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Test Drives

Volvo XC60 Recharge review: Plug and play



Volvo’s XC60 Recharge Plug-in Hybrid gets the brand’s electrification ball rolling in Singapore, but that’s not the reason to consider one…

What do you call a sport utility vehicle (SUV) with a supercharger, turbocharger and a petrol engine for the front wheels and an electric motor for the back? For now you call it the Volvo XC60 Recharge Plug-in Hybrid (or simply the XC60 T8 if you’re into the whole brevity thing).

Volvo launched it and the S60 Recharge (a sedan) at the Singapore Motorshow in January, setting the electrification ball rolling for the Swedish brand here. 

Both are Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs), which means they can get along on petrol power or electricity alone, or some combination of both.

It’s just as well that the Swedish brand has finally gotten started with that here (plug-in Volvos have been available elsewhere for years) — Volvo has ambitious plans involving electrons, and wants half its sales to come from full electric cars by 2025. The other half is supposed to come from hybrids. You might think of the XC60 Recharge as a taste of things to come.

What’s a “plug-in hybrid”?
Hybrid cars have been around for around 23 years, with Honda and Toyota originating the breed. They pair an engine with an electric motor to reduce fuel consumption, with a small rechargeable battery to store the necessary energy.

These “self-charging” hybrids (so-called because you can’t plug one into a charger even if you want to) have been joined by plug-in hybrids like this Volvo.

With a bigger battery, a PHEV has more electric-only range, but it needs to be topped up by an external charger to deliver petrol-free propulsion.

So, it’s like an electric car… with a back up engine?
Not really, but sort of. You can do short distances with battery power — a little more than 30km in the Volvo, from our experience — but once the battery is empty, you’re left with the engine. You’re back to burning petrol, but you won’t be stranded. 

Where does everything fit?
In the XC60 Recharge, there’s a 2.0-litre twincharged petrol engine that drives the front wheels through an eight-speed auto. It’s good for 315hp by itself.

At the back is where you’ll find the 87hp electric motor, which is convenient because it happens to power the rear wheels. Volvo calls the module “ERAD” (for Electric Rear Axle Drive).

Then there’s a lithium-ion battery bank that is surprisingly unobtrusive, occupying the tunnel between the front seats. It’s topped up by an external Type II charger, so the XC60 Recharge has an extra filler flap up front, which is where the plugging in happens.

The extra hardware adds around 300kg to the XC60’s weight, but all in all, the hybrid system is actually an admirably neat installation, with no obvious compromise to cabin or boot space — you still get 505 litres in the back, or 1,432 litres if you fold the rear seats.

Under the bonnet, you won’t spot anything extra except a few orange cables (denoting high voltage), though if you look closer you’ll see the electric air-con compressor, which is there to keep the cool air flowing even when the petrol engine is dormant.

And if you want to see the electric motor (or ERAD), you’ll have to peek under the car. Otherwise it’s nearly impossible to tell that this is anything other than a regular XC60.

So you just drive it like a normal Volvo?
You can, but there are various modes to let you impose your will on the petrol-electric system.

You’ll mostly stick to “Hybrid”, which lets the car do its own thing, juggling petrol and electric power by itself. It does so pretty seamlessly, and draws liberally from the battery to keep the petrol engine from waking up.

If you want to force matters, there’s a “Pure” setting that makes the Volvo feed exclusively off the battery for total emissions-free motoring. Mashing the accelerator makes the petrol engine fire up to join the party for full power, but otherwise it’s the mode to use if you want to pretend your plug-in Volvo is a Tesla.

There are also “Constant AWD” and “Off Road” modes designed to maximise traction, but the remaining one that’s relevant to us is “Power”, which chucks the idea of economy out the window and makes use of the motor and engine for maximum acceleration. 

What’s the point of all that?
Plug-ins are sort of a gateway to full electric cars. You can have battery power for your drive to work (and most of the way back), and all the attendant smugness: you won’t be farting exhaust at pedestrians and cyclists, your big Volvo will be mostly silent, Greta Thunberg will have less reason to shout at you, that sort of thing.

Even if you run out of battery, the hybrid setup still allows the motor to give the engine an assist when you want full power, so the XC60 Recharge is actually quite a charger itself.

How so?
When it’s all systems go, the T8 drivetrain delivers a stonking 402 horsepower, with a jolly 640 Newton-metres of peak torque along the way. That’s a boatload of zing, even in a car that weighs nearly 2.2 tonnes, so the XC60 thunders to 100km/h in just 5.3 seconds.

Mind you, the Volvo doesn’t actually feel all that fast on the move — it’s more super spirited than scarily swift — most likely because of its drivetrain’s smoothness, but it’s still good for a pleasantly subversive turn of speed. Challenge a sports car in a big, eco SUV? Now you can, at least in a straight line.

The XC60 shoots up the road like a fiend, but it’s altogether less eager about changing direction, sort of tolerating turns while serving up light, numb steering and squishy responses.

I thought the whole point was to save fuel, save the Earth and do good?
Well, what good is a conscience-friendly car if it won’t let you be naughty from time to time? But if you’re a dedicated Greenie, PHEV tech does work in Singapore. We’ve tried it in a number of cars, and it does deliver as long as just one thing is true: you have somewhere to charge the batteries.

Our first day in the XC60 Recharge, we covered the first 40km having burnt petrol at the rate of 1.2L/100km, according to the handy-dandy display.

By then the battery had run flat, and when we stopped to charge the car at 50.8km, the fuel consumption had climbed to 2.8L/100km.

Starting Day Two with a full battery meant we ended the day at 96km in total with 2.7L/100km showing on the trip computer.

Thereafter we drove the Volvo without topping the battery up, and found that fuel consumption in that condition is roughly 10L/100km, which isn’t particularly efficient.

Like in other PHEVs, you can set the hybrid system to either hold the battery’s state of charge or even top it up with energy from the petrol engine, but doing so results in lousy fuel consumption.

The main takeaway here? If you have a regular place to charge your plug-in Volvo every day, and don’t do extended distances (on average drivers here do about 40km a day), it’ll be a long time before you see your favourite pump attendant again.

What’s the rest of the car like?
Funnily enough, like a Volvo XC60. That’s a good thing, for it’s a handsome car on the outside, with a minimalist interior that’s easy on the eye.

The main touchscreen system takes a bit of getting used to, but once you know your way around it, things fall to hand pretty well, and the button positions for various functions are customisable anyway.

There’s a surprising amount of space in the back, even though the roof isn’t awkwardly high, and the cabin materials are fairly sumptuous. The plastics and so on certainly feel good enough for premium segment motoring. Which is just as well, because the Volvo is priced like it.

How much does it cost?
S$290,000, with certificate of entitlement. That’s a lot of money, considering the T6 version of the XC60 is some S$55,000 cheaper. Still, the price includes extras such as a home charger (with installation), and either S$1,000 in charging credits or S$1,000 in carbon offset certificates. The warranty for the lithium-ion battery is five years, in case you were wondering.

Honestly, though, the premium is a huge one to pay in order to make an impact on the environment. A better reason to choose a plug-in XC60 over the regular petrol models is that it’s the best version of the car. It’s silent when running on battery power, and fast enough to make your eyes bug out when you get that twincharged engine to come roaring in.

As for the Green side of things, as with other plug-ins the Volvo really only works as promised with a home (or office) charging point — it takes 3 hours of charging to get your 30km of electric range, so forget about relying on public stations.

That gives this particular Volvo a fairly specific target market here. What do you call a person who drives an XC60 Recharge? Someone who lives in private property.

Volvo XC60 Recharge Plug-in Hybrid

Engine

1,969cc, inline 4, twincharged

Power

315hp at 5700rpm

Torque

400Nm at 2200-5400rpm

Gearbox

8-speed automatic

Electric Motor

87hp / 240Nm

Battery

Lithium-ion / 9.1kWh

Charging Time / Type

3hours / Type II AC

Electric Range

30km (estimated)

System Power / Torque

402hp / 640Nm

Top Speed

230km/h

0-100km/h

5.3 seconds

Fuel Efficiency

2.2L/100km

VES/CO2

A2 / 50g/km

Agent

Wearnes Automotive

Price

S$290,000 with COE

Available

Now

 

about the author

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Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.