Volvo hybrid builds bridge to a fast-tracked EV future
Peter Atkinson |
The world market for electric cars is growing before our eyes. And much, much more quickly than we had imagined.
Having swept all before it with its electric-powered baby SUV, the snappy-looking XC40, Volvo has hit the fast-forward button on its EV strategy.
Volvo made a worldwide pledge that it would be solely building and selling electric vehicles by 2030 at the latest, but it has now wound forward the clock.
It has upped the ante – and the production line – to support an even more ambitious goal, that by 2026 the only vehicles in Volvo showrooms will be emissions free.
But you might wonder how it plans to make the jump so quickly.
The answer may, in part, lie with cars such as this one – the Volvo XC60 Ultimate B5 Bright.
That might sound like an odd name and to be fair, for a maker so devoted to its Skandi styling and minimalist interiors, this new model’s name, at least, seems to be quite a mouthful.
It’s also in stark contrast to Volvo’s electric brand Polestar, which is as plain as the XC60 is complicated in the name game.
That brand was launched, oddly enough, as the Polestar 1, followed logically by the Polestar 2 which has been a strong seller in markets including Australia. Thus encouraged, Polestar will add the SUV-styled Polestar 3 early in 2024.
So, where does the XC60 fit?
Well, with its part-petrol, part-electric hybrid powerplant, it’s building a bridge to the future for those buyers who aren’t quite ready to jump the gun on an EV.
And with its sleek silhouette, plush interior and spirited performance, this classy mid-size luxury SUV will be ready to hand over the baton to all of those promised electric machines in a couple of years.
While the baby XC40, its coupe sibling the C40 and soon-to-arrive, electric-only EX30 and flagship EX90, the electric chargers are about to be kept very busy.
The XC60 will fill in some of those gaps – particularly now that it boasts a partially electric capability by virtue of its 48-volt, “mild hybrid” to boost its main petrol engine.
It also adds improved efficiency and performance to an already accomplished vehicle.
Tested was the $80,000 volume seller of the impressive XC60 range – the cumbersomely named XC60 Ultimate B5 Bright.
The nomenclature replaces the spunky R-Design models, swapping sportier looks and performance in a three-model range offering the choice of Bright, Dark and, yes, Dusk
Suffice to say the “B5” designation relates to the 48-volt mild hybrid engine, with the colour shades marrying to models with different trim levels.
Fortunately it’s not nearly as complicated as it sounds.
There are now core models – Bright and Dark – the former keeping the same exterior styling as the basic Core model, while Dark brings a few more trinkets to sweeten the deal.
There’s also a paint choice called Bright Dusk, also known as Jupiter.
All you really need to know is the B5 version has surprising punch, delivering 183kW and 390Nm from its 2-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine, driving through an eight-speed transmission and constant all-wheel-drive.
That means impressive acceleration response (100km/h in 6.9 seconds), thanks to the mild hybrid system which harvests energy from the brakes and the internal combustion engine, using that boost to do most of the work at low speeds around town.
All good so far, although the engine note intrudes into the plush, stylish cabin a little more than we’re used to from the Swedes.
The XC60 also has some familiar interior features, most notably the vertically-hung, iPad-sized centre touch screen which remains attractive and easy to use, even if it is on the verge of slipping behind class leaders in this segment.
Graphics are vivid, enhanced by the ability to replicate its satellite navigation onto the instrument panel which offers a range of configurations.
Dynamically the XC60 continues a theme we have come to know well with Volvo – balanced, sturdy and unflustered in most situations.
That legendary commitment to safety remains, happily without the frumpy bits that were always part of the package.
Another Volvo trait – gloriously comfortable seats – are still in evidence here.
The XC60 has been making an impressive mark Down Under since it arrived in 2008, superceded in 2017 by this model, which has just benefited by a comprehensive facelift.
Its retail price of $79,990 is enticing in a field that includes BMW’s X3 ($111,000), the segment-leading Mercedes GLC ($99,600) and Range Rover Evoque ($104,000).
The test machine benefited from extras, including Bowers and Wilkins audio, sunroof and Nappa leather – for an as-tested price of $92,100.
VOLVO XC60 ULTIMATE B5 BRIGHT
Spacious and comfortable for four adults, plus a child in a pinch. Front-rear leg room is impressive.
While its fully-electric successor will be considerably quicker, the XC feels quite effortless in reaching the speed limit in 6.9 seconds.
Official thrust of 7.6L/100km is reasonable if not a stand-out
Base cost for this model is $79,990. The test machine added a $6100 Lifestyle Pack including sunroof, premium Bowers and Wilkins sound and Nappa leather trim pushed the ask up to $92,190 – still competitive in this segment.AAP