Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid Wagon: A Car the U.S. Needs, But Won't Get
Volvo is famous around the world for its safe, boxy, slightly boring station wagons. But it isn’t particularly well known for producing green and efficient cars. A few weeks ago, while sitting for the first time behind the wheel of Volvo’s V60 plug-in hybrid—only available in Europe—there’s an element of disbelief about how this £48,775 (US $75,600) vehicle can combine the attributes of a zero-emissions car, a city-runabout, a long-legged road-tripper, and a haul-anything workhorse. But within a few hours, the luxury station wagon starts to make total sense—especially to anyone with a family.
From the outside, there’s very little to tell the V60 PHEV apart from the gasoline V60 due to go on sale in the U.S. later this year. Only the extra filler cap on the front left fender, which hides the charging port, and a few exclusive trim embellishments, give the game away.
Multiple Driving Modes
Unlike other V60 models however, a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine hides under the hood, driving the front wheels through a six-speed automatic gearbox. At the rear, Volvo deploys what it calls an Electric Rear Axle Drive. Essentially an electric motor mounted onto the rear axle, it is fed by an 11.4 kilowatt-hour (8 kWh are usable) liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery to produce 50 kilowatts of continuous power, making the V60 PHEV a through-the-road hybrid.
This particular drivetrain arrangement not only allows the Volvo V60 PHEV to operate in three ways (electric only, blended hybrid, or diesel only), but it also allows for two all-wheel drive modes: Power, which results in a zero-to-60 sprint of less than six seconds; and AWD, which engages all-wheel drive when needed in low-traction situations.
Around town, a genuine 30-mile all-electric range is possible, but push the plug-in station wagon in all-electric mode nearer to its electronically-limited 65 mph all-electric top speed, and you’ll find the range drops to about 20 miles. Go faster, and the diesel engine kicks in to provide extra power. Unlike Toyota’s Plug-in Prius, however, the engine is far more refined when it is running, making it a more pleasant freeway driver than Toyota’s first plug-in hybrid.
When it comes to handling, the Volvo V60 PHEV’s user-adjustable power-assisted steering can be firmed up for a tight-twisty road, or lightened up for comfort on long-distance road trips, while the fairly low center of gravity afforded by its lithium-ion battery pack makes the mid-size wagon keen to hug all but the most demanding corner.
A Real Station Wagon
The V60 has room enough for four passengers and driver, as well as a useable cargo bay capable of swallowing a decent weeks’ worth of shopping, a couple of dogs, and a plethora of tools or gardening equipment. While the cargo area isn’t as large as those found in Volvos of days gone by, a 40-20-40 rear seat makes it possible to carry relatively large, long items while still carrying three passengers.
The Volvo V60 PHEV’s party trick is the ability to tow anything from U-Haul trailers, to small boats, and even a horse trailer. This sets it aside from the rest of the competition. Although it won’t compete with your friend’s F250 on towing capacity, it will certainly beat those haulers on fuel economy.
The One Car?
The Volvo V60 PHEV is a versatile and capable plug-in hybrid station wagon, combining the luxury, technology, and safety Volvo has become well known for. The plug-in hybrid drivetrain can yield gas mileage figures well into the triple digits for everyday driving, and the mid-40s for long, 700-plus mile drives without recharging.
In Europe, Volvo has started to increase production to meet demand, but hasn’t yet committed to bringing the V60 PHEV to the U.S. A diesel plug-in hybrid wagon, the company believes, isn’t going to be popular in America.
The long list of V60 PHEV's compelling features are not in question, but rather the price that U.S. buyers are willing to pay for those features. The sticker for the European base-model spec is $75,600, which is likely to be a deal-killer for cost-conscious buyers. That’s a shame, because the V60 PHEV really could be the one car for so many active families, who are currently relying on a fuel-thirsty SUV as their go-anywhere, do-anything car.
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