A plug-in hybrid joins the Volvo saloon range, making for a more tax-efficient fleet alternative to the high-powered petrol. But at a price…
On the road
On the road
Volvo is certainly a manufacturer that can’t be accused of following the crowd. From its early lead on seatbelts and an all-round focus on safety, the Swedish brand has carved its own path.
But launching a compact executive saloon without a diesel engine is still a bold step, given the way sales of rival diesels, such as the BMW 320d, dominate their respective ranges.
Such a move came about, to some extent, through circumstance rather than design, because the S60’s estate sibling, the V60, comes with three diesel power options, so it’s not like no suitable engine was available. However, the S60 is built at Volvo’s new plant in America, where they don’t buy diesels, but do buy more S60s than are sold over here, so the Chinese-owned company took the decision not to add an oil-burner to the range as part of its pledge to phase out diesel in exchange for electrification.
Which is how we get to the S60 T8. When the S60 launched in early summer of this year, it came only with a 250hp petrol engine, which at 152g/km offers emissions prohibitive to most company car drivers. But now Volvo has moved the S60 firmly into company car focus, from a CO2 point of view at least, with the arrival of the plug-in hybrid T8 models, which have also landed in the V60 estate.
1. Interior quality and seat comfort remain Volvo strong points, and the S60 provides yet more evidence of this, along with appealing, distinctive style.
2. The infotainment screen looks good, but there are a few little foibles lurking in the system’s usability.
3. One practicality issue no plug-in car will escape is the drag of having to pack away wet charging leads. The charge point being at the car’s front-left corner also means parking nose-in.
The PHEV puts the S60 under 50g/km, which brings some hefty company car Benefit-in-Kind taxation and company National Insurance benefits, as well as the running cost efficiency of electric over petrol for shorter journeys. The official range figure sits at more than 30 miles, which puts the car in the pleasantly low 12% BiK band for 2020/21, dropping from 16% this year, and we found that with a degree of gentle finessing, at least 25 miles is a realistic real-world expectation from the battery, before the need to deploy the 303hp 2.0-litre petrol engine.
Volvo has headed down a different path from competitor plug-in hybrid models, which isn’t a surprise for the brand. So, the S60 T8 is a more powerful but much more expensive model than the likes of the BMW 330e, Mercedes-Benz C300de and Volkswagen Passat GTE that form the core competition from a PHEV perspective. The T8 produces 390hp in regular R-Design Plus specification, or there is an uprated Polestar Engineered model that increases it to 405hp, taking 0.2 seconds off an already absurd 4.6-second 0-62mph acceleration time. Even this R-Design Plus spec is a full second quicker than the 306hp Mercedes C-Class PHEV over the sprint, while the new BMW 330e and Volkswagen Passat GTE are a further 0.3 and 1.8 seconds back with 292hp and 218hp respectively.
But, and here’s the pay-off, that phenomenal performance figure doesn’t come cheap. The entry P11D price for the S60 PHEV is an equally phenomenal £49,750, which puts it a shade under £10,000 clear of the 330e, and more than £5000 in front of the C-class diesel plug-in. Which makes it a car that will only really be available to senior executives. The S60’s Polestar Engineered trim level is another £6300 up the road.
The new S60 is a significant 126mm longer than its predecessor, which becomes very apparent when you sit in the rear seats, where there is significantly more space than is offered by most of the compact-executive competition.
The cabin is a high-quality place to be and at least befitting of a £50,000 saloon, with the only minor criticism being a shortage of stowage space. There’s a shallow under-arm storage area and two cupholders, but it’s lacking anywhere else to drop stuff in the centre of the car.
Still, comfort, material quality and design are all top notch. The 9.0-inch infotainment screen dominates the centre of the car, and although it looks good, the usability isn’t all it could be, with function such as navigation entry requiring a couple more clicks than is entirely necessary. Little frustrations also present themselves when the £300 optional Apple CarPlay is active – which in itself is a steep price when less premium brands can offer it free of charge. If using the car’s navigation system when a phone is plugged in, an incoming message will take the driver out of the sat-nav screen, after which you have to manually press to get back to where you were, which is a bit of an oversight. The system also takes slightly longer than is ideal to boot up, and it will be interesting to see how the new Android-based infotainment that Volvo is introducing with the electric XC40 will change things.
Another shame is that the dashboard display doesn’t make more of the plug-in hybrid powertrain; it would be good if there was more of a visual display of what’s going on and how efficiently the car is being driven, as is the case with other brands. There is a more detailed journey analysis available on the centre screen, but even average fuel economy has to be called up on a menu rather than being visible all the time.
Boot space also drops for the plug-in hybrid versus the petrol S60, with the batteries taking out 52 litres of boot space, although the 352-litre figure is still reasonable, and the fuel tank is the same size on both cars, rather than being reduced in the plug-in, as it is on some rival PHEVs
The performance figures mentioned earlier mean the S60 T8 is obviously rather rapid in a straight line, although it shouldn’t be mistaken for a performance model in terms of chassis and handling, where comfort has been prioritised effectively over sportiness. Which is fine, and works well in making the S60 a comfortable cruiser with huge amounts of acceleration punch. The powertrain has regular Drive and Brake modes, the latter increasing energy regeneration under deceleration to top up the battery, which some rivals don’t offer, although this could still be a more severe braking sensation. It is at least easy to drive the plug-in model on battery only, with the dash display showing how hard the accelerator can be pushed before requesting enough power for the engine to kick in to help out.
The S60 hasn’t historically been the most popular Volvo, competing as it does against such a high-profile established marketplace in the form of the Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz trio. That means the brand can get away without a diesel, although despite the company line that Volvo is moving away from the fuel, privately execs admit that it would have been useful in this segment. Still, worldwide considerations overrode UK and European market desires because the potential volumes don’t go high enough to justify it.
But what that has done is marginalise the car, even against its diesel-clad V60 estate sibling. The S60 T8 is an excellent and very tax-efficient choice, but the performance, lovely though it is, isn’t entirely necessary in this car and pushes it too high against more cost-efficient rivals that are also appealing and tax-efficient plug-in hybrids.
A £40,000 PHEV with at least 100hp less horsepower would have been perfectly acceptable to drive and much more palatable financially, and it’s a shame that an excellent car has been priced out of the reach of more drivers.
Volvo is at the forefront of moves to electrification, and recently became the first mainstream manufacturer to offer plug-in versions of each of its models with the unveiling of the XC40 PHEV.
The SUV will be launched early next year to complete the full house of PHEV versions across XC40, XC60 and XC90 SUVs, and the saloon and estate S/V60 and S/V90 models. Volvo will supplement that in around 12 months’ time with the arrival of its first electric model, the XC40 Recharge (pictured), which introduces the branding that will be rolled out across all the company’s plug-in models – both fully electric and plug-in hybrid.
Between Volvo and its premium Polestar sub-brand, the company has said that it will launch a new electric car every year for five years.
In addition, Volvo has declared that it expects half of its annual sales worldwide to be full-electric cars by the middle of the next decade, with the rest deploying some degree of hybrid technology alongside an internal-combustion engine. Other sustainability moves include the brand aiming to use 25% recycled plastics in its cars from 2025 and imposing a 112mph speed limiter on all its new cars from next year.
What they said
What They Said
“The petrol-electric plug-in hybrid system of the new S60 is proving efficient and potent."
“Despite delivering an impressive 390hp and being capable of 0-62mph in only 4.6 seconds, it has official fuel economy figures of up to 176.5mpg and CO2 emissions from just 39g/km. This supports low BIK rates, with tax bills of only £265 a month for a higher-rate taxpayer"
“A combination of impressive comfort, driving engagement and equipment, blended with Volvo’s superb safety kit, make it a company car that is fully aligned to an executive’s priorities.”
Steve Beattie, head of business sales, Volvo Car UK
Need to know
Three things we like...
The front seats are another Volvo triumph for comfort
The stubby gearlever is unobtrusive and punches nicely between functions
Rear space is good for the sector, especially in terms of legroom
...And one we don't
The dash could give more efficiency detail more prominently, given it’s in a PHEV
The S60 T8 is smooth and very rapid, but despite the power its handling set-up stops it from feeling like a sporting machine.
Sub-50g/km is the important number at this stage, so the tax efficiency is certainly there.
A decent boot size, even if it does lose more than 50 litres on the non-PHEV S60. Rear passenger space is good for the sector.
Decent kit levels given the high list price, although there are still some omissions, such as Apple CarPlay.
The S60 is the latest good-looking Volvo, taking on the styling cues already seen across the range.
Comfort and refinement 8/10
The ride quality is fairly cosseting, although it doesn’t absorb all the ridges and cracks in the road. Seat comfort is typically excellent, and refinement impresses.
It’s a touch lacking in stowage space, but everything is top-quality and elegantly laid out.
The large touchscreen looks good, but some of the functionality isn’t the most logical and sometimes needs one more button press than was entirely necessary.
Whole life costs 7/10
There’s not much in it between petrol and PHEV S60 models, but that high list price handicaps the T8 against some very capable premium rivals. Insurance cost is also surprisingly high.
CCT opinion 9/10
A classy and tax-efficient car, but one that will appeal in minority circles compared to some other PHEVs due to the high list price.
Volvo’s moves to a plug-in hybrid version of each model in its range continues, and the S60 delivers PHEV efficiency in a high-quality but high-price package.