Volvo first introduced the V60 Plug-in Hybrid back in 2013, times have changed considerably in that small amount of time because the age of the Plug-in hybrid is now becoming the norm as every other car manufacturer is releasing their own version. And there is Tesla they don’t do half measures its full on electric power for them. Nevertheless there is a plug-in hybrid proliferation sweeping the auto industry and while these cars seem exotic they are the ‘future today’ but full of livable compromises.
The Volvo V60 is a uber stylish compact estate in its own right, in R-Design spec its kitted out to the hilt, you get all the Volvo driver aids and safety features, AWD, a digital instrument binnacle, TV screens mounted on either of the rear headrests, a half leather half Alcantara interior and Radar-guided Cruise control which is almost like semi-automated driving in its own right. R-Design means you also get a revised body kit, a lowered ride height, sports suspension and slick looking 18-inch alloys to complete an aggressive look. Add that Plug-in hybrid powerplant and it will set you back a cool £53k which includes a host of those optional extras.
So being environmentally concerned is costly, this ‘green’ V60 is powered by a 215bhp 2.4, 5-cylinder turbo-diesel mated to a six speed automatic and a plug-in hybrid drive system with a power output of 70bhp. With a combined power out of 275bhp and a massive 700Nm of torque its fair to say you will never be short on power or speed.
The V60 Plug-in Hybrid has a specially designed plug that connects to the car, the lead has a three-pin plug at the other end. The socket is located in the left front wing and its simply a case of making the connection and switching on the mains.
Recharging the batteries from a mains plug from zero can take many hours, in 1hr 37mins I got 12 miles worth of range from the batteries. So you can work out the maths. A full charge will get you 31 miles of pure electric drive, that’s what Volvo’s official figures say. But in the real world its more like 22 miles and that depends on the topography of the route, how hard you drive and how many in-car auxiliary functions you choose to use.
So if you decide to use air-con on a hot summers day expect the batteries to take a hit meaning the pure electric range will be depleted by a few percent. Same if you decide to turn on the heated front seats during winter. But the neat thing about the V60 Plugin Hybrid is that you can recharge the batteries on the move. Braking coasting and the kinetic motion of the wheels all aid to recharge the batteries. And you can even use the engine to act as a generator by simply pressing a button while on the move.
At motorway speeds the V60 PHEV is good for 70mph on electric power alone, but traveling at this speed is energy hungry. After all energy equals mass times acceleration. No problem the Volvo will simply switch to the diesel engine with out so much of a fuss. Mounted on the central console is the ‘Save’ button, press this and the engine will act as a generator effectively switching off the hybrid system.
When you are traveling at motorway speeds in save mode the batteries will recharge to 12 miles capacity in around 15 minutes, that’s a faster recharge rate than plugging it into a mains socket and just goes to show how much energy is created when driving. But if your journey time is around 90 minutes all in you won’t get a full recharge, it will always remain at 12 miles until you decide to use all of the available electric power during the journey at which point the recharging cycle begins again.
When you run out of electric power there is still a reserve amount on tap, but only at crawl speeds of up to 20mph. Indeed I actually prefer the power of full electric mode over the diesel engine. The electric power is instant, smooth and ultra quiet. But you always hope it lasts for longer than the initial 22 miles. There are also three driving modes, Pure, Hybrid and Power. I found myself using the Hybrid mode most often and in the end you do find yourself pacing your driving habits to extract as much dual range as possible.
So what is the V60 Plug-in Hybrid like to drive? Well all that technology has to go somewhere, and most of it has gone to the front wheels. The R-Design spec gets you uprated suspension and chassis settings and in this spec it’s a fantastic vehicle to drive. That is to say without the addition of the hybrid systems.
The extra weight of the hybrid hardware at the front has added a slight edge of understeer, and the steering has lost a bit of ‘buzz’, additionally there is a slight increase in-body roll through the corners over the non hybrid version. Overall the handling is slightly less progressive but its still got 90 percent of that R-Design DNA feel and the ride quality isn’t too compromised.
There are compromises of course, the amount of time it takes to recharge from 0 percent via a standard mains socket is very long. The infrastructure for ultra fast recharging stations is limited and as such this effectively limits your range if you are planning a long weekend trip. You can get around 400 miles of total range and 44mpg on a combined cycle, the conventional diesel model does around 52mpg, has a 700 mile range and refueling takes a couple of minutes.
Then there is the practical compromises, the re-chargeable batteries have been house underneath the rear boot space. And its quite a tight fit because the vertical space is reduced meaning load space is compromised.
The problem with any Plug-in Hybrid isn’t with the theory, in theory this technology will become less compromising in the future, but for now the state of battery technology is such that isn’t as advanced as the theory would like. However research suggests that most car journeys on average are around 20 miles per day which is right in Plugin Hybrid territory.
As with all new technologies early adopters will always take the hit and its not just financial or for better company tax rates its purely technological. But when you experience the hybrid system in operation as it is today it works better than the theory could ever calculate.