Electric cars have become much more capable and competitive in recent years. But not everybody is ready to untether themselves from gas entirely. Volvo's T8 plug-in hybrids — available in sedan, SUV, and wagon form — have offered a compelling, best-of-both-worlds alternative for years now, letting you knock out your errands with an EV while maintaining combustion flexibility for long trips.
And Volvo's PHEV models just received a game-changing upgrade for the late 2022 model year — and beyond.
Volvo kept the 2.0-liter inline-four engine from the T8 powertrain (thought it's now just turbocharged, instead of turbocharged and supercharged), but overhauled the electric components. The Swedish firm added more battery capacity (11.6 kWh to 18.8 kWh), nearly doubling the EV range. Volvo also made that electric range more usable in daily driving, bumping the power of the electric motor on the rear wheels to 143 horsepower instead of 87 hp.
The experience — unlike that Michigan football scholarship offer — is transformational.
Volvo loaned me an XC60 Recharge Extended Range Polestar Engineered — yes, they came up with a bigger mouthful than XC60 T8 E-AWD Polestar — to drive as my family compact crossover for a week in suburban Detroit, and it was almost everything I wanted it to be. The Volvo Recharge experience never feels quite as sporty as I hope it will. But a car I found intriguing but quirky in its previous iteration is now a mature electric car alternative — if one still requires such a thing.
Volvo optimized the original XC60 Recharge for urban and suburban environments — where Volvo people live. The least efficient driving you do there is short errands. Volvo offered just enough EV range, about 18 miles on paper, to cover them.
But to get the most from the XC60 Recharge required you to be strategic about your driving and meticulous about charging between trips. You couldn't just hop into an XC60 Recharge. You had to plan. And even if you diligently planned, the limited range could only get you so far without resorting to gas.
The new version offers about 35 miles of range. That's enough not to always be charging (and thinking about charging). You can leave it off the hook once or even twice and still subsist entirely on electric range. And the results are impressive.
I could have used no gas for the week, if I weren't testing out the car. I did comfortably exceed 100 mpg in normal driving sprinkling in some occasional Hybrid mode. Even on my vigorous, 110-plus mile trek to the curvy wilds north of Ann Arbor, I still earned about 40 mpg combined.
One cool XC60 Recharge feature is you can set the Pure (EV) mode as the default startup mode. And the added oomph means you won't notice a power deficiency on those calm, 25-40 mph errand runs.
When you hear 455 hp and 523 lb-ft of torque, you'd expect the XC60 Recharge to be a rip-roaring and tire-shredding good time. But Volvo doesn't really do rip-roaring.
Sure, the XC60 Mouthful has sporty features like a Polestar-tuned chassis, Akebono brakes and (manually) adjustable dampers. And it's legitimately quick in a straight line — the manufacturer says it can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds. But it's still a Volvo.
The XC60 Recharge isn't light. Checking in at 4,751 pounds, it's about the same weight as a Toyota 4Runner. It carries that weight well in the corners, and it's smooth and competent in all situations, but you never entirely escape the feeling there's a sensible Scandinavian adult with an iron grip on the reins. The efficiency is more of an appeal than the raw power.
Volvo does a tremendous job building interiors. The XC60's design is simple and well laid out. Unlike other manufacturers, Volvo pays particular attention to material quality and texture. Everything you look at and touch feels substantial. Going full Polestar gets you Nappa leather seats. It's fancy, but it still feels restrained (except for the flourish of the Polestar bright yellow seat belts). Volvo even keeps you updated on the interior air quality.
My one quibble is the touchscreen. Vertical layouts are harder to read while driving; also, Volvo's Android system requires a lot of taps and scrolling — as though you're using a phone, not a car. It's enough of a nuisance to detract from the Scandinavian minimalist allure.
One particular annoyance is the drive mode button — that is, the non-existent drive mode button. The XC60 Recharge is a vehicle where you need to change modes relatively frequently; you can't just leave it on Comfort mode. A function that should be left to a toggle switch requires a series of three taps on the center console display — not optimal while on the move.
The XC60 Recharge starts at $55,345. Leveling up to the top-trim starts at $70,595. My tester — beginning with the previous $70,000 MSRP before a price increase — added $695 Metallica paint and a $200 power liftgate to end up at $71,990 after the $1,095 destination.
Spending $70,000 for a five-passenger crossover is a hefty bill. But you get more power and range than Audi offers in the Q5 PHEV. BMW dropped their X3 PHEV competitor for the 2022 model year.
One benefit is the new upgrades qualify the XC60 Recharge for a full $7,500 federal tax credit. But remember that tax credit is non-refundable. So you have to owe that much on the following year's taxes to receive the full $7,500 refund.
The previous Volvo XC60 Recharge was practical, elegant, safe and pleasant to drive. It just needed more battery capacity. The late 2022 model year and beyond XC Recharge obliges and with a bit more power to boot. But it's still pricey for a compact crossover, especially in Polestar spec.
And it's hard not to feel like the PHEV's moment has passed for a car like this. The XC60 Recharge works if you own a home in the suburbs. But if you own a home in the suburbs, you can easily afford and install a Level 2 EV charger. And if you want this much EV in your life, why not go for a fully loaded and cheaper Hyundai Ioniq 5 or Kia EV6?
Powertrain: Turbocharged and supercharged 2.o-liter inline-four PHEV; 8-speed automatic; AWD
Torque: 523 lb-ft
EV-Only Range: 35 miles
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