Volvo XC60 plug-in hybrid ticks a lot of boxes - except price

Good range, quick charge, T8 bridges gap between diesel past and electric future

Make: Volvo

Model: XC60

Year: 2017

Fuel: Hybrid

Date Reviewed: October 24, 2017

Wed, Nov 1, 2017, 06:04

   

They say that diesel is dead. At least that’s the advertising message from one leading car firm these days. Well in the near future the same could potentially be said of old-fashioned hybrids. If the future is electric, then in the shorter term the future is plug-in hybrid. This format serves not only to allow motorists drive up to 50k in full electric mode, but it also bridges the gap between the past and the future of motoring.

With plug-in hybrids, motorists get to experience full electric motoring, get used to plugging in their car every evening, and yet don’t suffer from the biggest bugbear of electric car ownership: range anxiety.

The Government is slowly but surely getting to grips with its electric vehicle strategy, at least for the fully-fledged electric vehicles (EV). What is needed now is a further expansion of the charging network and some clear-minded thinking from the local authorities.

Charging points

First up we need more charging points. Alongside the current public points, there was a suggestion at a recent event I attended in London for the roll out of plug-in chargers attached to lamp-posts. These would not only make many on-street parking spots potential places for recharging electric cars, they would also serve as a revenue generator for the authorities. When a car is fully charged, at that stage a parking charge can kick in to encourage owners to move on and free up the slot for another EV.

Separately, we need incentives like the removal of certain tolls for EVs for a set period.

All of these measures will encourage Irish motorists to seriously consider making the move to electric. However, the issue of range anxiety cannot be ignored. Away from the leafy suburbs of our large cities, many motorists need a vehicle that can go for 500km or more and can be refuelled or recharged in a matter of minutes, not hours. Electric vehicle ownership also requires a significant shift in many motorists’ routines. You need to get into the habit of plugging in regularly when you get home.

This is where the plug-in hybrid is the perfect bridge between the old world and the new. Serving that function at Volvo is the T8 version, in this case fitted to the new Volvo XC60. Volvo earlier introduced the plug-in hybrid format to other models, but the problem has always been that it adds to the price. In the case of the new XC60, it’s a margin of between €7,300 and €11,190 over the equivalent diesel depending on the specification level you choose and whether you are a business buyer or a private customer.

That’s a hefty price increase to move from diesel to a plug-in hybrid. True, Volvo throws in a few bells and whistles to soften the blow, but the XC60 is well-equipped at entry level Momentum grade so the likes of a glass crystal gear knob isn’t going to cut it. So what do you get for the extra money?

Well, you get speed. As anyone who has ever driven an electric car realises the moment they kick down on the throttle, acceleration is largely immediate. This big Volvo rockets up the road with a 0-100km/h time of 5.3 seconds compared to the 8.4 seconds of its diesel counterpart.

Running costs

You also get some savings in terms of running costs. For a start the motor tax is €170, saving you €100 a year. And with a 10.4kw battery, it takes just over three hours to charge on a regular 3kw/h e-car home charger fitted by the ESB. Depending on your electricity supplier the costs per kw/h range from 13.4 cent to 17 cent. So the most it is likely to cost to fill the Volvo’s battery is €2 or so. That gets you 35kms on full electric power.

On the equivalent XC60 D4 diesel you get 5.2l/100km, so at €1.22 a litre that distance could cost €2.70. So you save up to a euro every night by plugging in for a few hours. A facile calculation suggests it would take 20 years to make back the extra €7,300 outlay over the diesel.

However the devil is in the detail and Volvo claims an official fuel consumption figure of 2.1 l/100km (134.5mpg) for the T8 version compared to the 5.2l/100km (54.3mpg) for the D4 diesel. That’s a more significant saving if it can be achieved. Still it’s going to take you several years to make back that extra spend even at these official figures.

So the financial savings are not as clear cut a some might think. Even if you stick to electric power, commuting on school runs and recharging every night, you are likely to need to call upon the 2-litre petrol engine for support if you do over 12,775kms a year.

In principle the T8 version of the Volvo XC60 offers a window to the future and great power to boot. For suburban families eager to experience electric ownership, but also have the back-up of a traditional petrol-electric hybrid format when they need to do longer trips, then the car probably does make sense. In terms of costs, however, it’s not going to deliver the sort of big savings that some might expect.

Given that it’s got both a sizeable lithium-ion battery and an engine to haul around, the T8 is understandably heavier by 200kgs than the diesel. That’s like having two rugby players in the boot everywhere you go.

As with the regular version, there is very little to fault in terms of the finish and refinement of the new XC60, and it delivers much better handling than either the larger XC90 or the S90. And in this advent of the electric age, it would have been the perfect time to deliver a plug-in hybrid at the right price. Unfortunately, starting at €62,450 for a private buyer after grants, it’s too high to justify the outlay on an accountancy basis. If you do buy, it’s going to be down to your environmental conscience or sheer curiosity. Alternatively, when the price does come down it may well make a great used car buy.

Verdict: A bridge to the future but the added cost hinders economic argument