Volvo’s V60 Makes the Case for Plug-In Hybrids

At a time when drivers’ interest in battery EVs has been cooled by their high prices and continuing charging headaches, cars like Volvo’s V60 plug-in hybrid are getting more attention.

As we pointed out two years ago with the RangeRover Sport PHEV , hybrids that let drivers use electricity exclusively when driving around town while switching to gas for longer drives will provide drivers with EV benefits without EV pain while waiting for battery EV prices to fall and for the charging network to grow.

Volvo doesn’t currently sell the V60 PHEV in the U.S., but I had the opportunity to drive the T6 Twin Engine AWD in Ireland. The low-slung station wagon is right-sized for U.S. roads, while its low roofline minimizes aerodynamic drag compared to taller SUVs, for improved EV driving range and better fuel economy when running on gas power.

Ireland has some examples of public charging that the U.S. could benefit from applying. The country’s EasyGo EV charging network has fast 22-kilowatt AC Level 2 chargers in addition to DC fast chargers. The Volvo charges using only AC charging, but with such fast chargers – twice as fast as the 11-kW chargers that are normally the fastest in the U.S. – the V60 can charge its 18.8 kWh (14.7 kWh useable) lithium-ion battery pack in four hours.

This pack is small enough to fit in the car’s central tunnel, so there’s no intrusion into the passenger or cargo space and the V60 doesn’t have the high floor that is typical of battery EVs that fill the floor with battery cells. A full charge is good for 34-to-42 miles of purely electric driving range, which is sufficient not only for local driving, but even provided ample range to drive from the Dublin airport to the Summerhill House Hotel in Enniskerry, County Wicklow.

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While the hotel lacked charging facilities, the village’s free parking lot has EasyGo chargers as does the nearby Powerscourt estate. The fast 22-kW charging rate meant that the battery could get a good charge during a leisurely lunch at a café in Enniskerry or during a walk around the Powerscourt Garden (which they point out is rated the #3 garden in the world by National Geographic).

The EasyGo network is easy to use if you join ahead of time and get a card that you can swipe at the chargers for instant access. Otherwise, you can use the smartphone app, but you will need for wireless internet access at the charging point to work, where you will be out of range for wifi.

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EasyGo’s 22-kW Level 2 chargers would be a welcome addition to the U.S. EV charging network because their quick charging speed makes it easier for plug-in hybrid drivers to stay on electric power instead of switching to gas. Because they don’t draw the enormous current that DC fast chargers do, they require less infrastructure support, so they are also cheaper and easier for charging networks to install than DC fast chargers.

Driving on electric-only power, the V60 uses its 145-horsepower electric motor to move the V60 as quickly as you’re likely to want. The maximum combined output of the electric motor and the 253-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder combustion engine is 350 hp, which accelerates the V60 to 60 mph in less than 5.4 seconds. The two motors’ combined output does not equal the addition of each motor’s maximum power because the two motors achieve peak power at different speeds.

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Either way, they drive all four wheels through a smooth 8-speed automatic transmission. The shifter is of the spring-loaded, return-to-center type that you press forward to engage Reverse and pull back to engage Drive, which is counterintuitive to anyone coming out of a car with a conventional PRNDL shifter that slides sequentially through Reverse, Neutral, and Drive when pulled rearward from Park.

Underway, Volvo’s safety-first mentality contributes to the V60’s City Safety with Autobrake system, which recognizes pedestrians, cyclists, and large animals and automatically applies the brakes to prevent collisions. Such a safety net is always appreciated, but while negotiating the hectic rush hour drive-on-the-left streets of Dublin, with people and cars approaching hurriedly from unfamiliar directions, I was especially happy to know the computer was looking over my shoulder. Just in case.

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The V60’s infotainment system employs a 9-inch vertically oriented central touchscreen system that includes the Google Maps app that did an exceptional job locating destinations by their names and providing good directions. The test car was not equipped with the optional head-up display to put turn-by-turn directions directly in my field of view, but it does display them on the digital instrument panel, which is nearly as good.

The system supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for using phone apps instead of the car’s native apps. An inductive wireless charging pad for your phone is available in other versions of the V60, but it is excluded from the T6 Twin Engine AWD PHEV. Curious.

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Also curious was the technical hiccup I experienced with the system. After restarting following a fill-up for the gas that the car did burn, all sound from its speakers was silenced. This meant that not only did the radio go quiet, but I also lost my voice directions from the navigation system. Even the click of the turn signals went silent. I did a quick restart of the car while stopped at a traffic light, but that didn’t help.

After parking overnight, sounds for the car’s various systems returned, but the radio still didn’t work. A quick consultation with Volvo suggested holding down the button beneath the screen to force a system reboot, and that did the trick, returning the radio’s sound to service.

The V60’s other interior appointments were characteristically Scandinavian, so the cabin is comfortable and attractive with neither the ascetic minimalism of a Tesla nor the sumptuous opulence of a Jaguar. My Silver Dawn test car was fitted with Charcoal leather upholstery and included goodies like seat heaters and steering wheel heat. The bottom line was 69,500 Euros, which converts to $73,670.

As much as I enjoy a comfy station wagon like the V60, I understand that American drivers will probably prefer the XC60 crossover SUV that is built on the same Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform. But the V60 T6 Twin Engine AWD’s plug-in hybrid system and support for fast Level 2 AC charging are a couple technologies that can help drivers use more electricity for driving and less gas, so they will be welcome no matter the body style.