Volvo – Recharge and rethink

390 horsepower and 3 litres of petrol for 100km? Yes, that is correct. Meet the new Volvo S60 T8 Recharge.

It felt good to be back in a press car last week. Although we are in no way living a normal life at the moment, any sign of normalcy must be savoured.

Circumstances dictated that a Volvo was the car in question, and I was quite happy about that. Volvo keeps churning out very interesting cars and is one of the constructors leading the pack in terms of assertive decisions that seek to have an environmental impact.

So, let’s start with that. Volvo have pledged to make their line-up fully electric by 2030 – fast-tracking this goal by a full decade. In 2019, company boss Hakan Samuelsson said the Swedish brand would stop selling combustion-engine cars in 2040 but that goal has now come down by 10 years.

That means there will be no more petrol or diesel development, a technology the Swedes say have no future. Furthermore, Volvo wants to make a transition to online sales, beginning with their pure electric models. The aim is to simplify the sales model and set a fixed pricing orientation.

What about dealers? Well, they will remain relevant in the process as they will have to maintain customer relations, offer test drives, help potential clients clear their doubts regarding technical aspects, specifications and trims and, obviously, have an open door for the mandatory annual servicing.

This all seems very ambitious, and we have to commend constructors who are betting heavily in the reinvention of the auto industry. I just have doubts regarding countries’ ability to provide the necessary infrastructure. I mean, imagine everyone follows Volvo’s lead… can we all charge our cars at home, or at work, or at a service station? In nine years?

There is another element where Volvo is making difficult decisions. All of their cars can no longer travel above 180km/h. With the speed limit being 120km/h here, that may not well be a major problem but, come on … there are still a lot of petrolheads around. Even if you are not always doing 180km/h, it’s nice to know you can if you want or need to.

So, what about the car I actually drove? Looks good, doesn’t it? I think so. The S60 is a saloon that takes the fight to the ubiquitous Germans: the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4. It’s certainly more distinctive than any of them.

I tested the top-of-the-line T8 Recharge PHEV Hybrid, a car that costs from €62,000 and that with a few extras comes in at €68,000, the price of the unit I drove. Now that is a lot of money for a 2.0 litre saloon from the D segment, so it must be quite good to justify it.

It certainly makes a good case for hybrids. The petrol engine and electric motor have a combined output of 390 horsepower. That is right, 390 horsepower and you cannot go over 180km/h. Seems like a waste, doesn’t it?

Volvo says you can go a maximum of 58km on battery power alone. I managed 40km, which is perfectly acceptable. It meant I did 3l/100km for the first 100km I drove the car. So, if you have a place to charge the batteries whenever you are stationary, you can count on these numbers – probably even less once you get used to the car.

Without the battery helping, the S60 gets closer to 10l/100km, pretty normal for a 2.5 tonnes car. So, this makes sense if you can maximise the potential of the hybrid system; otherwise, better to save some money and go for a lower-spec, less powerful variant.

Sitting at the top of the S60 tree, the T8 comes lavishly appointed and everything feels solidly built. Cabin materials are definitely of a premium level and the Harman Kardon sound system is terrific. The infotainment is pretty intuitive.

The driving experience does not disappoint. The Volvo strikes a fine balance between performance and comfort, although I found the 390 horsepower were sometimes too much for the personality of the car. I don’t mean the chassis cannot cope with them, but that 150 horsepower less would be plenty enough for me to enjoy the car.

And enjoy it I did. The Volvo feels different to the Germans and I like that difference. It’s not as sporty as a BMW, nor as comfortable as a Mercedes, but it feels right. I also like that I can drive in Hybrid mode and let the car decide what to do, pure EV mode and glide along using the batteries, or engage Sport mode and make the best of those 390 horsepower.

The S60 T8 Recharge is several experiences encapsulated in one good-looking package. It’s very expensive but it delivers on its promise. I wish it would go above 180km/h and I wish Volvo would keep building cars like this in the future. Because it won’t, I guess money no problem, get one while you can.

By Guilherme Marques