First drive: Volvo XC60 T8
Volvo’s small SUV gets big plug-in power. What’s it like to drive?…
A Volvo XC60 T8! Does that mean eight cylinders?
Afraid not. Volvo’s name badges haven’t been truthful for a while, and thus T8 refers to a combination of four-cylinder petrol and electric power.
Mind, that does endow the T8 with a total of 407bhp, which is what you could reasonably expect if this did have a V8 incongruously beneath its bonnet.
A 320bhp 2.0-litre engine drives the front wheels – a statistic that blends into the background, but which matches the absurd FWD power of the latest Honda Civic Type R. Add the 87bhp electric motor driving the XC60’s rear axle and you have almost the power of a Ford Mustang V8 in a small SUV.
Is it fast, then?
When given the chance to accelerate hard in a straight line, it’s not slow, despite having over two tonnes to shift. But in reality, the 407bhp total is meaningless, even if it does yield a 4.9sec 0-96kph time. Driving a hybrid car is only about peak power if it’s a LaFerrari or McLaren P1; in the real world, where a petrol-electric SUV will live, it’s about managing the power source beneath.
Like all plug-in hybrids, the XC60 T8 has a handful of modes to choose from. You only really need to worry about two of them: ‘Hybrid’, which is the auto mode where you operate the pedals as you please and the car juggles the power source to match, and ‘Pure’, which favours electric-only as much as possible.
Beyond these you can tell the car to prioritise charging the batteries as you drive – handy if you’re on the motorway and want to glide through town silently later – then tell it to preserve the electric power you’ve stored up, rather than blend it in with the petrol power. Oh, and there’s a mode called ‘Power’ for when you want to combine petrol and electric immediately and drive it like an eejit.
Will I want to?
Probably not. It handles better than you might expect for something so heavy, but it’s not going to frighten the Porsche Macan or Jaguar F-Pace. The T8’s biggest laughs come from its uncannily quick acceleration, and with so much power going through the front axle, it’s a four-wheel-drive SUV that can actually exhibit wheelspin.
Nope, the XC60’s selling point is what a refined vehicle it is in all other circumstances. We managed nearly 32 kilometres of electric-only driving through town, on one of the most stress-free commutes we can remember in a long time. And this was without trying: the air con and stereo were on, the massaging seat was working away, and no thought was given to the throttle position.
The range figure proved accurate, too. Plenty of plug-in hybrids show a promising electric range on screen, which wilts as you operate the car normally, without employing any hypermiling nonsense. Not so here.
And beyond those 32 kilometres?
The engine eventually does join in, of course. Initially it seems a bit uncouth, particularly when you’ve had over an hour of silence. But this is one of the better integrated petrol-electric setups out there, and the XC60’s transition between EV and hybrid is pretty smooth.
Ride quality isn’t quite as smooth, mind. Broadly, this is a very comfortable car, and the seats are some of the best in the business. But like all current Volvos, the XC60 feels vulnerable to big ruts and speed bumps. It’s hardly uncomfortable, but when everything’s so hushed, you want as little interruption as possible…
The brakes also warrant criticism. This isn’t exclusive to Volvo’s hybrid – it’s fairly typical of cars keen to forage energy under braking to eke out more range – but the pedal is hard to use smoothly. Feed the brakes in gradually and the car just coasts; press a teeny bit harder and you almost head-butt the windscreen. More time with the car would get you used to it, I’m sure.
How’s the rest of the XC60?
Lovely. The previous one sold very well, but lived off the radar as Audi Q5s and BMW X3s attracted all the attention. But the latest XC60 looks fantastic, has gadgets galore (including a lot of active safety stuff) and feels really premium. Mind, with this T8 hybrid starting at around £57,000 (Rs 47.11 lakh) – ten grand more than an equivalent diesel – so it should.
Yep, we’re still not quite out of early adopter phase. Hybrid and EV sales rise exponentially each year, but you’re still paying a premium to have one if you’re a private buyer. If you’re a company car user, though, the XC60’s 49g/km ought to make it absurdly affordable for a 400-odd horsepower SUV. One that will dissolve all your stress as you glide silently away from the office each day…