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Mid-life update makes the Swedish estate one of Volvo’s longest-range PHEVs

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Three in every 10 new cars sold by Volvo are, as of 2022, electrified Recharge models. Volvo has been investing heavily in fully electric models over the past few years, but its history with plug-in hybrids is now more than a decade old, and has won the company sufficient incremental commercial progress that right now it is selling between three and four times as many PHEVs as EVs.

Quite clearly, Gothenburg still considers petrol-electric motoring a key part of its powertrain strategy, and the powertrain in this week’s road test subject proves as much. The Volvo V60 T6 Recharge has, as part of the wider family of 60- and 90-series cars, just received a widely improved hybrid system.

This V60 PHEV is capable of more than 50 miles of electric running on a full charge – nearly a 60% improvement on its direct predecessor, according to WLTP lab testing. Very attractive for company car drivers.

While the critical components all package just as they did in the pre-facelift Volvo V60 (2018-2022), they add significantly to both the car’s drive battery capacity and its electric motor output – as we are about to describe.

That, in turn, makes this a V60 PHEV capable of more than 50 miles of electric running on a full charge – nearly a 60% improvement on its direct predecessor, according to WLTP lab testing. For company car drivers, then, the model qualifies for UK benefit-in-kind tax at an eye-catchingly low rate, and yet is priced almost identically to its less powerful, shorter-legged immediate predecessor.

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For on-paper evidence of the impact made by rapidly maturing electric powertrain technology on the cars we’re already driving, look no further than the one we’re about to assess. But how big an impact on fuel economy, drivability, performance, practicality and all-round, Volvo-typical maturity and comfort might those sizeable technological gains be worth in real-world testing? Keep reading to find out.

Range at a glance

The V60’s 2022-model-year showroom line-up, the last examples of which are now in dealer stock, is made up of Volvo’s familiar model-tier names: Momentum, R-Design and Inscription. They are due to change to Core, Plus Bright, Plus Dark and Ultimate with the 2023-model-year car, but Volvo couldn’t supply that updated version for our test. The higher-riding Volvo V60 Cross Country variant, which adds 60mm of ground clearance, will continue to be offered too. As before, the V60's saloon sibling is called the Volvo S60. Diesels have all been discontinued.

VersionPower
Volvo V60 B3P161bhp
Volvo V60 B4P194bhp
Volvo V60 B5P247bhp
Volvo V60 T6 Recharge AWD*345bhp

*Version tested

TRANSMISSIONS                    

8-spd automatic                       

7-spd automatic (B3P and B4P only)

DESIGN & STYLING

02 Volvo V60 PHEV RT 2022 rear corner

The current, second-generation Volvo V60 was among the last of Volvo’s larger and more traditional models to move onto its current big-car SPA model platform. This generation of Volvo V60 (2018-2022) arrived in summer 2018 – shortly before its American-made Volvo S60 sibling saloon car arrived in Europe. While the technically related Volvo XC90 SUV is about to enter a new full model generation, then, the V60 still has a few years to go in its current form, and a 2023-model-year facelifted version will enter showrooms soon (our test car was the 2022 version).

A mid-sized estate of just under 4.8 metres in length, the car is a direct rival for the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate, Audi A4 Avant and Jaguar XF Sportbrake. It has a chassis made of various kinds of high-strength steel, and a choice of transverse-mounted four-cylinder petrol engines under the bonnet (thus configured, typically of modern Volvos, to create the optimal frontal crash structure; and with diesel motors having been phased out entirely in 2021). The car also offers a mix of front- and four-wheel drive, now all with automatic gearboxes, and fully independent suspension made up of double wishbones below coil springs at the front axle, and of Volvo’s multi-link axle with its transverse leaf spring made of a composite polyurethane resin at the rear. Unlike the bigger Volvo V90 and Volvo XC60, the V60 can’t be had with either air suspension or adaptive dampers.

The V60’s practicality features really impress me, but it is a shame that its 40/60 folding back seats are split for the benefit of left-hand-drive markets. A 40/20/40 split would solve it.

Where the plug-in hybrid V60 is concerned, what has been added is a lithium ion drive battery of significantly greater capacity than the car had hitherto, as well as an electric drive motor of significantly greater power. The former, carried along the car’s transmission tunnel and now consisting of three tiers of pouch cells rather than two, has 18.8kWh of total installed capacity (up from 11.6kWh), 14.9kWh of which is usable. So while the last V60 T6 Recharge was rated for 31-37 miles of WLTP lab test electric range, this new one is up to 47-54 miles, depending on optional specification: a potentially meaningful improvement.

Just as before, the revised V60 T6 Recharge is driven primarily by a front-mounted, 249bhp, 1969cc turbocharged petrol engine, which drives the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox. At the rear axle, however, the old car’s 86bhp permanent magnet synchronous electric drive motor has been ◊ ∆ replaced by a new one with 143bhp, which drives the rear wheels directly. That makes for a combined 345bhp and unspecified total torque. Some of Volvo’s related models offer a higher-output T8 Recharge derivative, which uses the same drive battery and motor but a more powerful 2.0-litre combustion engine, but the V60 (together with the V90) offers the lesser-powered T6 version only.

The car weighed 2036kg on our scales, which was within 50kg of Volvo’s claimed kerb weight. While heavy, this is roughly what you would expect for a PHEV of its size and type.

INTERIOR

10 Volvo V60 PHEV RT 2022 dashboard

Volvo’s now-familiar R-Design styling clothes a car that is as comfortable, functional and versatile as you would expect, although load-luggers should note that the Volvo V60 isn’t, nor ever has been, the most spacious car of its kind for either people or cargo.

Open the driver’s door and you find a seat that looks sporty but is also accommodatingly large, supportive in all important aspects and lovely to sit on over long days at the wheel. Extending cushions for the longer of leg are included as standard; head restraints are of the fixed, integrated kind, but were found by our testers to be well shaped and positioned; there is effective and adjustable lumbar support; and the side bolsters are effective when needed, but not intrusive in daily driving or when sliding in and out of the car.

A remote rear headrest release button accessible from the driver’s seat has been offered by Volvo for yonks, and I don’t know why other brands haven’t nicked it. One-up driving with the whole rear screen to see through makes a big difference to all-round visibility.

Second-row space is only about average for a mid-sized executive estate, and Volvo’s preference for carrying the hybrid drive battery within what might otherwise be the transmission tunnel would oblige any middle-seat back-row passenger to sit with their legs astride it.

Even so, adults of average height can travel in the back comfortably enough in the outer positions, and our test car’s optional Lounge pack panoramic sunroof didn’t seem to affect available head room too adversely.

Our test car had a fairly dark mix of standard leathers, darker fascia materials, and chrome- and aluminium-look metallic trim, which gave it a very contemporary ambience, but lighter, two-tone mixes of upholstery and natural-look trims are available. Material quality standards are a little understated, but the car’s various switches and fittings generally feel very solid, robust and reassuring.

In-cabin space is in slightly short supply, the V60’s door storage bins being a little small, and its armrest cubby particularly shallow – which tends to lead to the cupholders being seconded to hold wallets and phones instead.

The car’s digital instrumentation display is clear and easily navigable, and its Sensus Connect portrait-style infotainment system is easy to get on with – although both systems are due for imminent replacement on 2023-model-year cars.

That the V60’s boot is only medium-sized for a car of this type is a little disappointing, because you can’t help assuming a Volvo wagon will automatically lead its class in that respect, but it isn’t intruded on by the sort of raised floor that some PHEVs suffer.

The powered bootlid, with its ‘virtual pedal’ remote opening, can be triggered inadvertently if you are squeezing behind the rear of the car having reverse-parked close to a wall or an obstacle, which could certainly cause exasperation if it led to dented bodywork. We would happily have done without it.

Inside the boot itself, Volvo’s load area is supremely well managed and appointed thanks to a brilliant pop-up lateral boot divider, plenty of bag hooks and lashing eyes, a ski hatch, a 12V power socket and even a bit of under-floor storage (though sadly not enough to store the charging cables).

Infotainment

 

13 Volvo v60 phev rt 2022 infotainment 1 0Volvo is still in the process of replacing its old Sensus Connect portrait-oriented infotainment with its new Android-based systems, which were first seen on last year’s revised XC60. The 2023-model-year V60s will get this new system, but our test car retained the old one; and, while it was missing some functionality, its usability was excellent.

That wired smartphone mirroring for Apple and Android devices is a cost option is disappointing on a near-£50,000 car. We would struggle to criticise the Sensus system in many other respects, though.

Swiping the home screen left and right makes it easy to find and disable things like parking sensors and lane keeping assistance, when you know how; the navigation system is clearly displayed and easy to follow; the digital instruments are simply and smartly rendered; and there are plenty of physical knobs and buttons for important functions, too.

Experience of last year’s revised Volvo XC60 (which has the new system) suggests that we will miss this old set-up when it’s gone.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

18 Volvo V60 PHEV RT 2022 performance engine

As we have noted in other reviews of its plug-in hybrids, Volvo has in recent years made significant progress in quietening the four-cylinder petrol engine that part-powers these cars. That’s partly because the turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder unit used in some of their predecessors has now been replaced by a simpler turbocharged engine, even in higher-output T8 hybrids. And so, in the case of this revised Volvo V60 T6, mechanical refinement is good when the engine is running – and, of course, much of the time that piston engine is entirely still.

The V60 T6 Recharge runs electrically most of the time at low speeds. The difference made by Volvo’s new drive motor as regards performance and drivability is clear here. The V60 T6 now has plenty of available zero-emissions performance when accelerating away from standing and on beyond 40mph, and fine crisp linear throttle response too (with the motor driving the rear axle directly, conventional gearbox response time is taken out of the equation entirely).

V60 is ultra-responsive on electric power at lower speeds and refined under combustive power thereafter; 50 miles of real EV range only heightens feeling of relaxation.

Running in its highest performance mode and launching from rest, the car averaged 4.9sec to 60mph, and 11.8sec to 100mph. Both numbers are significantly faster than we saw from either the Mercedes C300e saloon or the Audi A6 50 TSFIe (although neither rival was tested in such dry conditions), and faster even than Volvo’s own claims.

But perhaps the most telling difference between the V60 and its rivals is that, in pure electric running, the Volvo needs 10.8sec to get from 30-70mph, where the Mercedes needs 12.4sec and the Audi 12.3sec. None of these PHEV saloons tends to feel particularly brisk when running with their engines shut down, but that extra bit of zero-emissions response and oomph might just give the V60 the edge for drivers on the lookout for the car with the most assertive electric performance.

During hybrid-mode running, there is the occasional squabble between the combustion engine and electric powertrain as the latter hands over to the former. Under smoother inputs and answering more moderate demands, however, these moments are rare.

Try to adopt a more interested driving style and, unless what you’re after is simply extra speed, the V60 won’t engage you much. Without manual shift paddles or a gearbox that will hold a higher gear under plenty of throttle, keeping the car in a chosen ratio can feel like a hiding to nothing. In give-and-take, out-of-town driving, the transmission also has a habit of disengaging the main gearbox entirely for efficient coasting, only to re-engage it rather clumsily in mid-corner or when responding to the throttle pedal. This may help boost cruising efficiency (to which we will come in due course), but it won’t appeal to the driver seeking the utmost control over the car.

RIDE & HANDLING

19 Volvo V60 PHEV RT 2022 front corner

Despite having quite a simple technical specification (no adaptive dampers or air suspension), the Volvo V60 will strike the right kind of dynamic compromise for most owners. It’s a car with smart, sporty looks but a relaxing character, and it’s easy, reassuring and undemanding to drive. Filtered-feeling, lightish, medium-paced steering makes the V60 untaxing to guide and to manoeuvre, and though it allows you to hurry the car along precisely enough at times, it doesn’t reward you much for doing so.

The body control doesn’t feel overburdened with weight, though, and so the car handles tidily enough both around corners and when dealing with longer-wave bumps. Hurry it through a tight bend and you do get a sense of being pushed towards the apex by that electric rear axle, and of the chassis rotating underneath you just a little. But that chassis is tuned in a way that almost always delivers comfort, security of roadholding and general ease of use the rest of the time, and dynamism and handling agility occasionally, but only as more distant second priorities.

Volvo’s SPA platform finds one of its smaller applications in the V60. It integrates the four-cylinder combustion engine transversely up front, with an eight-speed torque-converter gearbox taking its power to the front axle. The T6 Recharge adds a 143bhp electric motor on the rear axle, drawing power from an 18.8kWh battery carried in the transmission tunnel. The weight is distributed 54:46, front to rear.

The economy-minded Michelin Primacy tyres mark the limit of its ability to grip and entertain more often than anything else. You wouldn’t say the car has a particularly keen grip level, and it will wash into understeer fairly predictably around faster bends, although its electronic stability control is generally unobtrusive and effective. But would most owners trade a keener grip level for five miles less of electric-only range, or a few per cent less fuel efficiency? It seems doubtful.

Comfort and isolation

02 Volvo v60 phev rt 2022 rear corner 0

There will be a little bit of noise and brittleness about the rolling refinement of your V60 T6 Recharge if, like ours, it is an R-Design model with optional 19in alloy wheels, but not enough to overwhelm the generally calming aura the car creates as it moves you from place to place.

The ride is generally supple without feeling soft or wallowy. It absorbs longer-wave inputs well, though it trips and stutters occasionally over sharper edges and drains. The chassis tuning of derivatives other than the R-Design may mitigate this, as might sticking with the R-Design’s standard 18in rims.

Surface noise is generally well suppressed, though, and wind noise is likewise effectively filtered. With good visibility and seat comfort, this would make a very grown-up and pragmatic daily driver, which is probably the balance Volvo aspired to.

Assisted driving notes

13 Volvo v60 phev rt 2022 infotainment 3 0

Volvo is changing the way it offers its top-level active safety systems on the V60. With the current, 2022-model-year car, you can add Pilot Assist level-two active motorway lane keeping assistance and radar-based adaptive cruise control to a lower-spec model like our R-Design test car as a £1100 option.

On 2023-model-year cars, however, Pilot Assist will be available with top-level Ultimate trim. That seems a little like keeping active safety systems back for those who pay the most, rather than spreading them further throughout the range in the interests of promoting safety, but given the semiconductor supply problems of the past two years, it’s perhaps an understandable move.

Our test car didn’t have the Driver Assistance option, so its active safety features were limited to a City Safety low-speed crash mitigation and avoidance system; an oncoming lane mitigation lane keeping system; a speed-limit detection system; and a conventional, switchable lane keeping aid. The last of those is a bit intrusive but easy to disable on winding country roads through the central touchscreen.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

01 Volvo V60 PHEV RT 2022 Hero

Volvo’s decision not to hike the price of this car as it improved the specification of its hybrid system may look altruistic, but a competitive list price will remain key to the appeal of the Volvo V60 as a fleet option – and, for now, it has one.

At a little over £47,000 without options, our test car was slightly pricier than an equivalent Mercedes C300e Estate (although the Benz doesn’t come with four-wheel drive), but cheaper than a like-for-like BMW 330e xDrive Touring. And like the C-Class, but unlike the BMW and so many other direct rivals from the DS 9 to the Skoda Superb, the V60 qualifies for an 8% benefit-in-kind tax rate, which should make it a go-to option for value-savvy fleet drivers.

Spec advice? Order a new car today and it will be a 2023 model, with a wait of 10-12 months. But if you can find a 2022 Inscription model in dealer stock with standard 18in wheels and the optional smartphone integration and driver assistance packs, grab it with both hands.

Volvo claims up to 54 miles of combined-cycle electric range for the car and, in mixed daily driving, our test car returned an average of 51 miles: an excellent result for the class, and appealing for those looking to make worthwhile savings on their emissions output and fuel bills but who can’t yet rationalise the leap to an electric car. The Mercedes C300e we tested earlier this year returned an average EV range of 48 miles.

Volvo supplies both three-pin and Type 2 seven-pin charging cables as standard, but it can be charged at a peak 3.7kW, at which rate a full charge would take five hours.

VERDICT

21 Volvo V60 PHEV RT 2022 static

Volvo’s latest-generation plug-in hybrid powertrain is being rolled out across all of its larger models this year, but in the Volvo V60 mid-sized estate it finds something of a sweet spot: the marriage of a fairly affordable price to a versatile and accommodating cabin, improved drivability, strong performance and impressive electric-only range. You can opt for a Volvo XC60 T6 Recharge instead, of course, but it’ll be pricier and it won’t have quite the same performance or zero-emissions range. Right now, if you want to go only partly electric, the V60 T6 Recharge is probably all the Volvo you really need.

In many respects, it’s quite a lot more than that. Nobody really asked for a mid-sized, comfort-first, emissions-saving family holdall that could do 60mph quicker than a 1990s super-saloon, after all. Some may bemoan this car’s slight shortages of rear cabin and outright boot space relative to others in the class. It’s certainly no Skoda Superb. But what space the V60 does offer, it does so rather cleverly. And in combining a modern sporty design with a relaxing dynamic persona – and layering on the potential for transformative real-world electric running – this becomes one of 2022’s easier exec PHEVs to recommend.