If you think ‘Volvo V60 PHEV Plug-in Hybrid D6 AWD Geartronic R-Design Lux Nav’ is a bit of a mouthful, you’re not the only one. Broken down into its component parts, this is the Swedish firm’s Premium Sportswagon, slightly smaller than the V70 and pitched against Audi’s A4 Avant, BMW’s 3-Series Touring and Mercedes’ C-Class estate. Lux delivers the posh-ness, Nav gets you to where you want to go and R-Design endows it with superbly athletic styling so it can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the ‘S Line’, ‘AMG Line’ and ‘M Sport’ alternatives. AWD gives it four-wheel drive ability, which is switchable in this case, and Geartronic is Volvo’s name for its automatic gearboxes. The D6 badge doesn’t refer to a successor to the stalwart D5 but rather that it is here combined with an electric motor, providing a hybrid option for V60 admirers – and a rather clever one at that.
Verdict: Three cars in one, the V60 PHEV is potently fast, suitably premium, incredibly safe and potentially very green – for some. The downsides are a small boot, the tedium of 4+ hours to charge the battery, a firm ride at times and for private buyers, the steep price. Rating: 3.9/5
The V60’s trump card is that it’s a PHEV, which stands for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle and really does mean you can charge it from a normal mains power socket in your home, using the chunky cable provided. Actually, this brainy car is currently the only diesel plug-in hybrid on the market and its headline stats are simply breath-taking, citing combined fuel consumption at 155mpg and emissions as low as 48g/km, which is enough to make Boris Johnson jump up and down with excitement. In the V60 PHEV’s case, green certainly doesn’t mean lethargic, the 215bhp D5 diesel engine combining with the 70bhp electric motor to give a combined output of 285bhp if it takes your fancy.
Fully charged, the electric motor can take you as far as 31 miles on pure electricity and with a 0-62mph time just a second slower than its bonkers Polestar big brother, this uncanny lifestyle estate appeals on paper to both ecowarriors and speed junkies. Cars this remarkable don’t come cheap, as proved by the price tag of £59,075 as tested, so for private buyers, paying a Blu-ray disc shy of £60k has got to make sense in the long-run. For businesses, though, the V60 PHEV makes for an interesting proposition. There’s an election coming up and we all know that promises are seldom lived up to, which brings us to our week spent with one of these pioneering vehicles.
Comfort has always been one of Volvo’s strengths and the seats in the V60 were tremendous, supportive in all the right places and combined butter soft leather tastefully with nubuck for improved posterior grip. Although ultimately not quite as classy as the German offerings, the V60’s overall cabin and dashboard are undeniably premium in their design, feel and execution, with tactile surfaces and controls and some nice touches such as the driver-focussed floating centre stack, which is old news now but impresses still. The main swathe of dashboard extending in front of the passenger had a slightly recycled feel to it but the two-tone trim inlays looked very smart and the steering wheel felt perfect.
The myriad buttons can prove daunting initially but elude to the amount of gadgetry on-board, from sat nav, DAB digital radio and Bluetooth to a bewildering range of settings for the wing mirrors, headlights and interior lighting, reversing camera, hybrid setup and even the car’s Internet browsing and streaming system. Our test car was fitted with £1,495 DVD screens in the headrests, which in my mind were the only profligate options that could easily be omitted to bring the price down. I felt cocooned cosily inside the V60 thanks to its laminated, water repellent windows, and Volvo is renowned for championing safety, the V60’s £1,900 Driver Support Pack providing collision warning, pedestrian & cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control plus queue assist, lane-keeping assistance, road sign recognition and blind spot warnings, to mention just a few. The active bending xenon headlights with corner light function were another most welcome feature, equipped to switch full beam on and off automatically, like many other cars of this ilk nowadays. The TFT dials finished the high quality interior off nicely and in the cold February weather, modern technology shone through with the ability to control the V60 using a smartphone app, so it can ‘precondition’ or warm itself up ready for your journey.
The alloys might well look the part but resulted in a hard, crashing ride on some poor surfaces and at slower speeds. On the open road, though, it struck me how agile and planted the V60 Hybrid R Design felt, aided by the weight of the D5 at the front and the electric motor and battery at the back, combined with AWD at the press of a button. It’s definitely a lifestyle estate car you can have fun it, but it was quite depressing watching the combined consumption drop as a result.
Our main focus throughout the week with the V60 PHEV was on its efficiency and day one was spent on local errands. The vociferous D5 engine gagged temporarily by pressing the PURE button located next to the gear selector, it felt rather special to waft serenely to the town centre a mile away, on the battery charge that remained after the car’s delivery. In this stressful world, driving an electric car is so relaxing that I seldom switch the radio on to break the silence, the V60’s optional Harmon Kardon sound system hence not getting much use.
Hybrid cars are often compromised, one of the V60’s few weak points being that its boot provides around 120 litres less space than its strictly diesel sibling, the motor and battery at the rear also meaning the floor of the boot is considerably higher, slightly impeding load-in. It managed to swallow our typical weekly shop with no problems but left a question mark over its usability for a family of four going on a holiday to the Lake District, for example. The fuel tank is also smaller in the V60 Hybrid, but the hope is that owners will come to rely on electricity for as large a percentage of trips as possible, negating the reduced diesel range. The first day spent pottering, day two would see us cover around 150 miles, but due to bad planning the night before and an early start the following day, we only managed to charge the V60 for one hour, which gave us about 7.5 hours of electric power to play with, highlighting the discipline required if you’re a plug-in hybrid owner.
After 150 miles of driving, two-thirds spent on the motorway by Isabel and I, with the remaining 50 covered by David in sporty mode on A and B roads, along with a brief stint on electric power, we’d averaged 45mpg. Considering we had been extremely parsimonious with the throttle on the motorway, utilising cruise control wherever possible and climate control only sparingly, we were a little disappointed. Nevertheless, we knew the 155mpg book figure is produced under unrealistic rolling road conditions over a short distance and that heavy reliance on electric power would be needed during the rest of the week to get anywhere near it.
Day two started with more discipline, fully charging the V60’s battery, which took around 4 hours plugged into my domestic mains. This gave me enough juice to drive to Glossop and back followed by Manchester city centre and back, before the D5 kicked in again seamlessly as I was nearing home. Cat owners will find it useful to know that I ran the thick charging cable through our cat flap, much to the dismay of our cat, so as not to pose any security risks through windows and doors remaining open.
The next couple of days were spent driving on electricity to destinations upto 15 miles away, my whereabouts purposefully planned to fit around the battery having a range of 30 miles. Back from my morning appointment, I put the V60 back on charge for 4 hours before heading to my late-afternoon appointment. Hybrids require a different driving style, such as pressing the ‘go’ pedal more zealously when pulling away from a standstill, as opposed to building up speed gradually. Coasting and braking gently help recharge the battery in the V60 and it’s fascinating, if a little dangerous, to monitor one’s driving regularly whilst on the move, to pinpoint where efficiency improvements could be made. The week’s mileage now having reached 300 miles, around 120 of which were driven on electricity, the combined fuel consumption figure displayed on the trip computer had only risen to 47mpg, but on a positive note, the displayed range had increased, as less diesel had been supped.
Our penultimate day with the V60 Plug-in Hybrid saw me use it for my daily commute from Manchester to Chester, which is a distance of 55 miles, mainly on the M56 motorway. After a 3-hour charge giving me a battery range of around 20 miles, I set off at 6am in tube train silence and enjoyed the immediate power on offer in PURE mode, getting upto motorway speeds easily without any hesitation. I covered 14 miles of my journey purely in electric before the battery surrendered, possibly because I had climate control on to combat the cold. The diesel engine kicked in automatically, breaking the silence, but it’s still a very well-insulated and quiet car on the whole.
I consider myself quite an economical driver, having done this 110-mile commute for almost a decade, and I love setting myself personal mpg challenges. I was mesmerised by the graphic showing me how much I was charging up the battery with my driving style but was a little disappointed that I only managed to increase the average by 3mpg. The BLIS blind spot system is very reassuring but the symphony of other bongs and beeps from systems such as road sign recognition and lane departure warning got on my nerves a little.
As a petite lady, I was really pleased that I was able to adjust my seat to a perfect position without being too close to the steering wheel or having to sit on a cushion, and had good visibility all round. A colleague, who is the polar opposite to me at over 6 feet tall, sat in the passenger seat and was also able to sit comfortably with a few adjustments. The other two colleagues I car share with enjoyed experiencing the comfort and smoothness of the V60 PHEV with its likeable 6-speed automatic gearbox, but they questioned its £51,675 price tag before the DVD screens and other options were added. The government gives you £5,000 back as a grant if you buy a hybrid car, but it still feels expensive.
Investing such a significant amount of money in a V60 Plug-in Hybrid simply to be able to brag over owning the market’s sole diesel hybrid production car would be foolish and unless money’s no object, it would have to reap dividends in the longer term. The V60 PHEV is a curious car which ticks so many boxes. One minute it’s a rapid and sure-footed AWD estate with more than enough grunt to compete with an A4 Avant 3.0 TDI Quattro, BMW 330d xDrive M Sport Touring and less powerful Mercedes C300 BlueTEC HYBRID Estate. The next minute, it’s a near-silent chariot wafting you to and from any destination upto 15 miles away, consuming mere pennies in the process. And if you need a dependable diesel to blast up and down motorways relatively economically, it’s that too.
It seems common for predominantly motorway journeys starting with full to moderate battery charge to average around 80mpg, a figure that drops to the 45-50mpg region if you set off with 50% or less battery charge. Clearly, if you run it primarily in HYBRID mode, the V60 PHEV is less economical than the straight diesel V60 due to the extra weight. The key is to run it on battery power as frequently as possible, which should push the average mpg into triple digits.
If you’re a high-mileage, self-employed motorist and can’t purchase or lease a V60 through your business, spending your own cash on one wouldn’t make much sense, even if it is London Congestion Charge exempt and carries zero annual road tax or ‘VED’. If, however, you commute to a fixed location no more than 30 miles away and can charge it up at the other end, you could theoretically commute on electricity and hardly ever venture near a diesel pump, so it begins to look much more viable.
Fleets whose drivers are able to run on electric for significant chunks of their usage should witness savings and the V60 Hybrid will be reflected on drivers’ payslips with lower National Insurance payments. If a business buys a V60 PHEV before the end of next month, it will be eligible for a 100% first-year write-down under the Enhanced Capital Allowance scheme. With a BIK rate of only 5% until 2016/17 equating to monthly tax of £41.01 for 20% tax payers, the V60 Hybrid certainly appeals in the corporate marketplace, especially with its added practicality, immense safety suite and other luxury features. BIK will rise to 7% for 2016/17 and then to 9% for 2017/18 but all cars will be affected, not just the Volvo. Of course, businesses based in or near London will benefit even further, as the V60 PHEV qualifies for a 100% discount on the Congestion Charge.
This Volvo is quite remarkable, effectively combining brains and brawn, efficiency and excitement, safety and style. It’s a shame the boot isn’t as capacious as a standard V60 and it can’t currently be plugged into rapid charge points. These are only minute criticisms over what is a superbly appointed luxury estate car, one which will financially make a lot more sense to some than others. If your lifestyle wouldn’t be affected adversely by the battery’s range, the V60 PHEV is a car for almost every occasion.