Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid

The 150 mpg Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid

The final production version of the world’s first diesel plug-in hybrid, the 150 mpg Volvo V60 , has been unveiled, and its price has been announced.

Green-Car-Guide.com was at Volvo’s HQ in Gothenburg for the revealing of the Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid, a four-wheel drive estate, which, according to official figures, is capable of 150 mpg along with 49 g/km CO 2
emissions, and it will cost £47,000 when it goes on sale in the UK. If you think this sounds expensive, have a think about what other five-seat estate car you can buy that is a diesel car, a hybrid car, an electric car, a four-wheel drive car, with a 0-60 mph time of 6.2 seconds, a power output of 285 hp, a top speed of 124 mph, economy of 150 mpg, and emissions of just 49 g/km CO 2
.

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The car was first revealed at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show. More recently it was on display at the Michelin Challenge Bibendum, when Green-Car-Guide.com was one of the first media in the world to drive the prototype.

The final production 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 CO 2
. How on earth has Volvo achieved this?

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The V60 shares a similar technology 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; the charge time varies between three and a half to seven and a half hours depending on the recharging apparatus. It also has a larger battery than cars such as the plug-in Prius, offering around twice the potential zero-emission driving range.

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 CO 2
tailpipe emissions, and zero g/km CO 2
overall 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, as does a stop/start system.

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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. Its all-wheel drive system is 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, and the four-wheel drive ability won’t disappear half way up a snowy hill if the hybrid battery charge falls too low.

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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.

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). When the V60 works in all-electric mode, it’s a rear-wheel drive car. 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.

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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 a 0-62 mph time of just 6.2 seconds (improved from 6.9 seconds on the prototype), and a top speed of 124 mph.

There’s also a ‘Save’ button to prevent the hybrid system working – for instance to save battery power in advance of entering an urban low emission zone.

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If you invited 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 was no evidence to suggest that you have to put up with any sacrifices to own a 150 mpg car; the car drives very much like a regular automatic diesel Volvo V60, with smooth and powerful acceleration.

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 because of the battery being located under the boot, 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.

Volvo has put a lot of effort into ensuring that the heating and cooling systems of the V60 Plug-in Hybrid work effectively even if the diesel engine isn’t operating. This is due to a range of technology including both an electric heater and a diesel-operated heater. You can pre-heat the car or cool it down from the mains before getting in via a smart phone, and this can help to increase the car’s electric range by over seven miles. We tested the system in Volvo’s climate testing lab, and in 40°C heat the interior temperature came down to a comfortable level very quickly, without the diesel engine running at all.

The climate system can also be used to cool the battery, which should ideally be kept within the range of 20-30°C in order to ensure the best driving range and battery durability.

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Safety is still an important issue for Volvo, and extensive crash-testing of the V60 Plug-in Hybrid has been carried out. This should hopefully avoid any issues similar to those experienced recently with the Vauxhall Ampera extended-range electric vehicle, when fires started in the car a number of weeks after crash testing, which is thought likely to be due to the battery coolant leaking and crystallising, so creating a short in the electrical system.

The V60 all sounds good – especially the figure of 49 g/km CO 2
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, which of course will be the case in real life.

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Production of the V60 Plug-in Hybrid is due to start in November 2012, with the first cars available in the UK in early 2013. The first 1000 cars will be ‘Pure Limited’ special editions, with a number of exclusive features such as the ‘electric silver’ paint colour. Northern Europe is the target market for the car, due to financial incentives and because of our preference for diesel rather than petrol, and the aim is to sell 4-6,000 cars per year in Europe.

The car should be eligible for the UK government Plug-in Car Grant, if the grant is still running by early 2013, which would reduce the price by £5000 to around £42,000.

The Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid is a highly desirable green car, and it should succeed in providing a strong image representing Volvo’s core brand values and environmental commitment, and give Volvo a unique differentiation in the electric car market.

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Paul Clarke