With its V60 D5 Twin Engine model, Volvo shows us a slightly more cost-effective route to their idea of Plug-In Hybrid motoring. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Volvo's V60 Plug-in Hybrid model was always a good idea - but it was also always very expensive. Around £50,000 for the D6 model seems a lot when rivals retail at around the £30,000 mark. Less powerful competitors, Volvo points out. Still, that's what the market seems to want, so the Swedish brand has brought us a less potent 'D5' version of this diesel/electric Plug-in hybrid V60.
One day, not long from now, Plug-in electric technology will be quite a normal option. But not yet. And even amongst Plug-in hybrids, the idea of mating a diesel engine with electric power remains relatively unusual. Most of the models that spring to mind with this technology - Mitsubishi's Outlander PHEV, Audi's A3 Sportback e-tron and Volkswagen's Golf GTE - all mate electric motors with petrol power. Volvo argues that it makes much more sense to blend this kind of technology with fuel from the black pump - and you can see the logic in that. It's logic that's been so expensive to produce though, that the Swedish brand's V60 D6 Twin Engine model has been a vanishingly rare sight on our roads. Can this de-tuned and more affordable D5 version fare any better?
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 a 163bhp five cylinder 2.4-litre unit) and a 68bhp electric motor driving the rear wheels. Go for the 'Power' setting and it's certainly fast enough. It'll hit 62mph in just 6.9 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 130mph. 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
The cost of this car is just over £38,000, but from that you can subtract £2,500 provided by the government's Plug-in vehicle grant. Yes, that's still around £5,000 more than you'd pay for plug-in hybrids like Audi's A3 Sportback e-tron or a Volkswagen Golf GTE but then those are petrol/electric models rather than being more frugally diesel-powered - as this Volvo is. On top of that, this V60 comes with a higher standard spec, courtesy of standard SE Nav trim. 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 D5 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.
Make no mistake, Volvo Twin Engine Plug-In Hybrid technology is very impressive. How could a well-equipped and beautifully finished estate car that can crack seven seconds to 62mph 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. And it's no more spacious than a Ford Focus. At least the price of this de-tuned D5 diesel version - around £35,000 with the help of a government grant - makes more sense than the sticker figure applied to its pokier D6 stablemate. While Volvo should be applauded for bringing what is undeniably a very special car to market, it's one that will still only really work for the smallest of customer niches. The brand's supremely modest sales targets recognise 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.