Experts agree that plug-in hybrid technology will become a mass market in the coming years. An efficient diesel engine combined with electric drive offers the greatest fuel-saving potential. However, a diesel engine is heavier and more expensive than a petrol engine. Volvo’s V60 Plug-in Hybrid cleverly deflects attention away from this as-yet unresolved problem, since you rarely find this kind of first-rate design in an electric car. Although the plug-in hybrid was not originally designed as an electric car – its powertrain was built for the Volvo V60 series that has been on the market since 2010 – it could well become a favourite among environmentally conscious consumers with healthy bank balances and an eye for style. Although the car is expensive, it offers outstanding technology, safety and elegance.
When the Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid arrived on the market in early 2011, it became the world’s first series-production vehicle to have a diesel plug-in hybrid engine. The first batch of 1,000 cars sold out quickly in 2012, with 94 going to German customers. Now a further 5,000 vehicles have been produced in Volvo’s factory in Gothenburg. Deliveries began in June. The car uses the same 2.4-litre, five-cylinder turbo diesel engine that has been keeping the conventional Volvo V60 running smoothly. This engine powers the front axle in the plug-in hybrid model, while the electric motor is responsible for the rear. The car really struts its stuff when both drive types are combined. The diesel engine produces 215 horsepower (hp), and the electric motor produces 68 hp. That equates to 440 and 200 newton metres (Nm) of torque respectively.
Drivers can choose various combinations of electricity and diesel by selecting one of the three driving modes on the car’s centre console. In Pure mode, the car runs on electricity only and has a range of around 40 kilometres when driven at moderate speeds in the city. Gently pressing the accelerator will get the car up to as much as 120 kilometres per hour (km/h). If you press the accelerator harder, or if the car exceeds 120 km/h, the diesel engine will kick in with a discreet humming sound. In Hybrid mode, the car decides automatically on the most efficient combination of diesel and electricity. This mode allows drivers to get close to the official consumption of 1.8 litres of diesel per 100 kilometres – during our test drive for new energy, we at least managed to get 100 kilometres out of 2.5 litres.
The third option, Power mode, makes use of both engines. With the kickdown function, the car can go from 0 to 100 km/h in just 6.1 seconds. Its top speed is 230 km/h. You can also switch on both engines at the push of a button. This turns the V60 into an all-wheel-drive that can handle conditions like snow and ice. These features mean that the Volvo is in the same league as the BMW 335d xDrive Luxury Saloon and the Audi A4 Avant 3.0 Quattro – neither of which come with an electric motor. The V60’s “save battery for later” mode allows drivers to, in a sense, freeze the battery capacity so that they have around 20 km of electric range available at the end of a longer journey. This is useful if you have to go through an urban environmental zone.
But the car is not quite so impressive when it comes to regenerative braking, as it only has one type of recovery. Other manufacturers are more advanced and are installing two levels of regenerative braking: weak for normal traffic and stronger for driving downhill when you need to brake more often. But when in terms of charging the battery, the V60 Plug-in Hybrid is like any other electric car – you simply plug it into a standard 230-volt household socket, and wait around 3.5 hours for the 11.2 kilowatt-hour liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery to be fully charged. The battery can be recharged twice as fast if you use a wall-box charging station – a 16-ampere, 230-volt system that lives in your garage.