Volvo V60 plug-in hybrid prototype review

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The world’s first diesel/electric plug-in hybrid, based on the Volvo V60, goes on sale next year. We get an early drive.

They said it couldn’t be done, but Volvo has chipped away at the idea of a diesel/electric plug-in hybrid and plans to put the concept on sale next year. There are no prices yet and that could be key, as a massive sticker price will banjax the prospects of this V60 estate for all except a few wealthy eco types and government departments buying environmental credibility with your taxes.

The new car uses Volvo’s tried and tested D5, 2.4-litre, five-cylinder turbodiesel as a base, which seems to fly in the face of the company’s recent announcement that in future its cars will only use 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engines, but the engineers are unrepentant, saying that there was little fuel economy advantage in using a four-pot engine and that this car should offer high performance as well as low emissions.

And just how low are those emissions? Here we step into the difficult world of measuring the fuel consumption of a vehicle, which can operate on electricity or diesel only, or both. Like with the range-extending Vauxhall Ampera, there are circumstances where some owners doing very short daily journeys might hardly ever need to start the engine. By contrast, some owners might never charge up the battery from the mains, in which case they are using the diesel engine to charge the battery and the fuel consumption would be much higher.

Of course the purist way to measure consumption would be a well-to-wheels calculation taking into account the energy used to extract and refine the fuel and that used to generate the electricity. Trouble is, that depends on when you use the electricity and what the carbon balance of the electricity generation is. To be honest it’s a bit of nightmare and the new EU test (R(EC)715/2007) figures for the Volvo of almost 150mpg and 49g/km don’t really help an owner much in deciding whether this vehicle will make them more environmental. Volvo says that as a rough guide, the plug-in V60 will attain fuel economy about 20 per cent better than the standard diesel model, but that contains some mighty assumptions about usage.

Like the Peugeot 3008 Hybrid 4, the Volvo is pretty standard at the front end, with the transverse 215bhp/324lb ft diesel driving the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. Attached to the engine is a 7kW (continuous) alternator/starter running off a belt drive. Volvo keeps a conventional starter for starting the engine in very cold conditions. At the back of the car is a 70bhp/147lb ft (peak output) electric motor driving the rear wheels and above it a 200-cell, 12kWh LG Chem lithium-ion battery along with cooling pack and current inverter. The hybrid system as a whole adds about 661lb (300kg) to the weight of a standard 4×4 V60 diesel.

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