Bibendum 2011: Volvo V60 PHEV looks ready, but there are high costs to worry about

Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid – Click above for high-res image gallery

The Volvo V60 PHEV was one of the vehicles at the 2011 Michelin Challenge Bibendum in Berlin that no one had been able to drive before, so it was no surprise that the lines were long. Competing with all-electric Porsches and quirky box cars, Volvo managed to make riding in a station wagon a top priority. The reason? This station wagon comes bundled with the company's still-in-development plug-in hybrid (diesel-electric) powertrain, and there are only 15 of these prototypes in existence.

Karl-Johan Ekman ran business and technical development for the V60 Plug-in Hybrid (then moved to another job), and he was on hand to talk about the program before we could get behind the wheel. His time on the project has left him with one obvious conclusion: the price for the V60 plug-in hybrid diesel (not yet announced) will be expensive. We are not surprised to hear this, given what we know about the C30 Electric's sky-high price (and that car only has one powertrain). We'll know the full, wallet-damaging number when we get closer to the V60 PHEV's start of production in November 2012. The first deliveries are scheduled for Europe, and Ekman said other markets could follow.

There's still quite a bit that's not known (or, at least, not being announced) about the V60 Plug-in Hybrid. There is no official mpge rating yet, for example, and it's hard to estimate what your liquid fuel consumption is with a plug-in hybrid, anyway. Still, Volvo drivers did manage to use an average of just 3.9 liters per 100 kilometers (over 60 miles per gallon U.S.) during a 300-kilometer (186-mile) drive conducted just before the Bibendm started. Ekman said that his personal driving style (which would include more frequent charges) would result in around two liters per 100 km (117 mpg, not counting the electricity used). Continue reading...

Bibendum 2011 Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid
Bibendum 2011 Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid
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Photos by Sebastian Blanco / Copyright ©2011 AOL

So, what is known about the V60 PHEV? Volvo announced some details at the Geneva Motor Show this year, including that the diesel engine is a 2.4 liter, 5-cylinder D5 turbo that offers 215 horsepower and maximum torque of 440 Nm. When you add in the 70 hp from the electric motor, you get, in Volvo's words, "215 + 70 horsepower, 440 + 200 Nm of torque" (Ekman explained that you can't just say 285 hp, since the torque curves don't match up), which is enough to move you from 0 to 62 mph in just 6.9 seconds and offer a top speed of 200 km/h (124 mph). The V60 PHEV's all-electric range is "up to 32 miles," which is pretty impressive given the car's 12.3-kWh lithium-ion batty pack from LG Chem. To compare, the Chevy Volt gets around 35 miles from a 16 kWh pack, and that makes the V60 look more efficient. The reality is that each of these cars uses different amounts of energy from the battery. The Volt only uses somewhere between 50 and 60 percent of its pack, while the V60 PHEV uses around 70 percent of its pack's energy. This is because, when it's "empty," the pack drops all the way down to 15 percent and fills up to around 85 percent – we couldn't get Ekman to be very specific about this upper number.

Since, "empty" on the battery's state-of-charge gauge means there is actually 15 percent left in the pack, the diesel engine needs to keep pumping in energy to keep that state of charge. This is done to both keep the battery operating as expected for the life of the vehicle and to provide that bit of extra power to the rear axle when needed. When plugged into the wall, a full charge from "empty" takes 4.5 hours from a 220V/10 amp socket (going to 16 amps brings that down to three hours, while a six-amp outlet will increase charging to 7-8 hours). The battery is temperature-controlled when the car is plugged in. Ekman said that with a plug-in hybrid recharge times don't matter that much, since you can always drive using liquid fuel.

volvo v60 plug-in hybrid

When we finally got to drive the V60 PHEV, we noticed that the engine kicked in when we started the car up because, as Volvo's Robert Eriksson said when we drove with him, the transmission was requesting lubrication. We learned that it will also spring to life if you step hard on the gas pedal. Once you're on the road, you don't really notice the shift from electric to diesel power, just like in the Volt. There are three driving modes: "pure," which is optimized for electric range (and eliminates things like A/C); "hybrid," which is the default and is optimized for overall efficiency; and "power," which emphasizes performance, using diesel fuel and the rear wheel assist from the electric motor to give drivers the oomph they ask for. The steering wheel was calibrated tightly for a race that was a part of Challenge Bibendum, and we liked the feel.

We also liked that there is a lot of coasting ability in the V60 PHEV, just as there is in the C30 Electric. This is not necessarily indicative of what the final vehicle will be like, because Volvo wants drivers to be able to easily match the flow of traffic. In the U.S., Eriksson said, drivers don't like coasting to a stop, "they want to just pump in energy and have the vehicle move. In Europe, it's more convenient with more deceleration. It's very different in different areas." So, even though the V60 is just intended for Europe right now, it's clear that it might have different features in different markets when the sales area expands.

The car is still a year and a half from production, "and we still have some things to do," Eriksson said. The V60s on display in Berlin were mostly there to show off the vehicle's attributes and also to give Volvo a chance to ask people what they want to see from the car when it is put on sale. Eriksson said that the biggest challenge will be to reduce the cost of the powertrain. The company also wants to make sure the PHEV offers the overall value and driving style that its customers want.

All this means that Volvo engineers still have a lot of things they want to tweak, but when you're sitting in the driver's seat on a very short Ride & Drive loop, the V60 Plug-in Hybrid most certailny feels ready today. As much as we liked the car, we're more than happy to wait a bit if it means a more affordable car. No question.

Bibendum 2011 Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid
Bibendum 2011 Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid
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Our travel and lodging for this media event were provided by Michelin.

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