24.9.2019Volvo S60 T8 Twin Engine first drive
Volvo's compact executive saloon was launched with a T5 petrol engine, but now it arrives on UK shores in T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid specification. A combination of Volvo's electrification plans and the policy to never release a diesel unit in the S60 saloon means the PHEV is an important model, particularly for company car drivers. NGC has driven the new S60 T8 as part of Volvo's electrified range review to see how it gets on.
Review by Chris Lilly
The T8 is the first of two plug-in hybrids due in the S60 range, with another, lower-powered set-up due further down the line. Until then, buyers can either pick the punchy T5 petrol engine, or even more potent T8. The latter uses the same 2.0 litre petrol engine as found in the T5 and a much of the rest of the Volvo range - this time tuned to 303 hp, and adds a 65 kW electric powertrain to the mix. The result is a maximum combined rating of 392 hp, with 640 Nm of torque on tap. These statistics are good for a 0-62 mph time of just 4.6 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph. It's quick then, plenty quick enough for most drivers anyway, and the good news is it works well in real-world driving. The electric powertrain picks up instantly, filling in the torque gap at low revs you get with any internal combustion engine. Working together, the engine and motor can really pull the S60 hard, and although not pitched as a performance model - a Polestar Engineered model is still to come - the S60 T8 is seriously quick. It's enjoyable to drive when you want to work the car hard, but it can prove relaxing too. The hybrid system means you can either potter about on electric only, without troubling the engine at all. This is ideal for a great many trips drivers make, and the electric motor is ideally suited to urban driving. On the open road - be it country roads or motorways - the engine will either work with the motor or take over entirely. It's relatively refined at speed, thanks in part to an eight-speed automatic gearbox, and will comfortably stretch its legs over a long journey. The T8 is a remarkably flexible powertrain then, providing performance and refinement in equal measure.
The S60 in R-Design specification is a fine handling car, and one of my favourite in the class. There are rivals that are sharper or more comfortable, but the Volvo offers a great balance between the two set-ups that only Jaguar can challenge really. As such, I climbed aboard the S60 knowing roughly what to expect, and can happily report that the additional weight from the battery and electric motor hasn't blunted the handling. It's a car than can be threaded down a winding road or through traffic with equal confidence. Put on a track, I'm sure there are faster cars in its class, but the S60 performs beautifully on the road, and rewards just about any type of driver. The ride could be a little harsh for some, but I prefer a car with a fairly stiff set of springs for improved control. It's got plenty of grip, both round corners and in a straight line, the latter assisted by the all-wheel drive set-up provided by the PHEV powertrain.
If the handling is well balanced and competes well against rival efforts, I'd go further with the S60's design and say it's the best looking car in its class. Volvo has a great looking range of models, and the S/V60 models may just be my favourites. It's a shape that translates well in terms of practicality too, with plenty of space inside for most. The car's battery is placed in the transmission tunnel, meaning there's only a small drop in boot space. As such, the S60's load area isn't best in class, but it's still more than practical enough for most drivers; and if you're that worried about the boot, there is always the identically enginned V60-T8 estate to go for. Rear space is good for passengers, though foot space can get tight for anyone sitting behind a driver that likes the seat on the floor (guilty as charged). Head, knee, and shoulder room are good however, and those up front have a good time of everything.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
The S60's cabin continues Volvo's excellent work on the rest of the range and is absolutely lovely. It's designed very much in Volvo's Scandinavian style, with a clean look to everything. There are a few physical audio buttons on the centre console, but most controls are set within the portrait touchscreen system. It's easy to use and intuitive to learn where everything is, and although actual buttons are safer to use on the move, the Volvo system is one of the better touchscreen set-ups around. The only other controls are on the steering wheel, the gear select paddles, indicator/windscreen stalks, or the drive mode selector on the transmission tunnel. Everything feels well made and good to use, with the paddles a particularly good example of their kind - not Alfa Romeo Giulia good, but nice to look at and use. Away from the controls, the seats are extremely comfortable and supportive - a traditional Volvo strength. The R-Design pews have additional bolstering on the sides, which hug you more than non-R-Design models, but I prefer the seats tested on the whole.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
One of a PHEV's strengths needs to be its fuel economy and running costs, and here the S60 scores highly. With official figures of 39 g/km CO2 and 148.7 MPG, the S60 T8 can significantly reduce fuel and tax costs for many. Combined with the CO2 figure, the S60's electric-only driving range of 32 miles means it will qualify for 16% BIK this year and then 12% for the following two financial years. Switching from a conventional diesel model could more than halve your BIK costs. In terms of real-world range and fuel economy, with this first drive we didn't have the chance to really push either figure. As with all PHEVs, the best figures come when you drive on electric-mode as much as possible, meaning fuel economy could range from the mid-30s (almost always petrol) to an infinite MPG (always on electric), depending on usage. We'll loo to better test the economy statistics at a later date with a full review.
As the first plug-in car in the S60 range, the T8 is comfortably the greenest option around. The electric-only driving range of more than 30 miles on a charge - as well as low CO2 and high fuel economy figures - means this Volvo is one of the compact executive saloon's best green options. Aiding this is the brake energy recuperation system, which helps top up the battery when slowing down, and the charging capabilities of up to 3.6 kW AC. The car's battery is 11.6 kWh, and is recharged via the Type 2 inlet on the car's near-side front flank. According to our calculations, the model tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 33.
The trim line-up is relatively limited at the moment for the S60, but it will expand in time. The S60 features the 9-inch Sensus touchscreen system including navigation, apps, DAB radio, Bluetooth, and USB connectivity. There's also climate control, handsfree boot opening, cruise control, a 12.3-inch driver's display, parking sensors front and rear, and a comprehensive suite of safety systems. These are fitted to every S60, with the R-Design Plus driven adding 19-inch alloys, a 4.5 metre charging cable, metallic paint, heated steering wheel and wiper blades, Harmon Kardon stereo, 360-degree view and park assist, opening panoramic sunroof, and smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay / Android Auto.
Volvo's S60 T8 Twin Engine is a curious model. It's highly-powered, but not a performance model. A bit of a sleeper car, the plug-in S60 T8 will get you places extremely rapidly when you want it to, but will comfortably drive about at a more sedate pace too. It's powertrain can offer significant cost savings for a great number of drivers, who would also be getting a stylish saloon with a first class interior, reasonable practicality, and a driving experience that competes well in its class.
Model tested: Volvo S60 T8 Twin Engine R-Design Plus
Body-style: Compact executive saloon
Engine / CO2: 2.0 litre petrol engine and electric motor / 39 g/km
On-road price: from £49,805. Price as tested: £55,855
Warranty: Three year / 60,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.0 Stars