Saturday 1 October 2016

Tank heaven: Volvo's 159mpg plug-in hybrid

But will you charge-up V60 every day

Published 13/09/2015 | 02:30

Plug-in: Volvo V60
Plug-in: Volvo V60

I was a devil for running out of petrol back in the days when the stuff was cheap. I'd leave it and leave it until it was too late. Once I had to abandon the car near Enfield and get a lift home to the midlands at all hours of the night. The cousin never lets me forget it. That, of course, was before the era of 24-hour opening.

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A recent survey found a sizeable number still wait for the red light to come on before replenishing. What makes us do it? I will never understand. I still push it sometimes believe it or not.

I was reminded of my foolhardy brinkmanship recently as I was driving the plug-in diesel hybrid version of Volvo's V60 all-wheel-drive estate.

I smiled as I reassured myself that even I would surely avoid the empty-tank syndrome with something claimed to be capable of 156.9mpg (that's a mere 1.8 litres of fuel every 100km).

It is mighty impressive but, I must strenuously point out, to get even half that return requires consistent discipline to charge the batteries night and possibly day (that's the plug-in part of the deal).

If you do so you could, I stress could, go about your week's commute without touching a drop of the fossil soup - in this case, diesel.

I'm excited about the whole concept of plug-ins and with diesels being even more frugal, the gaps between fill-ups should lengthen appreciably.

The Volvo V60 Twin Engine is another in an increasing number to point the way. I reckon the batteries, at best, will get you 30km/35km. They say 50km but I know from experience you won't get that. After the 'pure electric' part the hybrid system orchestrates the power it needs, and can take, from the interplay between the 2.4-litre 5cyl engine, electric motor and batteries.

As luck would have it I had to make a couple of quite long journeys in the V60. Without doubt that diminished the impact of lower fuel consumption because the engine was in demand a much higher proportion of the time.

Nonetheless I reckon around 50mpg represented a fair enough return for some long, hard driving at motorway speeds here and in the North.

I suspect Volvo's smaller and more frugal 2-litre family will bring better returns in future plug-ins. I know they are already reaping the benefits with the excellent 2-litre petrol Twin Engine XC90.

This V60 was, nevertheless, a real glimpse of the multi-tasking journey on which technology is taking us: you can use it as an electric vehicle (albeit limited), a hybrid or an-out-and-out performance car (you do have 288bhp on tap between engine and electric motor).

While the advantages are unequivocal, there are drawbacks - at least in the V60. For example, the battery pack encroaches significantly on the luggage compartment. That partly negates the raison d'etre of having an estate in the first place. Countering its intrusion, to a degree, are the rear-folding seats.

Another disappointment was the phenomenally heavy steering. It was most pronounced and punishing in town parking. I could find no reason for it. That would put me off big time. And the V60 is not what you'd call a car of great driving dynamics or agility - it is a perfectly acceptable large estate with a substantial amount of comfort (and of course anchored in safety from head to toe). No more, no less. Finally, there is a fair old price tag on this too: €60,000 is a handful.

For all that, I think the benefits of plug-ins are there to be seen. It's just they require a real commitment to charging the battery pack (at home, work or publicly). And that doesn't come easy to one whose past is pockmarked with the false promise of making it to the next fuel station.

The secret with this is that there is enough incentive to decimate running costs by routinely topping up the batteries. That way it's going to take you a long time to get to the 'running-on-empty' red light.

Just don't overdo it though. Even plug-in hybrids have their limits.

Facts & figures

VOLVO V60 Twin Engine plug-in diesel hybrid AWD; D6 2.4-litre, 5cyl, 220bhp, auto; electric motor 68bhp; 0-100kmh 5.8secs, 1.8litres/100km (156.9mpg), 48g/km, €170 road tax. Range starts €59,995 (includes SEAI grant, VRT relief). Car on test: €66,053.

Standard spec includes: electronic climate control, air quality system, heated front seats (lumbar support), cruise control, range of airbags/safety equipment, beige leather-faced upholstery, 17ins alloys, rear park assist, auto wipers, tyre sealant kit, LED daytime running lights, 5ins screen.     

My side of the road

Maybe it was coincidence but my friend and I were surprised by the number of broken-down cars we saw on a short trip down country. It may be boom time for some but others are still managing with creaking motors. We also noticed a good few cars spewing dirty black smoke. And tailpipe emissions from a small number indicated serious engine damage. Still tough for many.

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