When buying a car, consumers usually have to choose between a feeble eco model, a performance version that costs an arm and a leg to run, or something mundane in between, but not any more. The new Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid promises to combine the environmental and running cost benefits of a lentil-burning eco wagon, the snarling aggression of a sports car and the everyday usability of a family estate.
Volvo claim this V60, the world’s first diesel-electric Plug-In Hybrid is three cars in one, but is it a jack and master of all trades? We headed up to not particularly sunny Scotland to put it through its paces in this first look review.
The Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid looks no different to the standard V60. Eagle-eyed motorists may spot the electric charging port above the front left wheel arch, the subtle ‘Plug-In Hybrid’ motif across the boot lid, and the new aerodynamically-optimised 17-inch alloy wheels, but there’s very little else to betray the fact it’s powered by a mixture of electrons and hydrocarbons. If you’re the sort of person that likes to make a loud statement about your eco wagon, you’re better off buying a Prius, but we really like the look of the understated but undeniably stylish V60.
By the time you read this, Volvo will have launched a face-lifted 2013 version, which features a more handsome front end that plays host to new LED day running lights and a larger grille. The 2012 and 2013 cars are identical aside from minor aesthetic tweaks.
The Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid is an estate, so it’s inherently spacious. Up front, the’s plenty of storage space in the door bins and a central storage cubby. The glove compartment isn’t particularly roomy, but you can recover some space by getting rid of the shoebox-sized manual that occupies the glovebox as standard. There’s ample room in the rear for three passengers, though we wouldn’t want to be sat in the slightly claustrophobic middle pew on long journeys.
The standard Volvo V60 never had a great deal of boot space and this Plug-In Hybrid edition also suffers in this regard because of the large lithium-ion battery pack that lives behind the rear seats. It takes up a considerable amount of floor space, reducing room from 430 litres to 305 litres, making it only slightly larger than the boot you’d get in a Ford Fiesta. Storage space increases to 1,126 litres with the rear seats folded down, but there’s a prominent step in the boot, caused by the jutting battery pack, that may make loading some objects slightly awkward. There’s a tiny amount of underfloor storage storage, but this is mostly taken up by the car’s charging cable.
The V60 Plug-In Hybrid does have a couple of practicality advantages over the standard V60. A pre-heater function allows you to to warm the cabin on cold days using an integrated timer or via an app (iOS and Android versions are available). The app will also let you lock and unlock the car remotely or honk the horn and flash the lights – useful if you can’t remember where you’ve parked the thing. The app will also tell you whether the car is on the move and how far it has been driven (though not its exact location) which is useful if you suspect your valet parking attendant might be taking liberties.
Performance & Handling
The Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid may be eco friendly, but that doesn’t mean it’s slow. It gets its power from two sources – a 2.4-litre twin-turbocharged ‘D5’ diesel unit supplying the front wheels with 215hp and 440Nm of torque, and a 70hp electrical motor developing 200Nm of torque at the rear wheels.
The car offers three driving modes – ‘pure’, which allows it to run on electric-only power for up to 31 miles; ‘hybrid’, which lets it run on electricity and diesel simultaneously or independently depending on the circumstances; and ‘power’, which might caused weak-willed individuals to lose their license.
In power mode, the V60 Plug-In Hybrid accelerates hard from 0-62mph in 6.1 seconds. The throttle is incredibly responsive and the car is as eager as any high performance sports car. It’ll leave hot hatches for dead in a traffic light drag race. In fact, outside of dedicated sports cars, there’s very little on the road that’ll keep pace. It’s not shy of cornering, either. The V60 Plug-In Hybrid is 250kg heavier than the ordinary V60 but it feels light on its toes thanks to light steering and a 55:45 front to rear weight distribution, an improvement on the 60:40 split enjoyed by the standard model.
That said, driving purists may struggle to enjoy the overall experience because piloting the V60 Plug-In Hybrid is a bit like playing a computer game – you rarely ever feel connected to the car. The electrically-operated steering, while very responsive, offers virtually no feedback and the braking system is equally numb. No matter how hard we drove it, we couldn’t help feeling the experience was akin to playing a video game, albeit one with hyper realistic graphics and a very real danger of spinning off the road into a soggy Scottish peat bog.
Economy & Environment
The Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid has an electric-only range of 31 miles, so it can be used primarily as an electric car. Your own mileage will vary, but based on our tests (we drove 15 miles on electric only power and still had roughly 12 miles of indicated range remaining) we believe that 31 miles is achievable in the real world. A full recharge takes 7.5, 4.5 or 3.5 hours on 6A, 10A and 16A outlets, respectively. If you need a quick ‘splash and dash’ charge, a 45 minute top up on a 10A outlet will give you a six-mile electric range.
Impressively, the car can be driven in pure mode without much compromise to your driving style. Provided you don’t apply much more than half throttle (which is more than enough to keep up with the flow of traffic given the impressive torque) it’ll stay in electric only mode until it hits 70mph. It also has a clever, if slightly gimmicky, ‘save’ mode that lets you run on diesel power only (on a motorway, for example) while retaining electric power for city use.
Volvo’s marketing blurb will tell you the V60 Plug-In Hybrid is capable of 150mpg. That number was achieved using the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) — a route that is fairly unrepresentative of most peoples’ driving habits. In reality, you can expect a far lower economy figure. Volvo’s UK MD, Nick Connor, freely admits to getting 45mpg in his own V60 Plug-In Hybrid, which he uses without charging every night.
We managed in the region of 60mpg using the car for a mixture of city and motorway driving, though managed to get the needle as low as 35mpg when charging around twisty B-roads in the performance mode. Fuel economy was excellent around town with a fully charged battery to help the diesel engine, but poor on long motorway stretches, particularly with a low battery in tow. Your own mileage will vary.
Equipment & Value
The Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid is rather pricey, so it’s a good job it comes well equipped. The car is only available in one spec – SE Lux Nav, and this features most things you could wish for. As standard it ships with 17-inch alloys, rain sensing wipers, active bending Xenon lights, rear park assist, cruise control, power driver seat with memory settings, an 8-inch TFT with sat-nav and voice control, Bluetooth and a DAB radio.
There are plenty of options available, too, including a digital TV tuner, rear park assist camera and Volvo’s next-generation Sensus Connected Touch app-based infotainment system.
Being a Volvo, the V60 Plug-In Hybrid is as tough as nails. Unsurprisingly it has won the highest ever score for an electrified car in EuroNCAP testing. The car features the company’s ‘safety cage’ with deformation zones made of various grades of high strength steel. There are inflatable curtain airbags that protect the full length of the passenger cabin, front side airbags built into the seats and dual-stage frontal airbags for the driver and passenger. The V60 Plug-In Hybrid also comes with a host of standard technology including City Safety, which allows the car to brake automatically if it senses you’re about to crash into a vehicle or person in front.
If you’re incredibly paranoid, lazy or accident prone, you may want to go for the £1,850 Driver Support pack, which includes collision warning with full auto brake (this works like City Safety except at higher speeds), pedestrian and cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control, distance alert, queue assist (which allows the car to accelerate and brake almost by itself in traffic), lane departure warning, driver alert control (to warn you when you might be getting drowsy) active high beam, road sign display, blind spot information and cross traffic alert (which tells you when you’re in danger of colliding with another object when reversing out of a parking space).
Volvo’s ambition for the V60 Plug-In Hybrid was to create three cars in one, and it has succeeded. None of those cars is perfect, but the fact the vehicle is able to change its personality at the push of a button makes it thoroughly appealing to a wide variety of users. It provides all the benefits of a pure battery electric car, the grunt of a sports car and, depending on how it’s used, the low running costs of a hybrid. It certainly doesn’t come cheap, and there are other, more focussed, cars in the market, but the V60 Plug-In Hybrid really is most things to most people.
Model tested: Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid
Engine: 2.4-litre twin-turbo diesel and ERAD electric motor
Power: 215hp + 70hp
Torque: 440 + 200 Nm
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 6.1 seconds (power mode)
Top speed: 143mph (power mode)
Emissions: 47g/km CO2
Price: £48,775 excluding £5,000 govt subsidy.