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REVIEW: Volvo plugs in to a hybrid future

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: March 13, 2014

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I’VE got something of a problem with hybrid-powered cars. You see them springing up everywhere now and the theory behind the technology is sound but, in practice, they rarely achieve what they’re built for.

Without pointing any fingers, some of the least convincing hybrid set-ups I’ve tested come bundled in with an asthmatic petrol engine, a horrid continuously-variable transmission gearbox and are only useful for a few miles of urban motoring before the battery needs to suckle on the teat of good old internal combustion again.

But Volvo has launched a car that purports to solve this issue. They have a version of their justifiably popular V60 estate which is loaded with a high-capacity battery, a stonking great electric motor powering the rear wheels and a conventional diesel engine powering the front.

The numbers behind this vehicle are terrific, when you compare it to the other hybrids. The motor pumps out 70bhp and is good for up to 31 miles while the diesel engine provides its usual 215bhp up front. You’ve probably already done the maths but, yes, that does add up to an all-wheel-drive 285bhp car. Who said hybrids had to be slow and boring?

It gets better though. By relying heavily on the electric motor you can theoretically achieve 150mpg, or even more depending on the type of run. CO2 emmissions are officially clocked at 48g/km too, which is astonishingly low given the type of car.

So how do they pull this off? Well, unlike most hybrid vehicles, the Volvo is able to recharge through a socket on its left front wing - which means you can boost the battery back up to full strength without it having to draw anything from the diesel engine.

And the really good news is, it all works in practice. It’s not just a set of pie-in-the-sky numbers cooked up by an over-imaginative marketing department. Well, it works to an extent, at least.

The range of 31 miles is entirely true. It’s very possible to drive, albeit carefully, for 31 miles on a full charge. This, for me, is perfect as my commute to work is just shy of 15 miles so I can plug it in when I get home, trickle-charge it fairly cheaply overnight and then pootle in to the office in complete silence, safe in the knowledge I’m not using any diesel.

Like I say, though, it works to an extent. The problem is, to achieve the quoted 31 miles you need to drive fairly sedately. I’m fine with that and it’s far more tolerant than I’d expected but you also need to switch nearly everything off.

Barring lights and a radio, pretty much all the luxuries fitted to my test model were off-limits while the car was in full-on electric mode. Heated rear screen? Not if you can help it. Heated seats? Nope. Air conditioning? You must be joking.

Even a little bit of gentle heating is out of the question because, of course, there’s no engine running to generate heat.

This bothers me less than it bothers my wife. There are only two things she needs first thing in the morning on the way to work; coffee and warmth. In fact, she referred to the V60 - a car she’s normally perfectly fond of in conventional diesel guise - as ‘evil’. Basically, as much as I like the technology, it’s never going to be something I’m allowed to invest in.

And therein lies its problem.

If my total commute was, say, 15 miles, I might be able to get away with a spot of air conditioning or at least the heated seats as I wouldn’t have to sacrifice so much energy to preserve the range. But, that said, if my commute was that short it would hardly be worth paying the premium for the plug-in hybrid anyway. I’d never make the extra cost back.

Even once the Government has coughed up its rather generous £5,000 grant for buying such a green car it’s still going to set you back at least £43,775 and that’s a lot more than the equivelant conventional diesel version which, barring the electric shove, feels basically the same to drive and looks barely different.

So to fit into my life and find ultimate approval from ‘er indoors I guess it needs another 20 miles or so added to its range. That would make the commute comfortable and, if I kept it long enough, might start to justify its price.

As with many hybrids I drive these days I’m not sure it’s entirely there yet but, having said that, it’s the best one I’ve ever driven.

Luckily for Volvo, there are people for whom this car might just work and if I were them I’d call off the search for an interesting, cheap car to run. For the time being at least, this is as good as it gets.

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