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Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid green car review

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02 July 2013 by Paul Clarke

Eco Facts

Model/Engine size: V60 D6 AWD Plug-in Hybrid

Fuel: Diesel-Electric Plug-in Hybrid

Fuel economy combined: 155.2 mpg

Beating Spirit rating: 10/10

Introduction

The Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid has an official combined fuel economy figure of 155mpg, along with 48g/km CO2, four-wheel drive and a 0-60mph time of 5.8 seconds.

Summary

• Amazing 155mpg economy/48g/km CO2 figures, and just 8% Benefit in Kind tax rating

• 285hp combined power output from diesel engine and electric motor

• Four-wheel drive capability and estate practicality

• This is the future

Background

Beating Spirit has been closely following the development programme of the Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid for more than two years, driving a prototype back in May 2011 , so it’s good to see the car finally in production and on test with us.

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Design & Engineering

The Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid is the world’s first plug-in diesel-electric hybrid car to go on sale. In simple terms this means that it has a ‘conventional’ 215hp 2.4-litre, 5-cylinder diesel Volvo engine with a 6-speed geartronic automatic transmission, but this is combined with a 70hp electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery. The conventional bit of the car can be refuelled by a diesel pump, the electric bit can be recharged by plugging it in to the mains electricity supply.

The result of all this is that the V60 Plug-in Hybrid is a diesel car, an electric car, and a hybrid – in the latter state it can call on both powertrains to work together. Although the V60 is basically a front-wheel drive platform powered by a diesel engine, the electric motor powers the rear wheels, so in electric mode it’s rear-wheel drive. When using the diesel engine and the electric motor together it can also be four-wheel drive.

The battery can provide a range of up to 31 miles on electric power only. Once the battery is depleted the car uses its diesel engine. However that doesn’t mean that four-wheel drive is no longer possible – the car is engineered so that the diesel engine can still be used to power the electric motor and the rear wheels, so four-wheel drive can be enjoyed all day long if required.

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The V60 Plug-in Hybrid has three main drive settings: Pure, Hybrid and Power. There’s also ‘Save’ and 4WD options.

The ability to ‘save’ the battery capacity until a later time is an extremely useful feature. If you’re driving from home, down a motorway, then into a city such as London, then it’s possible to select the ‘Save’ button to avoid using the battery, then release the button upon entry to the urban area, so driving on zero-tailpipe emission electric power, helping to avoid contributing to local air quality problems.

There are actually a number of buttons to play with in the interior. The ‘Pure’ button provides a driving mode that is effectively the opposite to the ‘Save’ option – it keeps the car in electric mode (unless you stamp on the accelerator, in which case the diesel engine fires up). There’s also the standard ‘Hybrid’ setting, which allows the car to make its own judgment between the use of diesel and electric power. Then there’s the ‘Power’ button, which pretty much does what it says on the tin.

Other than that, the exterior and the interior closely resemble a normal V60 estate – but there are a few other differences. Firstly, the Volvo engineers have placed a whole load of batteries under the boot, so the boot floor is higher than in a standard V60 estate, reducing load space to 305 litres – which is more akin to a family hatchback than your typical perception of the vast load carrying capability of a Volvo estate.

Secondly, all the extra batteries and electrical components mean that the V60’s weight increases to 1955kg.

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Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid Driving Experience

In Hybrid mode, the V60 mostly drives like a ‘normal’ diesel Volvo estate. This is basically a good thing because it’s been shown over the years that car buyers don’t like too much change. However it does have a few tricks up its sleeve. The first party piece is that it in ‘Pure’ mode it can drive up to 31 miles on electric-only power. Driving an electric car is not something that is new to us, but driving a Volvo estate in complete silence is still somewhat weird.

The V60’s ‘Power’ button basically provides the opposite to pure, zero-emission electric power – press it and all 285hp is unleashed; you’re no longer helping to maintain clean air for local wildlife, you’re now driving something that wants to be a performance car. However you do feel that the car is somewhat straining at the leash in Power mode – it’s not the most relaxing car to drive in this setting.

Then there’s the 4WD button. If we’re being honest we’ve never been huge fans of front-wheel drive cars, especially large, powerful front-wheel drive cars with sporting or upmarket pretensions, as they always exhibit some degree of torque steer and the ultimate outcome of going quickly through a corner is understeer. Such cars should always be rear-wheel drive, or if not, then four-wheel drive. The V60 can tick this box – select the 4WD button and the car does hold a tighter line through the corners than it does in when just in front-wheel drive mode.

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Of course the V60 isn’t an off-roader, but coming from Sweden you’d expect it to perform well in the snow. Our promised invitation to test the car in the snow in Sweden still hasn’t arrived in the post, so we had to find the next best thing – some British mud. This in itself is something that isn’t easy in the UK, as most patches of mud seemed to get quickly covered in tarmac. However we did finally locate a small patch of wet soil which we drove into and managed to escape from thanks to the 4WD system. Interestingly, at low speed the V60 operates in electric-only mode, or in other words rear-wheel drive, so there is more fun to be had on a small patch of wet soil in this car than in a front-wheel drive Volvo estate.

Away from mud and back on normal roads the V60 is powerful, refined and comfortable. The automatic transmission is sufficiently effective, and you can override it with manual changes (unless you’re in Pure electric mode) – but this is done via the gear lever as there are no steering wheel-mounted paddles.

So it’s all good? No. There is one hugely irritating feature on the V60, and this is common on many Volvos. Every time you start the car it defaults to warning you when you drive near any white lines in the centre of the road. It doesn’t take long – possibly a few minutes – before the car is beeping at you for simply taking the recommended Advanced Driving line around a corner. You then reach for the button to disable the annoying noise, in the process taking your eyes off the road and thereby increasing the likelihood of crashing. If we bought this car we would find the fuse for this button and remove it before we drove the car out of the showroom. You also get a warning if you drive anywhere near a parked car.

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Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid Economy and Emissions

The V60 Plug-in Hybrid has an official economy figure of 155mpg. You’ve seen the government public health warnings plastered all over cigarette packets – all cars, but especially all plug-in hybrids, need to have similar warnings stuck on the order form for the vehicle. Before you sign for your new pride and joy, you should be made to read the words “You will never, ever, average anywhere near 155mpg during your first year with this car.”

Volvo is not to blame – the figure of 155mpg is derived from the NEDC test, so if you recharge the car every night and drive it very slowly for a few miles every day then you may get over 100mpg. However if that’s how you drive you’re probably better off buying a G-Wiz. For normal human beings, who might commute 10 miles into work in the morning and then 10 miles back at night, but then drive 50 miles to see friends at weekend, this V60 is ideal, but you’ll be getting less than 100mpg overall, and probably nearer 50mpg.

We drove to a meeting that was 20 miles away in hybrid mode and we achieved 120mpg. This is without doubt impressive for a Volvo estate. But if you want to drive further, and have some fun in the process, then you’re going to be accessing the fossil fuel powerplant while hauling nearly two-tonnes of V60 around.

Giving a real-life average fuel economy figure is difficult – it all depends on your driving and recharging habits. If you drive less than 30 miles between recharges then you may achieve around 120mpg. If you regularly drive longer distances then you’ll be looking at around 50mpg. Overall, during a week of very mixed driving, we achieved 53.1mpg.

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Price, Equipment and Model Range

The V60 Plug-in Hybrid costs £48,775, or £43,775 after the £5,000 Plug-in Car Grant discount. Equipment levels are good, and the dashboard features digital instrument dials – although it has to be said that the system for controlling multimedia isn’t as intuitive as, for example, BMW’s iDrive. Our test car had an option of a £1,850 ‘Driver support pack’ – presumably the source of many of the beeps and boings.

The price of a ‘normal’ diesel Volvo V60 2.4 D5 SE Lux Nav estate is £34,745. So you’re basically paying an extra £9,000 or so for the electric capability. This will get you a 100% discount on the ‘new’ London Congestion Charge – possibly saving around £2500 per year – so this is a car that makes sense if you live in London, but want to escape away from the concrete at weekends.

If you’re also saving around £1500 per year in company car tax, then over three years you could save around £12,000 on the Congestion Charge and BIK – suddenly making the car look more financially attractive.

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Conclusion

The Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid has an amazing official fuel economy figure of 155mpg, along with emissions of just 48g/km CO2. It also has a combined total power output of 285hp, and a 0-60mph time of 5.8 seconds. In addition it has four-wheel drive capability (as well as being front and rear-wheel drive). It’s also a practical estate.

The 155mpg figure obviously needs to be taken with a large pinch of salt. This is a figure generated by the NEDC driving cycle test, so if you drive a very short distance every day with very gentle accelerator inputs then you may achieve over 100mpg. However as we all know, nobody drives on the same cycle as the NEDC test in real life. The best the average V60 Plug-in Hybrid owner could hope for would be 100mpg+ economy on sub-30 mile daily return commutes during the week, with possibly around 50mpg on longer weekend jaunts. If this resulted in 75mpg on average after a year of driving, the chances are that the owner would be happy with that figure from a car that, unlike most other cars that are capable of 75mpg, is also very enjoyable to drive. If it’s also a company car, then the owner would no doubt be delighted with the 8% Benefit in Kind tax rate.

When the owner has to take the dog to the vets in the snow, along with fitting the kids in the car, then they would be even happier, as the V60 Plug-in Hybrid can even do that as well.

At £43,775 after the £5,000 Plug-in Car Grant discount, the V60 Plug-in Hybrid may seem expensive, but how many other cars can you think of that offer 30 miles of zero tailpipe emission electric-only driving, no range limitations, levels of performance that offer serious fun, lots of space, refinement and luxury, and the traction advantages of four-wheel drive? Correct – there are no competitors. Which is why we don’t have a problem with this car’s price, especially as a company car buyer paying 40% tax would save around £4500 over three years thanks to the 8% Benefit in Kind tax rate.

All this means that the Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid is awarded a Beating Spirit rating of 10 out of 10. It really is every car that you could ever want, especially if you drive less than 30 miles on most days with occasional trips out to the countryside at weekends.

This may be the world’s first diesel-electric plug-in hybrid, but this is the future – plug-in hybrids mean that manufacturers can claim figures of well over 100mpg on the NEDC cycle, and less than 50g/km CO2 emissions – whilst also having good performance and none of the range anxiety that is associated with a pure electric car.

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Car Facts and Figures

Volvo V60 D6 AWD Plug-in Hybrid data

Fuel economy extra urban: N/A mpg

Fuel economy urban: N/A mpg

Test economy: 53.1 mpg

CO2 emissions: 48 g/km

Green rating: VED band A – £0 a year

Weight: 1,955 Kg

Company car tax liability (2012/13): 8%

Price: £43,775 after the £5,000 Plug-in Car Grant discount

Insurance group: 40

Power: 285 hp

Max speed: 143 mph

0-62mph: 6.1 seconds

Paul Clarke

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