From mid-morning to mid-afternoon, the new Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid was standing outside our house alongside our living-room windows. A 14-metre canary yellow cable snaked from the charging point in the car’s front nearside wing, through a half-closed window and down to a standard 13-amp socket. Nobody else was in the house that day so nobody was grumbling about the Arctic draught streaming in over the windowsill.
By 3.30pm, the flashing emerald light on the charging point had steadied to a constant beam, indicating that the lithium-ion battery was full. After supper, I decided to use the V60 solely on battery power to drive our older daughter to an evening class in our nearby town and then on to the supermarket in the outlying trading estate. I would collect her and drive her home after her lesson. The total distance of this round-trip was 10.6 miles. The roads are all semi-urban. I did not exceed the speed limits.
When we left, the battery indicator was showing 24 miles as the distance the car could run on electricity alone. When we got home, only eight miles’ charge was left.
Eh? The Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid is supposed to go 31 miles on a fully-charged battery. Yet it was good for little more than half that distance that evening. What went wrong?
We used it like a normal car. That was our mistake. The night was searingly cold so – as you would – I switched on the glass heaters for a while to clear the windows. We turned up the air-conditioning and switched on the seat heaters. I was listening to the radio and my daughter was reading by the beam of an interior spotlight.
That will do it. Just adding those extra demands to the system is more than enough to flatten an electric car’s theoretical running distance.
This is a deep disappointment. On the face of it, the world’s first diesel plug-in hybrid would happily suit this household. If we could charge the V60 overnight from our domestic supply, my wife could take advantage of its ostensible 10p per mile cost and use it on pure electric power for her daily commute, which is nearly 20 miles each way. Her employers certainly wouldn’t mind if she topped up the battery from their electricity during the working day.
But if this car’s true range is only about 18 miles on electric power, my wife could never depend on getting to work before the 2.5-litre engine took over from the 70bhp electric motor. After work, she could never detour to shops or to visit a friend without using some diesel fuel for the full journey – which might make anybody wonder why they had spent more than £50,000 for a hybrid when they could get an excellent and highly efficient diesel-powered V60 for about half the price?
The general public has evidently asked this question and made these same calculations. Recently published figures show that electric and hybrid cars constitute less than three per cent of sales in the UK and take-up remains little higher now than 10 years ago.
Local authorities may fancy swanking their green credentials with electric vehicles for their fleets. But private customers are generally keeping their money securely in their pockets.
Volvo must be in despair. Like many of the manufacturers that have been dragooned by governments into bringing out electric and hybrid cars, they have produced a fabulous piece of work with the V60 Plug-In Hybrid. The V60 is already one of the best cars in its class but this all-wheel-drive version combines rapturous build quality with performance and driving dynamics to rival a Jaguar XF.
It is a grievous and undeserved misfortune for Volvo that so few people will buy it.
Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid
Price: £48,775 excluding £5,000 government plug-in subsidy (£43,775 net)
Price as tested: £50,625