility is a distinctive one. The V60 Plug-in Hybrid offers tax-conscious CO2 emissions and the potential for staggering fuel economy, but it’s a true Jekyll and Hyde car, pairing this with near-T6 performance and all-weather traction.
Under the bonnet is the familiar 215bhp D5 diesel engine, powering the front wheels, while the rear wheels are driven using a 70bhp electric rear axle supplied by a lithium-ion battery under the boot floor. Fully charged, it can travel around 30 miles without burning a drop of diesel, and provide four-wheel drive traction when needed.
Combine the two, and the V60 changes character completely. The drivetrain produces 285bhp, propelling the two-tonne estate car 60mph in 5.8 seconds. But it’s a typical fast Volvo, effortlessly reaching high speeds rather than pinning occupants to their seats.
Aside from the silence in electric mode, it feels like a conventional automatic V60 to drive. Ride quality has suffered a little compared to the rest of the range, but the interior is otherwise as comfortable. The boot has lost a few inches in depth, too, but Volvo’s unmistakeable squared-off back end means it’s still a practical shape which can be stacked to the roof as needed.
But what really impresses is the flexibility on offer. Unlike some plug-in hybrids, the V60 can drive at motorway speeds using only its electric motor, making it a great commuter car. It’s also intelligent enough to engage the diesel engine as required, even in fully electric mode, which means there’s always diesel power on tap should the need to overtake arise.
The amount of throttle input required varies depending whether it’s in one of three selected driving modes. In Pure, it prioritises electric drive where possible, which essentially makes the V60 a 70bhp electric rear-wheel drive car. Hybrid mode will still avoid burning diesel if it can, but is more willing to engage the engine if needed. Finally, Power unleashes the drivetrain’s full performance, though with a sacrifice in economy as the diesel engine is usually switched on.
To really make the most of the drivetrain, additional buttons on the dashboard allow the driver to force the car to run on diesel and save the electric mode for town centres, or a full four-wheel drive mode for slippery conditions.
Volvo’s only omission is the ability to rapid charge, which would allow the car to add a useful amount of range at the growing network of charging points on motorway services. The on-board charger is compatible with three-pin sockets and 16-Amp wallboxes, but adds single digit range per hour stopped. With the backup of a diesel engine, it’s not a dealbreaker, but it’d be a useful way to raise the car’s average fuel economy.
The V60 Plug-in Hybrid is expected to attract a predominantly corporate sales mix, and at this price it’s hardly surprising. The rich technology underneath doesn’t come cheap, but BiK at 5% brings BiK costs down to normal V60 levels for drivers, while Londoners will welcome its congestion charge exemption.
But this is a car which will suit a specific driver. Drivers covering long motorway miles are still better in one of Volvo’s new low-CO2 diesel engines. Those who commute less than 30 miles per day (60 if the office has a charging point) will rarely use the petrol engine and reap the biggest rewards – not only in terms of economy, but from the high performance estate car lurking underneath.
The V60 offers best bits of a hybrid, EV and high performance all-wheel drive Volvo estate wrapped up in one car. But don’t expect to enjoy all three at once. Long motorway miles quickly erode the fuel economy figures, and unleashing its full power on short trips will do much the same. If it suits your commute, you’re in for a real treat.