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2019 Volvo XC60 T8 R-Design plug-in is powerful, fuel efficient


The XC60 T8 R-Design plug-in hybrid offers all-electric operation around town, a smooth, quiet and quick ride, along with great headlights and an elegant cabin.
The XC60 T8 R-Design plug-in hybrid offers all-electric operation around town, a smooth, quiet and quick ride, along with great headlights and an elegant cabin. - contributed

The XC60 is an upscale crossover model from Swedish automaker Volvo and, like other models in the brand’s lineup, the most powerful variant of this machine is also its most fuel-efficient, since it’s a plug-in hybrid (PHEV).

I’ve been reporting on numerous PHEV-powered models lately, as more choices are hitting the market and more shoppers are interested in them.

The concept behind a PHEV is simple: it works the same way as a conventional hybrid (a la Toyota Prius), using gasoline and electric power for propulsion. But, thanks to a much larger battery, a PHEV can be plugged in to recharge, typically in a few hours, or overnight, depending on the vehicle and the charger in use.

With a full battery, a PHEV is capable of several dozen kilometres of all-electric driving before it has to use any fuel.

Once that all-electric range is used up, the vehicle switches to gas-hybrid power, enabling hundreds of kilometres of additional range.

Most importantly, you never need to plug a PHEV in if it’s not convenient to do so. Since there’s also a gas engine, you’ve always got a backup plan. Charge when you can to save more fuel, but it’s never mandatory.

And if you can plug in nightly, and/or at the office, chances are, a PHEV like this one can put a very serious dent in your fuel bills.

In simpler terms, driving a PHEV is like having an electric vehicle for shorter trips, and a hybrid vehicle for longer ones. The switch between the two is automatic and invisible, and requires none of the driver’s attention.

The XC60 T8 is powered by a two-litre gasoline four-cylinder engine that runs both a supercharger and turbocharger. On its own, output is rated at about 315 horsepower.

But in so-called T8 twin engine guise, my tester’s powerplant added a large battery and electric motor setup, which enables that gas-free driving capability and a boost in output to 400 horsepower. That’s backed by the better part of 500 lb.-ft. of torque.

The nutshell? Tick the T8 powertrain option on the order sheet and you’ve got the most potent XC60 available, but also the most fuel efficient.

With about 30 kilometres of observed electric range per battery charge (and your writer’s at-home charging station), I handled all daily errands, visits, and running around without burning a drop of fuel.

In my locale, and for where and how I drive, this machine would see me visiting the gas station a few times a year, instead of a few times a month.

Convenience is, after all, one of several reasons to consider a PHEV. The driving experience is another.

When zipping around town on electric-only power, the XC60’s driveline is smoother and more refined than anything I’ve ever driven that runs on gasoline.

With an electric motor powering the vehicle, there’s no reciprocation, no mechanical movement, no vibration. There’s also no noise.

So, you get a smoother and quieter (that is, more luxurious) luxury crossover experience, and you save a whack load of fuel. Sounds win-win, yes?

Optionally-equipped adaptive suspension and active chassis controls via Volvo’s 4C Chassis Control System furthered the luxury experience.

Notably, expert fine-tuning of the suspension in real time, and fantastic body motion control, enable a ride that’s smoother, more of the time. And that’s on optional 21-inch wheels, and on the badly-crumbling roads of Sudbury, Ont.

 The XC60 has a spacious, elegant cabin.
The XC60 has a spacious, elegant cabin.

Drivers take in the comfortable and often noiseless ride from a typical Volvo cabin — that is, one that’s tastefully understated, devoid of any button-clutter, and one where the visual focus is on the materials and shapes and craftsmanship, not the gadgets.

Ample seating space will accommodate four average-sized adults without issue, though the sporty front seats (fitted via the tester’s R-Design) package have larger bolsters which may complicate entry and exit for some occupants.

Rear seats flip and fold via motorized action at the touch of a button, adding convenience. The cargo hold isn’t the segment’s largest, but it is wide and square to the edges, which helps make better use of the available space.

The power tailgate adds convenience, and once opened, an additional button press lowers the XC60’s body down on its wheels, helping make loading and unloading of gear and pets easier.

Interestingly, XC60’s hybrid battery pack is mounted within the same space typically used by the rear driveshaft — that is, narrow and upright, in the centre of the vehicle.

The driveshaft is required for the mechanical AWD system fitted to non-hybrid XC60 variants, but the PHEV-powered T8 version has rear wheels that are electrically driven, so a driveshaft is not required.

This means that clever design enables PHEV power, full AWD functionality, and no reduction in cargo capacity. (Many other hybrids have a battery beneath the cargo hold or trunk, reducing its size).

 The XC60 has a spacious, elegant cabin.
The XC60 has a spacious, elegant cabin.

Shoppers will find nothing less than the market’s latest and greatest in safety equipment and autonomous driving functionality. The XC60 can stop itself from being involved in certain types of accidents, self-steer to magnetize itself to the centre of its lane, and more. Headlight performance is exemplary, thanks to potent LED lights that soak the road ahead with pure white illumination.

Overall, the driving feel will appeal most strongly to the laid-back driver concerned primary with fuel efficiency, not firepower. Simply, the T8 engine, while potent, does its best work when driven gently.

Here, it’s easy on fuel (when it’s using fuel at all), relatively quiet, and impressively punchy, given how quiet it is. Opened up, power output borders on excessive, and throttle response is absolutely immediate, thanks to the electric motor torque.

Still, it’s not the most exciting 400 horsepower on the scene — and the full-throttle sound is little more than a dull hum. Get past this, and you get near-V8 pavement consumption with near four-cylinder fuel consumption.

As a highway cruiser, XC60 feels heavy and dense, locked-on but not labor-intensive in the steering department, and relaxing overall. It’s a machine that will nicely serve a driver who likes to relax and socialize on the open road.

Gripes included a lack of much meaningful steering feel, a spongy-at-times feel to the brakes (despite strong performance) and a central command interface that’s slick and modern, but may require several days of practice to sort out.

If you’re lucky enough to be in the luxury crossover segment and considering a switch to electrification, I’d highly recommend a test drive of this model, if it’s within your means. Without compromise, the T8 PHEV powerplant gives XC60 drivers a better, faster, and even more luxurious crossover experience — all with the likelihood of a big drop in ongoing fuel costs.

Pricing for the XC60 starts at $46,800, with T8-powered models available from the low 70s.

  The 2019 Volvo XC60 T8 R-Design plug-in hybrid is powered by a 400-horsepower, two-litre, four-cylinder, supercharged, turbocharged engine with hybrid drive.
The 2019 Volvo XC60 T8 R-Design plug-in hybrid is powered by a 400-horsepower, two-litre, four-cylinder, supercharged, turbocharged engine with hybrid drive.

The specs

  • Model: 2019 Volvo XC60 T8
  • Engine: two-litre, four-cylinder, supercharged, turbocharged, hybrid drive, 400 horsepower
  • Drivetrain: AWD with all-electric rear axle
  • Transmission: eight-speed automatic
  • Features: LED lighting, panoramic sunroof, climate controlled seats, navigation, adaptive suspension, 360-degree camera system, push-button start, parking assist, power tailgate
  • What’s hot: all-electric operation around town, smooth, quiet and quick, great headlights, elegant cabin
  • What’s not: vague steering feel, central command system learning curve, performance buffs will wish for a nicer engine sound
  • Starting price (XC60 T8 R-Design): $72,550 (approx.)
  • As tested: $85,875

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