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First drive: V60 Plug-in Hybrid’s shock and awe

Simply Energy: Volvo says the Plug-in Hybrid is on average at least 15 per cent more economical to run than a regular V60 diesel.

Volvo’s world-first plug-in electric/diesel hybrid like having and eating your cake

14 Oct 2011


VOLVO is hoping to land the world’s first plug-in electric/diesel hybrid in Australia during 2013 with a sub-$75,000 price tag.

Production of the V60 Plug-in Hybrid – which has two engines, three cooling systems and four-wheel drive – commences in 12 months’ time in Sweden.

Promising fuel consumption levels half that of the existing series-hybrid Toyota Prius, the Volvo will still sprint to 100km/h in under seven seconds, seat five people and their luggage, and achieve the same five-star ENCAP crash test rating as the regular V60.

In pure electric mode the range is over 50km – covering an estimated 75 per cent of all European daily commutes – while in combined diesel/EV hybrid mode the Volvo has managed as low as 1.9 litres per 100km and 49 grams per kilometre of carbon dioxide emissions.

All aim to underline the Plug-in Hybrid’s ‘no compromises’ attitude, according to Volvo, as it attempts to secure leadership in achievable low emissions motoring by overcoming challenges, solving cost issues and increasing customer acceptance.

Described as the most advanced Volvo ever, the company calls the V60 Plug-in Hybrid ‘three cars in one’.

Driving the front wheels via a modified Aisin-supplied six-speed automatic gearbox, the internal combustion engine is a 2.4-litre D5 five-cylinder turbo-diesel unit that has been specially tuned to deliver 158kW of power at 4000rpm and 440Nm of torque from 1500-3000rpm.

Volvo said it wanted the V60 Plug-in Hybrid to have a “bigger displacement” performance and feel.

The pure electric part of the equation is the rear-mounted electric motor – another world first – known as the Electric Axle Rear Drive (ERAD) system. It uses a 50kW/200Nm electric motor powered by a 12kWh lithium-ion battery pack.

As well as Brake Energy Regeneration technology to help with recharging on the move, the electric system has its own integrated air-conditioning cooling set-up to increase performance, range, efficiency and longevity.

Volvo says the car can be charged with 6-amp to 16-amp electricity supplies via a plug-in socket. Times vary between 7.5 hours with a 6A supply and 4.5hr with 10A to just 3.5hr when 16A is available.

A quick burst of 10 amps for 45 minutes provides enough charge to drive 10km.

18 center image Among the other changes over a regular V60 are a new high-voltage alternator and much bigger starter motor. Known as Integrated Starter Generator, it is the first belt-driven system employed by Volvo and enhances the new idle-stop functionality, and also improves fuel economy.

There are three buttons for the driver to choose – Pure (electric-only), Hybrid and Power – with Hybrid being the default setting, as well as the mode that the V60 Plug-in Hybrid always starts in.

In Hybrid mode, an All Wheel Drive control unit in the middle of the car balances traction needs according to prevailing conditions, apportioning torque to whichever end of the car has the most grip.

There is also a ‘Save For Later’ button that charges the battery via the diesel engine on the move, to help secure about 20km of pure EV driving.

Maintaining an optimised temperature throughout the EV drivetrain is imperative for efficiency, performance and longevity, so Volvo fits an electric air-conditioning unit and a fuel-operated heater, while a special App can be used to pre-set the cabin environment while the V60 Plug-in Hybrid is recharging through the power grid.

Many finer aspects are yet to be finalised, including the total weight increase over a regular V60 – but Volvo predicts it is in the region of 300kg, due mainly to reinforcing the pillars, body structure and rear floorpan that accommodates the battery pack.

Rigorous crash-test data and analysis was carried out to make the Plug-in Hybrid as safe as other Volvos.

Safety-related items include a recalibrated stability and traction control program, dangerous gas evacuation ducts, heat shields, circuit-breakers, a special battery box to help curb deformation is severe impacts (developed after many 88km/h crashes under controlled conditions) and an emergency power cut-off.

Volvo’s Safety Research Centre crash tested many prototypes virtually as well as in real life.

As with all V60s, the Plug-in Hybrid boasts Volvo’s City Safety system that automatically operates the brakes if the driver fails to react in time to a slowing vehicle or (metallic) static object ahead.

This boosts an already lavish level of safety gear that includes an emergency brake light, ABS brakes, a full suite of airbags, whiplash protection headrests, stability control and Volvo’s rollover protection system.

Built on previous owner Ford’s EUCD platform that also underpins all other current Volvos from the S60 upwards bar the ageing XC90, suspension is by MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link independent arrangement at the rear. Steering is via an electro-hydraulic-powered rack-and-pinion set-up.

The Plug-in Hybrid’s cargo area is approximately 60mm higher than on other V60s to accommodate all the EV gear. Payload capacity is the same, as is towing capacity (1800kg with a braked trailer).

Volvo says the newcomer is on average at least 15 per cent more economical to run than a regular V60 diesel.

The goal is for the battery to never be replaced during the life of the car. The Swedish engineers estimate that it should last at least 15 years and that daily charging should help its longevity.

Drive Impressions

DOUBTERS be warned – Volvo says that under Chinese stockholder control it is not being run into the ground as first feared by some, but instead injected, enhanced and empowered with billions of dollars in resources to become one of the most innovative car-makers on the planet.

Is this wishful thinking? Maybe it’s Volvo’s vision of grandeur? Or perhaps just PR spin? To find out, we were flown to industrial Gothenburg – Sweden’s second-largest city and often described as the country’s Newcastle or Geelong – to drive what (on paper) seems almost unbelievable.

No, not that we came upon a stylish and sexy Volvo – that joke is almost as old as the 500 year-old city itself – but a hybrid wagon that plugs into the mains, can run on pure electricity for over 50km before a recharge, has a gutsy 2.4-litre five-pot diesel engine, is capable of returning 1.9L/100km and under 50g/km of CO2 emissions, and can sprint to 100km/h from standstill in 6.9 seconds while accommodating five (and their stuff) in ultra-safe Volvo luxury.

That’s not so much having your cake and eating it, too, as discovering that the cake is healthy. Too good to be true is a massive understatement.

The Swedes intend charging at least $75,000 for this expensive piece of eco cake, and if the price forecast much exceeds $85K then we can forget about it even coming to Australia.

But the V60 Plug-in Hybrid is the real deal, with some very unreal attributes.

Except for a power plug flap ahead of the left-hand side front door, it looks like any other stylish iteration of Volvo’s successful mid-sized wagon.

Inside is pretty much the same, with top-shelf solidity, safety, functionality and design – except that we are still a year out from series production, so there are hundreds of details that have yet to be ironed out.

The early hand-built prototype we drove was valued at more than $750,000 so Volvo’s affable chief engineer on the project needed to be with his baby to ensure that everything worked.

Yet even as a definite work-in-progress, the V60 PiH’s various and disparate personality strands shone through like an automotive version of Toni Collette’s brilliant character in the United States of Tara – well, the non-crazy ones, at least.

Starting it up, the 2.4-litre D5 five-pot turbo-diesel that drives the front wheels grumbles into life momentarily before it is extinguished and the electric motor turns the rear wheels.

Progress is brisk and almost silent except for the futuristic turbine whirr of the electric heart behind you.

If more oomph is needed, the D5 quietly and seamlessly steps in suddenly there is a whole lot more performance pulling as well as pushing you along. Yep, this is an all-wheel drive for lots of the time.

With a ‘Power’ button and fed by a useful wad of EV torque, the diesel-electric combination was very speedy, impressing us with instantaneous mid-rev responses that might be compared to a V8.

But there’s also a strong, silent and beguiling side to the Volvo’s alter-ego, accessed via the ‘Pure’ button situated opposite its ‘Sport’ alternative.

Here, provided your V60 PiH is sufficiently charged, take-offs remain a silky, quiet affair for up to 50km, while there is a deep well of electricity zipping you along with astounding ease and absolutely no fuss, accompanied by a jet-like hum that we loved. Hopefully Volvo won’t change that.

Though limited to driving the V60 PiH on a tightish test track at Volvo’s proving ground, we did feel the 300kg of extra weight and, while the steering (a tad too light for our tastes) and handling did not seem unduly affected, the overall effect was like driving a solidly packed car.

In a short time, it became clear that our prototype V60 PiH drove and performed within operating parameters that owners of the existing car would instantly recognise – until they switched into the Pure EV mode. Do that and the Volvo takes on the behaviour of a slick and sophisticated machine of the future.

Of course, this mechanical glimpse of the near future still needs more work, but Volvo is obsessed with becoming the leader in the field of electrification and wants to lead without following the German marques. The brand wants to offer compromise-free as well as guilt-free luxury motoring.

And if you still doubt Geely’s intentions, finding rich benefactors means that Volvo may just fly higher than it has ever done before – certainly beyond what Ford had managed. The V60 Plug-in Hybrid and everything it promises is compelling proof of that.

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