With its V60 D6 Twin Engine Plug-In Hybrid, Volvo shows the way forward to a 288bhp, 155mpg car. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
How much would you pay for an estate that had four-wheel drive, prodigious torque, the ability to hit 60mph from rest in under six seconds and the option of running on electric power alone over normal daily commuting distances. Forty to fifty grand? For not much more than that, Volvo's V60 D6 Twin Engine Plug-In Hybrid does all of that and will also return 155mpg and 48g/km of emissions. In theory at least. There are a few caveats that suggest that this is a work in progress, but the numbers are mightily impressive.
There's an accommodation you need to make with yourself before driving an electric, hybrid or eco-billed car. Do you drive it like a berserker and get a headline economy figure that's a million miles from the manufacturers claims, do you soft-pedal it around in order to try to replicate the official consumption figures or do you just ignore the fact that it's an eco car and use it exactly as you would your normal daily driver? Take this Volvo V60 D6 Twin Engine Plug-In Hybrid. The headline figure for this car is undoubtedly the gobsmacking 155.2mpg fuel economy figure the Swedish company claims. I can't tell you what you'll get if you adopt hyper-miling techniques in this car but I do know that if you pedal it as if you're going for an eight-minute Nurburgring lap, you'll get around 30mpg, whereas if you drive it normally you'll see around 60mpg. Given that you've got 281bhp under your right boot, that's really quite special. But, as we'll discover, the V60 D6 Twin Engine Plug-In Hybrid is not without its caveats.
You'll need to get to grips with three driving modes in getting the most out of this car - 'Pure', 'Hybrid' and 'Power'. In 'Pure' mode, it runs in 2WD only and offers a 32 mile-range on electric-only power, though you won't get anywhere near that far if you start to approach the theoretical 78mph battery-powered maximum. Go for 'Hybrid' or 'Power' and the car functions in AWD form, running on a mixture of diesel motion driving the front wheels (it uses the 220bhp five cylinder unit borrowed from the old D5 model) and a 68bhp electric motor driving the rear wheels. Alternatively, there's a de-tuned, more affordable D5 version of this car Go for the 'Power' setting in any V60 Plug-in hybrid and you'll certainly find it fast. This D6 version will hit 62mph in just 5.8 seconds, with the electric motor augmenting the turbodiesel, giving an initial slug of torque while the turbochargers spool up, the six-speed automatic taking the thinking out of straight line acceleration. Top speed is rated at 143mph. Impressive stuff. It won't go for very far on electric-only power before the diesel motor harrumphs into life but what other car does motorway speeds in milkfloat mode? The ride quality is firm thanks to the stiff run-flat tyres and the handling isn't helped by the additional 250kg of batteries, no matter that they're mounted low in the car to help with centre of gravity. So yes, this is a very quick car but it's certainly no hot hatch when shown a tricky set of corners. The chassis and suspension does its best but the weight of a pair of burly policemen has an inevitable effect.
Design and Build
Lots of people will have a clear picture in their head of what a Volvo estate looks like but the V60 is quite a departure from that. It employs what Volvo calls its 'racetrack' design with the lines of the car flowing organically into each other like the curves of a race circuit. Boxy it isn't. A sweeping bonnet incorporates flowing creases, while the piercing headlights include a cornering function and an auto-dimming main beam. There's also a smartly styled bumper with chrome trim - and of course daytime running lights. At the wheel, where you sit a bit lower than in most other Volvos, the emphasis remaining on the kind of cool Scandinavian design that IKEA fans will like very much. The signature Volvo 'floating' centre console is present and correct, angled in this model more towards the driver for a more 'cockpit'-style feel. Go for a standard V60 and you get a 430-litre boot, which is already one of the weaker showings in the compact lifestyle estate class, but the Hybrid's need for battery packs reduces this to a mere 310 litres - about what you'd expect to get in a Ford Focus-sized hatchback. The fuel tank is also shallower than standard, reduced from 70 to 45-litres, although with this sort of fuel economy, that's hardly going to be a big issue.
Market and Model
You'll need to allow around £47,000 for this car, once you've taken off the £2,500 government grant provided towards the cost in recognition of the plug-in hybrid technology. That's for the base SE Lux Nav version; there's a ritzier R Design Lux Nav model available for around £3,000 more. If you bear in mind that a conventional V60 D4 diesel automatic model (a car that will get to 62mph in 7.7s, deliver a combined return of over 64mpg and put out only 116g/km of CO2) can cost under £30,000, you can see the mountain Volvo dealers have to climb in selling the D6 Twin Engine Plug-in Hybrid variant. Remember though that you don't have to have this technology with 288bhp D6 diesel power; Volvo also offers a de-tuned 231bhp D5 version that you could have for closer to the £35,000 mark, once you've subrated the gvernment grant. Fitted as standard on all Plug-in Hybrid V60s is Volvo's telematic system, Volvo On Call. This system allows users to use a free mobile app to access a number of functions andkeeps the driver in constant contact with the vehicle, no matter where he or she might be.
Cost of Ownership
Volvo claims a purely electric range of up to 31 miles and that means the V60 D6 Twin Engine Plug-In Hybrid can deliver zero-emissions motoring for the 75 per cent of Europeans who drive less than this distance. Range anxiety isn't an issue because when the batteries are largely depleted, you just move onto diesel power while reserving enough energy for another 12 miles on battery power. Emissions are rated at 48g/km and overall economy at 155.2mpg on the largely nugatory NEDC cycle measure. In 'normal' real world driving you should get around 60mpg. In comparison, a standard V60 D4 Geartronic diesel model manages 64.2mpg on the combined cycle and puts out 116g/km of CO2. Which means that if instead, you choose to pay the extra for this Plug-in Hybrid version and don't drive it very far, you have an expensive indulgence. If you do cover a lot of motorway miles, you have a diesel Volvo with a lot of inefficient ballast. In other words, you really need to hit the tiniest of sweet spots to make the Plug-in Hybrid numbers work for you. Insurance is high-ish too, at group 41.
Make no mistake, the Volvo V60 D6 Twin Engine Plug-In Hybrid is a very impressive vehicle. How could a well-equipped and beautifully finished estate car that can crack six seconds to 60mph yet still average better than 60mpg when driven with no great regard to fuel economy be anything but? The problem is that in achieving these seemingly contradictory achievements, it imposes a number of compromises that many won't be prepared to countenance. It weighs a handful of kilos off two tonnes and you'll notice that through corners. It rides very firmly. It's no more spacious than a Ford Focus. And it costs around £47,000 even with the help of a government grant. These are not trifling concerns and while Volvo should be applauded for bringing what is undeniably a very special car to market, it's one that will only really work for the smallest of customer niches. Volvo's supremely modest sales target of 150 sales per year recognises this fact, but should this vehicle fit your specific requirements, you'll probably love it for its other-wordly abilities. For the rest of us, it's merely a briefly diverting curiosity.