Landmark hybrid Volvo S60 points to future - and it's fast
VOLVO knows which way the global motoring current is flowing and the company renowned for safety is now looking to safeguard its future with electrified vehicles.
Full battery electric cars will start arriving from next year in the shape of the XC40 compact SUV but, for now, the S60 sedan spearheads the company's move to petrol-electric hybrids over diesel engines.
Diesel Volvos aren't disappearing just yet but the company isn't investing in any future development, citing falling global sales for pivoting away from oil burners.
That makes the S60 a landmark car. The midsize sedan is almost a year away from going on sale in Australia and Volvo spokesman Greg Bosnich says it will be a key vehicle, although it won't sell in huge numbers.
"The S60 will be an important car for us purely because it competes against other benchmark vehicles," Bosnich says. "We've always led the way on safety and this car can more than hold its own on looks, handling and performance."
The international launch was in Santa Monica, renowned for bronzed bodies flexing their physiques on the beachside gym equipment. The S60 was in its element, drawing covetous looks from drivers of German-badged cars and inevitable "how does it go?" queries.
The answer is "really quickly". The top-spec S60 T8 Polestar Engineered variant adds a lithium-ion battery and 65kW/240Nm electric motor to power the rear wheels. Its 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder sends 233kW/430Nm the front axle.
The combination delivers performance to match an Audi S5, clocking 4.7 seconds for the 0-100km/h trip - yet, with more conservative driving, Volvo says the S60 can cover up to 45km on the electricity stored in the 10.4kW/h battery, ample for the typical daily commute
Volvo Australia has yet to decide which S60s it will take but the entry grade is expected to be the T5 with 2.0-litre turbo (184kW/350Nm) and front-wheel drive.
The all-wheel drive T6 - probably in R-Design guise with a 12mm lower chassis, leather and cloth seat trim and a bespoke grille and twin tailpipes - uses a 228kW/400Nm supercharged and turbocharged 2.0 to drive all four wheels.
The Polestar-tweaked T8 is expected to top the local range and, beyond the hybrid set-up, adds Brembo brakes with gold-painted calipers, yellow seat belts and Ohlins dampers with manually adjustable rebound via a set of dials under the bonnet. All versions use an eight-speed automatic.
Brake energy recuperation is used to recharge the T8 when driving, though try as we might we couldn't get the battery to go beyond three-quarter charge.
The alternatives: it can be plugged into a domestic power point and will recharge in about four hours, or owners can defeat the purpose of buying the car and use the engine to recharge the battery.
The T8's thirst is rated at 2.1L-2.5L/100km according to the new and more realistic standard, known as WLTP. Drain the battery and drive it hard and that will blow out to a still-respectable 10L/100km.
ON THE ROAD
Twist the square "dial" mounted below the transmission lever and the T8 whispers into life.
The hybrid drive mode is the default setting and proceeds under electric power until the accelerator is depressed beyond the halfway mark, at which point the engine kicks in. Switch to Pure mode and it's an electric-only affair.
The AWD mode is intended to help on low-grip surfaces such as snow and ice.
The electric steering is accurate but quite light in the default mode and lacks feedback. Switching to a sportier setting adds heft without delivering much appreciation of what the front tyres are doing.
The test cars were pre-production examples and Volvo says it is still calibrating the interaction between regenerative and mechanical braking on the T8, which can feel grabby as pedal pressure starts to engage the Brembos. Once activated, they're great but the transition takes some modulating.
The T8 is deceptively quick, largely because there's not a lot of aural theatre to accompany the acceleration. The T6 isn't far behind and sounds marginally sportier as you tap into performance that propels it from rest to
100km/h in 5.6 seconds.
It tackles turns as well, if not better than the T8, largely due to not having to carry around 200kg of batteries and motor. Both cars still hook in, not just by Volvo standards, but in comparison to the prestige opposition.
Suspension on both versions is firm, as expected in a sporty European sedan, without being harsh - at least on relatively smooth surfaces.