Latest first drives Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid

Volvo brings us the world’s first diesel-electric plug-in hybrid, based on its recently introduced V60 Sportswagon estate. It won’t arrive here until late 2012 at the earliest, so will it be worth the wait? If the efficiency and performance claims are anything to go by, the answer is definitely yes.

Members can read the full first drive verdict of the new Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybird, including driving impressions and our overall first opinion. Sign up for £1 if you're not a member, and here's a sneak peek at our first drive report.

Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid

The new Volvo V60 is the first diesel plug-in hybrid to go sale

Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid: What’s new?

This may look like an ordinary Volvo V60, but it hides a remarkable secret. Look carefully, and beyond the unusual wheels and D6 boot badge you’ll see the inscription Plug-in Hybrid discretely added to the exterior. This is the world’s first diesel-electric plug-in hybrid, and it claims spectacular economy and emissions in combination with feisty performance.

It’s no pie in the (blue) sky intellectual project, either: the V60 Plug-in Hybrid actually goes into production in November next year. The initial run will be limited to 1,000 highly specified examples, of which the UK will receive just 130. After that, however, it becomes a regular series production model, available in a range of trim levels, built on the same factory line as every other V60.

We’ve been granted rare early access to the car at Volvo’s test track in Gothenburg, Sweden, as well as an insight into the development of what Volvo says will be a world leading car. Despite being based on its very latest model, the Plug-in Hybrid is such a complex affair the engineering process is akin to building a brand new vehicle from scratch.

This is because it effectively has two separate drivetrains that have to work in harmony. Under the bonnet is the familiar 2.4-litre D5 turbodiesel engine, which drives the front wheels in a conventional manner. 

At the back, however, is an ERAD – that’s Electric Rear Axle Drive, an electric motor powering the rear wheels – and under the boot floor a large lithium ion battery pack. This holds enough juice to propel the V60 on electricity alone for up to a claimed 30 miles, and is plugged into the mains to charge. Hence the name.

Brought together, the electric motor and the diesel engine can deliver exceptional mpg or considerable all-wheel drive acceleration.

Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid

Sub-50g/km CO2 emissions and almost 150mpg is being claimed 

Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid: What’s it up against?

There are no direct rivals. Toyota is building a plug-in version of the Prius, but that’s a smaller car and uses a petrol engine, while the only other diesel electric alternative is currently the , but that has a tiny battery range.

Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid: Why buy one?

As with the Chevrolet Volt and Vauxhall Ampera range extenders, the V60 Plug-in Hybrid aims to bridge the gap between the internal combustion engine and the true all-electric car. Volvo’s approach is actually more complex, but therefore also more flexible.

It aims to offer you the Holy Grail of increased performance with massively reduced emissions. There are three driving modes: Pure, Hybrid and Power. It’s no accident they’re laid out in that order, as in addition to the electric-only Pure capability, Volvo claims an astonishing 49g/km CO2 and nearly 150mpg in Hybrid, while Power can deliver 0-62mph in just 6.2 seconds.

If you’re a company car driver Benefit in Kind tax will be just over £80 a month. Annual road tax will be £0. The V60 Plug-in Hybrid is also eligible for the government electric car grant, which should knock £5,000 off the asking price.

Initially it will be aimed at ‘early adopters’ – people who want the very latest technology, regardless of price. There is nothing else quite like it.

Read our tips for buying an estate car.

Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid

Three driving modes let you tailor the electric involvement

Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid: What’s its Achilles’ heel?

The limited early supply means many UK buyers won’t be able to get their hands on one until 2013, which is a shame, and that’s assuming they aren’t put off by the price. We, however, think that’s fair at this point for the kind of car you’re getting.

The batteries and electric motor drive do add nearly 300kg in extra weight, at the wrong end of the car, and slightly compromise the boot space – while charging the thing remains more than the work of a moment. But having the diesel engine as well means there is none of the range anxiety you get with full electric vehicles.

It's a far chunk more expensive than the standard V60, too. In fact, it's more than double the price of the entry-level V60 (before you apply the £5,000 government grant to the hybrid).

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