If you think of a hybrid car, you’re probably picturing a pokey little fuel-saver — a Toyota Prius, or something like it. A compact, affordable economy car that’s built to use as little gas as possible while you’re sitting in traffic or running errands.
But in the luxury market, many hybrids are a different beast. In addition to saving gas, many luxury hybrids use their electric motors to provide stronger acceleration. Electric motors make maximum torque right off the line, unlike gas engines that have to rev up to reach peak performance. So these two powertrains can work together to make a car fast under any condition.
Volvo is a market leader in these luxury performance hybrids. It offers plug-in hybrid variants of three popular models: the XC60 and XC90 crossovers and the S90 sedan. The trio shares a powertrain that Volvo calls the “T8,” a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with a supercharger and a turbocharger, plus two electric motors. The total output rivals a sports car’s 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque. That’s more torque than a Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.
The recently tested XC60 T8 is the least expensive of the three hybrid Volvos. It starts at $52,900, and buyers qualify for a $5,002 federal tax credit. A five-passenger compact luxury crossover, the XC60 competes with such models as the Audi Q5 and BMW X3. But while they also have high-performance variants, only the Volvo’s is a hybrid.
Specifically, T8 Volvos are plug-in hybrids. That means that you can charge up their batteries using electricity from the grid, then receive some all-electric range before the gasoline engine turns on.
Like several other luxury plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs, the Volvos don’t have a ton of purely electric range. The EPA says the XC60 T8 can go up to 17 miles in purely electric mode without burning any gasoline, and the other two Volvos have similar performance.
In all three cars, the gas engine will also turn on if you need to accelerate hard, or sometimes even maintain speed on the highway. On the flip side, the XC60 T8 also saves some extra electric juice in reserve to help you accelerate hard, which also reduces fuel consumption. And as in a basic hybrid, the battery recharges itself a bit during normal driving.
Overall, the EPA rates the XC60 T8 as achieving the energy equivalent of 59 miles per gallon in mixed driving when you factor in its all-electric range, or 26 mpg if you haven’t plugged in recently. The tested car averages 27 mpg in a weeklong test that included three recharges, on a 60-mile round-trip commute. If you typically drive shorter distances, you maximize your percentage of all-electric driving and save more fuel.
The gas-only XC60 T5 and T6 models are less expensive than the T8, but also less powerful. The T5 has 250 horsepower and a base price of $42,495. The T6 starts at $44,895, with 316 horsepower. These prices are class-competitive, and these models are worth considering if the T8’s extra horsepower or plug-in capability doesn't seem worth the extra cost.
All XC60 models feature a gorgeous interior, with top-quality materials and a sophisticated design. A tablet-esque vertical touchscreen dominates the instrument panel, and it’s pretty easy to figure out. The extra size also means you can see more information at once than in most vehicles. There’s room for four adults to sit comfortably, though a fifth passenger would be pinched.
Aside from the T8’s phenomenal acceleration, the XC60’s driving experience isn’t remarkable for a luxury car. It’s comfortable, quiet, and reasonably agile, just not an absolute stunner. Thrill-seekers who are drawn to the high horsepower ratings may wish for livelier handling, like they’d find in an Alfa Romeo Stelvio or Jaguar F-Pace. And for the cushiest driving experience, the Mercedes-Benz GLC is hard to top in this class.
But otherwise, the XC60 T8 presents a compelling blend of luxury, utility, and fuel economy. And if you prefer a full-size sedan or a seven-passenger crossover to the five-passenger XC60, the S90 or XC90 offers similar merits.
Brady Holt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association.