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Latest report: Volvo XC60 Recharge long-term test

Date: 05 August 2021   |   Author: Simon Harris

The petrol engine and electric motor work together in harmony in our XC60.
Volvo XC60 Recharge T6 AWD Inscription
P11D price: £55,145
As tested: £62,350 OTR
Official consumption: 113mpg
Our average consumption: 49.5mpg
Mileage: 4,760

5th Report: A tale of two motors

The vast majority of SUVs sold in the UK do not have four-wheel drive. Similar research 20 years ago would have found the opposite.

The proliferation of SUVs, large and small, along with most drivers having no real need for four-wheel drive, has meant most small and medium SUVs have two-wheel drive.

A couple of years ago, we had a Volvo XC60 diesel on test, which was one of the few SUVs of its size to be offered with a two-wheel drive variant.

If the driver has no real need to go off road, the benefit in having two wheel drive is a (usually small) reduction in CO2 emissions from a modest weight saving and the lack of friction losses compared with an all-wheel drive version.

Our Recharge T6 XC60's engine still only drives the front wheels, but the electric motor drives the rear wheels.

When pure electric mode is selected, the Volvo is rear-wheel drive, as the engine is in stand-by mode should it be needed to provide a sudden burst of acceleration. The electric motor can only muster 87hp, which is fine when you're not in a hurry, as well as perfectly adequate around town.

When hybrid mode is selected, if there is sufficient charge in the battery, the car decides how best to balance the combination of an engine and electric motor. When both are running together, all four wheels provide traction and power of up to 340hp is available.

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As mentioned previously, when selected in conjunction with a route in the car's satellite navigation (although not with a map app within Apple Carplay or Android Auto), the XC60 will retain charge in the battery for predicted urban driving at various points in the journey.

When constant 4WD is selected, the Volvo is prepared for light off-road work. The car's air suspension raises to its highest setting, and the engine and electric motor are both contributing to drive at the same time.

However, with the suspension raised, this mode is limited to a maximum of 24mph (40kmh), more than enough for the majority of off-road situations. If the car exceeds that speed, the suspension returns to its normal setting.

There's a supplementary control for the air suspension inside the tailgate, which raises or lowers the rear of the car on demand to make it a little easier to hitch a tow bar to a trailer or caravan.

The XC60 has covered a few longer journeys in the past month, decreasing the part the 21 miles (in hybrid mode) the battery can play in reducing fuel consumption, and a few minor glitches have cropped up in the car's warning messages.

On a journey in torrential rain, the car's blindspot warning system stopped working. It left me wondering if the enormous mass of water behind the car, partly from spray in high-speed driving and partly the heavy rain itself, might have created a mass too impenetrable for the radar to deal with.

A couple of weeks ago, the car showed a 'windscreen wiper failure' message with no incident beforehand that might have been the cause. Thankfully both faults disappeared the next time the car was used.

The Volvo Cars smartphone app (formerly Volvo On Call) has a setting where a diagnostic check can be run remotely, so anything that might need the attention of a Volvo dealer can be discovered before the car is started in the morning, which is a useful early warning system.

4th Report: A problem with PHEVs?

As I've had to travel to work more recently the Volvo XC60 has been performing admirably, but the lack of charging on the go has resulted in frustration.

I completely understand the idea of a plug-in hybrid is to allow most local journeys to be completed when running on the battery, with the petrol engine and a tank of fuel there for occasional longer trips.

Since travel for work has become more common in the past month or so, I've been struggling to recover the early days of 100mpg-plus in the XC60 and most recently have been languishing somewhere in the high-40s.

I charge my car at home whenever it's resting, and it usually takes a few hours from the 7.4kW wall-box.

I could barely conceal my delight this month when an overnight stay at an airport hotel for a flight to Scotland the next morning gave me the ability to charge the Volvo fully for my return trip home the next day.

While the Volvo's navigation system calculates when best to deploy the car's battery power during a selected route to a destination, it isn't usually possible to charge for the return trip - either my meeting isn't long enough, or I feel self-conscious about squatting in an EV charging bay to replenish my 11.6kWh battery when there's plenty of fuel left in the car and drivers of EVs more in need of a charge might be waiting.

XC60 Charging

I have been happier that, in the past week, more than a third of the distance I've travelled in the car has been on electric, but I know this will be difficult to maintain as I have work trips in my diary that will take me into triple-figure mileage.

I know the market is shifting, and PHEV users have a better understanding of how to use their vehicles more effectively. The tales of cars being returned at the end of a business lease with the charge cable still in the wrapper are a distant memory.

But also, we shouldn't kid ourselves that a plug-in hybrid is performing as a full hybrid (such as a Toyota Prius or Ford Mondeo Hybrid) when it runs out of electricity.

Yes, energy recuperation can return up to a couple of miles back to the battery for use at low speeds later in the journey. But the most efficient full hybrids tend to use lean-burning Atkinson-cycle petrol engines, whose performance would be relatively weak when used alone and are boosted by the electric motor. They tend not to use potent turbocharged engines like most PHEVs do.

Add to that the higher mass of a PHEV battery compared with a full hybrid battery, and the turbocharged petrol engine is working much harder than, say, a 1.8-litre petrol engine in a
Toyota Prius.

So while it's hard to fault the Volvo for its performance - it's doing exactly what's expected of it - PHEVs are more than ever looking like a transition technology that will soon be superseded by fully electric vehicles on fleets.

And given my recent experiences of the latest electric cars, I for one am ready for it.

3rd Report: A breath of fresh air

We've known for many years that local air pollution can be harmful, especially for people with respiratory diseases, such as asthma.

Although the latest diesel vehicles have very clean exhaust emissions relative to those compliant with earlier rules, historically, the level of small particulates emitted by diesel vehicles (and some petrol vehicles) has been problematic.

A by-product of burning fuel, many of these microscopic particles are trapped in filters in vehicle exhaust systems, although there are worries that some may be tiny enough to pass through into the air we breathe in towns and cities.

And there are more recent studies that suggest particulates from tyre wear - especially in long-range electric cars that typically weigh more than 2t - could be a new problem even as ICE vehicle emissions become cleaner.

One of the features we've noticed on our Volvo XC60 (as well as in other recently launched cars) is a sophisticated cabin air purification system that can be set to run via the Volvo On Call app when the car is parked or while on the move.

CleanZone monitors incoming air and can shut the cabin's air intakes if harmful substances are detected. A multi-filter helps reduce the levels of dust, pollen, particles and chemical odours. And to prepare a fresh cabin environment on a warm day, the automatic CleanZone function helps ventilate the cabin when you unlock the car.

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Small airborne particulate matter is sometimes called PM2.5 (particles smaller than 2.5µm), the content of such particles in the car is measured by the car's climate sensors.

When running the function remotely via the Volvo On Call app, it displays the detected level of PM2.5 during the clean.

In other news, a number of longer journeys that have left us relying on the petrol engine more than the electric motor have resulted in a swing in the opposite direction from our previous update, with close to 70% of running using the engine in the previous week's driving (according to the app).

This has resulted in a disappointing collapse in the fuel economy that had been displayed during much of April, with the trip computer showing in the region of 80-110mpg. After reaching a low of 49mpg, we are now climbing back into the 50s and with more charging from the plug and electric running on local journeys, we hope to see something soon that a diesel XC60 would not be capable of.

After all, if you're paying a premium to have the benefit of an electric motor in addition to the petrol engine, you really ought to be exploiting the advantages in lower cost running on short journeys as well as the zero-emission ability.

Another aspect of the car I'm enjoying are the cloth seats, which, during the few warmer days we had, have made the car more pleasant to sit in when the interior is hot.

Of course, when the car is plugged in, it can be set so the climate control preconditions the cabin to the desired temperature when you're ready to leave. But when it isn't plugged in, it's certainly a more pleasant experience than having to perch your posterior on baked hide until the air conditioning has had enough time to bring the interior temperature down.

The premium wool blend fabric seems to remain cool in warm weather, and of course, has the opposite benefit in cold weather when leather seats can feel rather chilly at the start of a journey on a frosty morning.

2nd Report: Plugging into savings 

In March, I bit the bullet and had an electric car charging point installed. I don't own a plug-in car - my own cars to date have been very much from an analogue age - but with using cars like the plug-in hybrid Volvo, as well as the frequency of having cars such as the Mustang Mach-E and Polestar 2 on test at home, I wouldn't really be doing our readers justice if I didn't utilise the cars as an owner might and a company car user should.

Now, when the Volvo is parked outside and I know the charge is depleted - easy to check the charge status using the Volvo On Call app - I plug it in for a few hours so I know there'll be around 20-25 miles of zero-emissions running available for its next journey.

I had a business journey at the end of March that was considerably longer than a full charge. The drive was close to 50 miles and I sent the directions from the map in the Volvo app to the car.

There was an on-screen alert for the destination when I switched on the ignition and I selected the route. As 'hybrid' mode is the default setting, the XC60 then deployed its electricity as it saw fit throughout the route.

Passing through towns and villages en route, the electric motor was usually working alone. The engine worked in harmony with it on some of the faster roads, and by the time I arrived in Leicester, my destination, there was still around four miles of battery range left to keep running on zero emissions while in the city.

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Since then, I have been mostly doing local journeys and remembering to keep the XC60 charged. For the past seven days, at the time of writing, I've covered around 58 miles, including its first full refuelling trip, and managed to spend more than two-thirds of the time running on electric.

It has meant that after a lacklustre start when the car spent its first 600 or so miles being run in by Volvo before delivery to us, and was typically showing 32mpg as the average fuel consumption, it's creeping ever closer to the official figure set on the WLTP.

The only problem is, it will be difficult to calculate the actual cost. The petrol will be no problem, working out the cost of the fuel used over the mileage between refills, but the additional costs on my domestic electricity bill during the same period will be harder to determine.

Of course, fleets can rely on running cost providers to give them a ballpark pence-per-mile figure based on WLTP, but any variance from that - and most users will not achieve the official figure - makes costs less predictable.

I will most likely reevaluate my domestic electricity provider in any case, as taking significant power every few days to charge the car's battery will mount up over a quarterly bill period, offset, of course, by fewer refuelling visits. Charging is still cheaper than refuelling.

But the best advice I can give for now is charge as much as you can from a domestic or office supply, and that should result in lower costs than petrol or diesel alternatives.

1st Report: A Volvo for vegetarians?

Sustainability is a buzzword for many organisations. Almost all businesses have it high on the agenda, whether it's our own internal policies or even making a difference to which tenders we select, there is a general acceptance that we need to do more to reduce our impact on the planet.

Following a vegetarian lifestyle - and especially a vegan lifestyle - is said to be a major factor in improving sustainability, as instead of growing huge volume of grain to feed the animals farmed for human consumption, we use the space (and it would be far less space in this scenario) to grow food for humans.

Of course, we couldn't have leather shoes, belts and other clothing without farming cattle and using the hides. But there is a growing interest in alternatives that don't involve slaughtering animals, and many can be found in the premium automotive brands.

Mercedes-Benz has long offered Artico synthetic leather, initially as a less expensive alternative to leather seat trim, but increasingly as a lifestyle choice.

Jaguar Land Rover has also invested a great deal of money in developing suitable alternatives to leather and the number of non-leather options is growing.

Years ago, it would have been much harder to sell a used example of a premium car without leather seat trim specified, so much so that it appeared as standard on the majority of derivatives.

But now the lines are more blurred. There is a niche in the market for those who don't want genuine leather trim and the alternatives are desirable.

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We chose this option on our Volvo XC60 long-term test car, which offered wool blend cloth seats as well as a synthetic leather-wrapped steering wheel. Not a vegan-approved choice, but a step into vegetarian territory.

The sculpted seats in our Inscription grade XC60 look super and provide the level of comfort we have come to expect from Volvo.

We've also chosen a few option packs to help with comfort, safety and convenience, as well as the electronically controlled air suspension.

The Recharge T6 is new for the 2021 model year, and offers a less expensive and less powerful alternative to the Recharge T8 plug-in hybrid.

It has a 253hp turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine with an 87hp boost from an electric motor. It also comes with all-wheel drive.

As the XC60 is now in the twilight years of its life cycle, the CO2 emissions and range are not enough to give it best-in class status. But it's certainly a more tax-efficient option than the diesel version for company car drivers, and given that the pandemic has changed our behaviour and reduced average business mileage, I'll be keen to see how many fully electric miles I can travel in it over the next few months.

Standard equipment:

Dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, digital instrument display, portrait-style dashboard touchscreen, auto-dipping LED headlights, power tailgate, digital owner's manual, crystal gear selector, Volvo Sensus navigation.

Options:

Driver assist pack £1,500

Technology pack £850

Lounge pack £800

Climate pack £650

Versatility pack £525

Active Four-C Chassis £1,500

Wireless phone charging £225

Dark tinted rear windows £350

Wool blend cloth upholstery 

Tailored steering wheel NCO

7m Type 2/Mode 3 cable £50

Metallic paint £685



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