VOLVO’S VOLTS-WAGON CHARGES IN AVolvo estate has to be big enough for the family and commodious enough for all the associated clobber. It also needs plenty of power for towing anything from a speedboat to a horse box. And if it’s fourwheel drive too, then so much the better. It may not have escaped your notice that none of these attributes is exactly synonymous with saving fuel or the planet. But come 2012, that will change with the V70 plug-in hybrid diesel
This is to be the first part-electric Volvo to go on sale, and the Swedish firm reckons it’s the perfect compromise between cutting emissions and providing the family hold-all that its reputation demands. Apart from the stickers, the hybrid V70 we’ve tested is identical to a regular model – until it’s set in motion. The hybrid system has been programmed to propel the car using battery power alone at lower speeds. So unless you mash the accelerator, you whistle forwards in complete silence. The thinking is that you could complete a commute to work using only batteries, which are replenished by plugging it into the mains. The diesel kicks in if the cells run out of juice or you want extra power.
Considering that the V70 isn’t a small car, the 67bhp (50kW) electric motor is more than adequate to keep pace with city traffic. And the 202bhp diesel cuts in seamlessly when more power is required. The result is a car that pumps out 50g/km of carbon dioxide and returns 149mpg on the combined economy cycle.
The electric engine is located in the boot – in the production car, it, along with the batteries, will sit beneath the boot – so these power the rear wheels while the diesel motor drives the fronts as in the regular model. The advantage is that it can be a genuine fourwheel drive car, so even if the hybrid system doesn’t use both power sources, there’s a cockpit-mounted button to override it should you need the added grip of both motors working in conjunction.
This hybrid model should coincide with the arrival of the all-new V70 in 2012. And Volvo’s engineers reckon diesel-electric power offers the ultimate compromise between a goanywhere family barge and a fuel-efficient commuter car. Considering it combines 516lb ft of torque with a 750-mile range, while a full charge of the empty battery from the mains costs the same as a 14-minute electric-powered shower, they could have a point.