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Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid – First Drive

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The Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid is a four-wheel drive estate, which, according to official figures, is capable of 150 mpg along with 49 g/km CO2 emissions; Green-Car-Guide.com was one of the first media in the world to drive the prototype.

The car was first revealed at this year’s Geneva Motor Show. More recently it was on display at the
Michelin Challenge Bibendum, where we had chance to drive the prototype.

Watch the video:

The car looks similar to a regular V60, with only a few features such as special wheels and badges to tell the car apart. It’s a similar story inside, with just some extra buttons to differentiate it from the current production model. So to the average person, it’s a Volvo V60 estate – but according to official figures it returns 150 mpg along with just 49 g/km CO2. How on earth has Volvo achieved this?

The V60 is a similar concept to the hybrid system of the Toyota Prius, with a conventional engine mated to a battery and electric motor. However the Volvo uses a diesel powerplant rather than a petrol unit – and a more powerful engine than that found in the Prius. To provide a longer range on the battery, you can plug in the V60 to the mains (charge time is around four and a half hours). It also has a larger battery than cars such as the plug-in Prius, offering around twice the potential zero-emission driving range.

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The idea is that you would primarily use the car in its zero-tailpipe electric mode for short commutes (up to 30 miles), resulting in zero g/km CO2 emissions if recharged from renewable energy, but if you need to drive longer distances then the diesel engine provides this ability. A regenerative braking system assists with increased efficiency.

The five-cylinder 2.4-litre turbodiesel engine, mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox, primarily powers the front wheels, and the electric motor propels the rears. This provides all-wheel drive, however the torque will always be biased towards the front rather than the rear. It’s an all-wheel drive system with capabilities that are the result of its mechanical layout rather than by the goal of ultimate off-road ability.

Although it might seem that the transition from front to all-wheel drive is purely due to the electric drivetrain, that isn’t actually quite accurate. If you need all-wheel drive to get up a snowy hill, and the battery is depleted, then Volvo says that you can send power to the rear wheels from the diesel engine via the generator, therefore meaning that the rear-wheel drive capability is not just pure electric drive.

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The V60 has three driving modes: pure, hybrid, and power. The hybrid mode is the default, where the diesel engine and the battery work together. If the battery is low, then it can be regenerated by the diesel engine. Volvo says that it will be possible to prevent the hybrid system working if desired – for instance to save battery power in advance of entering an urban low emission zone.

Pure mode is where you select all-electric drive – which can mean up to around 30 miles of all-electric driving, if the conditions are right (this range could reduce to as little as 10 miles if driven in an unsympathetic way, or in very cold climates). If the battery charge gets too low, the car’s system will revert to hybrid mode. In an emergency, a full kick-down feature also activates the hybrid system.

In power mode, the diesel engine and battery work together. This means that the 215 hp diesel engine and the 70 hp rear electric motor combine to produce 285 hp. However even more impressive is the combination of the 440 Nm torque of the diesel engine with the 200 Nm torque of the electric motor. One result of this is an impressive 0-62 mph time of just 6.9 seconds, and a top speed of 124 mph.

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So how does the car drive? Thankfully, very much like a regular automatic diesel Volvo V60. The two cars we drove were both prototypes and were still being used as test-beds, so there were very minor issues that were still being worked on. But despite not being the final production-ready versions, the cars had smooth and powerful acceleration, and the rest of the driving experience was as you would expect from a Volvo.

If you asked people to drive this car and didn’t tell them what it was, we guarantee that 99% of people would simply not believe that the car was capable of 150 mpg. And this is why this car is so significant – after our first drive, there is no evidence to suggest that you have to put up with any sacrifices to own a 150 mpg car.

The luggage capacity of the production V60 AWD, at 430 litres, is not huge by traditional Volvo estate standards, and this reduces to 310 litres thanks to the hybrid system, but it’s still more practical than many electric or hybrid cars. It’s possible to fold down the rears seats, but the rear luggage floor is raised slightly, so you get a 60mm height difference in the load space.

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The V60 plug-in hybrid weighs around 150 kg more than the AWD diesel version, but one important benefit that it does offer is a towing capacity of 1800 kg – something that is very rare for a hybrid.

The V60 all sounds good – especially the figure of 49 g/km CO2 on the NEDC hybrid cycle, which equates to 150 mpg (and a resultant range of 746 miles). However caution should be exercised when considering such figures for any plug-in hybrid vehicle, as the very nature of their systems mean that they can achieve such impressive statistics over the relatively short distances of the official test, but it’s not realistic to expect such figures if normal driving is over much longer distances.

The V60 plug-in hybrid is due to go on sale in the UK in 2012, but what we don’t yet know is its price – however we can predict with some confidence that it won’t be cheap.

Rising fuel prices and some way of reducing the up-front purchase cost would make the Volvo V60 plug-in hybrid look even more of an attractive proposition than it already is. But even without these factors the car should succeed in providing a strong image representing Volvo’s core brand values and environmental commitment. The V60 plug-in hybrid really promises to give Volvo a unique differentiation in the electric car market.

Paul Clarke

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