2014 Volvo V60 D6 Plug-in Hybrid Review

Advantages: The Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid has a breadth of ability that is staggering, able to operate as a pure electric vehicle on shorter runs yet maraud up the outside lane of motorways at speed and in comfort. Real-world economy gains are there for the taking.

Disadvantages: Technology ahead of the curve is always expensive, but the Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid's list price of £48,170 is prohibitively so. The car's electric range also suffers in cold weather and at higher speeds, and the heavy battery pack impacts on overall fuel economy.

If you're not familiar with the advantages of plug-in hybrids then the 2014 Volvo V60 D6 Plug-in Hybrid is an excellent introduction to the breed. Like the conventional Volvo V60 D5 that sits below it in the range, the V60 Plug-in Hybrid comes with a powerful but frugal 215hp diesel engine and will happily perform much like a normal Volvo estate. However, it also has a battery pack and electric motor similar to the hardware found in a pure electric car, and so can also travel in smooth emissions-free silence. It is a split personality car and the first of its kind.

The giveaway is the fuel flap just behind the front wheel, but this is no Porsche. Behind that flap  sits the V60 Plug-in Hybrid's charge port and, once plugged into a 230V outlet in your garage, it will charge the car's battery in around 4 hours, giving a maximum of 31 miles electric range. How that useful (but worryingly finite) amount of electric range is deployed will depend on which of the Volvo's three driving modes – 'Pure', 'Hybrid' or 'Power' – the driver selects.

The V60 starts up in Hybrid mode, blending power from the engine and the electric motor to achieve maximum efficiency. Drive sensibly and much of the time the car will often slip into electric mode (remembering that plug-in hybrid have a far, far larger battery than plugless hybrids). Then, at higher speeds, where the diesel engine expends little energy in comparison to the electric motor's increasingly frantic revs, the combustion engine seamlessly cuts in. The engine will, however, hum into life at lower speeds if your right foot requests more power than the 70hp electric motor can provide.

Short journeys in Hybrid mode can return fuel economy in excess of 100mpg, although as mileage grows, and the car increasingly relies on power from the engine rather than ever-emptying battery pack, fuel economy drops quite suddenly. Eventually the electronic hardware that makes the V60 Plug-in Hybrid so frugal during short journeys become detrimental, weighing the car down to the tune of more than 250kg. The V60 manages 155.2mpg on the European combined cycle, but even Volvo admits this is wildly optimistic in real world conditions, where economy depends on the state of battery charge, distance, and driving style. Using the engine alone, we achieved roughly 32mpg in built up areas and around 40mpg on the open road.

Pure mode and Power mode highlight the breadth of ability the V60 Plug-in Hybrid has. In the former the car will do everything it can to use only electricity to power the (rear) wheels, while the later combines maximum power from the engine and electric motor to channel nearly 300hp through all four wheels. Despite the car's kerb weight of 2,000+kg, in Power mode this Volvo estate would show a Golf GTI clean heels. At the flick of a switch the same car will glide from Kings Cross to Windsor Castle in near-silence.

Well, it will glide from Kings Cross to Windsor Castle on a summers day, that is. The Volvo's battery suffers slightly in cold weather and sustaining speeds above 50mph is energy intensive. In temperatures just above freezing on an undulating British A road, travelling at between 45mph and 60mph, we managed 20 miles in Pure mode. Had the weather be warmer and speeds slightly lower – a more urban 30mph to 40mph, perhaps – we've no doubt that close to 30 miles would have been achievable. It goes to show, however, that claimed electric range and real world electric range should be viewed with a similar level of cynicism as official fuel economy ratings.

The list price may be high but the V60 Plug-in Hybrid does come with just about every optional extra Volvo that can throw at it as standard. That means full leather, adaptive xenon headlights, park assist, Volvo's High Performance Multimedia system, electric seats, a DAB radio, and rain sensing windscreen wipers to name but a handful. Certain desirable options such as Volvo's excellent blind spot warning system (£500), its mildly irritating but undoubtedly useful lane departure warning (£700) and metallic paint (£625) will have to specced, however.

Can we recommend the Volvo V60 D6 Plug-in Hybrid? Yes, but only if one's lifestyle tallies with the car's technology. Those who generally undertake short journeys and have a commute of fewer than 25 miles – and particularly those with the option of charging at work – will benefit from the car's electric range and save a fortune in fuel costs during the week. Being a practical, safe and fast Volvo estate at heart, however, the V60 Plug-in Hybrid also manages long motorway runs with ease, but over the course of 200 miles it won't be as efficient as the D5, and that's the crux of it. Big mileage is best left to conventional diesel variants.

The Volvo V60 D6 Plug-in Hybrid is a very interesting and impressive car, not least because it demonstrates that even at this embryonic stage drivetrain electrification can have significant benefits for the environment and drivers' wallets. That the big Volvo can seat five, take large amounts of luggage and is one of the safest cars ever built is some boon.

Comfort                    4 stars

Style                         4 stars

Handling                  4 stars

Depreciation            3 stars

Economy                   5 stars

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