When Volvo announced its plans to produce a plug-in hybrid station wagon capable of comfortably seating five, providing reasonable luggage space, a combined fuel economy of 150 miles per gallon, and the ability to tow just under 4,000lbs, many of you told us that you couldn’t wait to find out more.  

So when Volvo invited us to be among the first in the world to sit behind the wheel of one of Volvo’s early V60 PHEV engineering cars at the 2011 Challenge Bibendum in Berlin, Germany, we had to say yes. 

First Glance

Based on the 2011 Volvo V60 station wagon, the V60 Plug-in Hybrid looks no different from its gasoline-engined counterpart at first glance, apart from specially designed lightweight alloy wheels rolling on specially designed eco tires from Pirelli, and the more obvious inclusion of a charging port located near the driver’s door.  Like its rival Chevrolet, Volvo is obviously keen to encourage the driver to use electric rather than fossil fuel power where possible. 

2012 Volvo V60 PHEV

2012 Volvo V60 PHEV

Internally too there is little to differentiate the V60 PHEV from the standard V60 except from a few additional switches mounted to the center console, a specially-designed leather upholstery and a slightly higher load bay floor, raised to accommodate the V60 PHEV’s 12 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack underneath. 


Sitting behind the wheel of the Volvo V60 PHEV feels reassuringly familiar and dare we say it, normal.  Unlike many other plug-in vehicles where a noticeable nod to over-complicated dash instrumentation seems de rigueur, the V60 PHEV dash is cleaner and more straight-forward. 

In front of the driver is a digital faux-analogue display detailing speed, battery charge and fuel gauge, estimated range and the usual driver safety information we’ve come to expect from Volvo over the years. 

2012 Volvo V60 PHEV

2012 Volvo V60 PHEV

Gear selection is also reassuringly simple and free from gimmicks. Instead of console-mounted selectors shaped like hockey pucks or weird dog-leg maneuvers to chose direction, Volvo has chosen the age-old floor-mounted automatic shifter that requires no special explanation. 

Choose your driving style

Sitting behind the wheel of the V60 PHEV you’re given three main operational modes, each selectable by push-buttons on the center console: Pure, Hybrid and Power. The three modes allow the car to perform at its peak as a pure electric car, a fuel efficient hybrid and a sporty long-distance cruiser.

2012 Volvo V60 PHEV

2012 Volvo V60 PHEV


Engaging the ‘Pure’ mode puts the car into its all-electric mode.  Utilizing a 50 kilowatt electric motor powering the rear axle, the V60 PHEV can travel for up to 30 miles in all-electric mode at speeds up to 62 mph from a full charge. 

To let you know it is in pure electric mode the dashboard turns a shade of blue, providing an at-a-glance indication that no diesel is being burnt. 

In this all-electric mode we found the V60 capable of providing more than adequate acceleration and performance for an average commute, although for freeway commuting we recommend using one of the two hybrid drive modes for increased acceleration at higher speeds. 


2012 Volvo V60 PHEV

2012 Volvo V60 PHEV

The default mode and the one which is automatically selected on startup by the car is ‘hybrid’, turning the dash illumination green. 

In this mode, the V60 PHEV works to blend the power demand between both powertrains, using which ever is most appropriate at any given time. 

Although in this mode the engine may start at any time the car tries to use electric-only propulsion first, provided the battery has sufficient charge and the power supplied by the 50 kilowatt rear-wheel drive motor is enough to satisfy the driver’s demands. 

Demand more power and Volvo’s legendary 2.4 liter diesel engine kicks in to provide additional power through the car’s traditional automatic front-wheel drive system, making the V60 PHEV a ‘through the road hybrid’.

Fuel economy at this point is remarkably low, giving the V60 PHEV a combined cycle fuel economy of 150 mpg using the European test cycles. However, the car has yet to receive official economy figures, so expect a potential for this figure to change nearer production. 

As with most hybrid drivetrains there is a perceptible lag as the internal combustion engine spins up to meet power demand when undertaking the kind of hard acceleration you might require when overtaking, but when a less harsh approach was taken with the right foot the V60 PHEV seamlessly moved between electric and hybrid modes without creating any judder or momentary loss of power. 


2012 Volvo V60 PHEV

2012 Volvo V60 PHEV

Switching into ‘power’ combines both the 215 horsepower of the diesel front-wheel drive system and the 50 kilowatts of the rear wheel drive motor, giving an all-wheel drive through-the-road hybrid capable of accelerating from 0-62 mph in 6.9 seconds. 

Obviously, this performance comes at a cost - namely lower fuel economy. To remind you, the dash turns a shade of orange, giving the information display a more sporty feel. Gone too is the display informing you of which powertrain you’re using and in its place a linear tachometer. 

Sadly we were unable to spend much time in this mode during the test drive as our car - an engineering pre-production model - had a few software glitches which meant that high power performance was limited. Volvo have assured us this is being addressed at the moment and showed us another engineering pre-production model which certainly exhibited all the characteristics of the promised sub 7 second 0-60 time.

Electronic AWD

Volvo’s conventional gasoline and diesel ranges feature all-wheel drive systems capable of transferring power to the rear wheels when a low-traction situation is detected by the cars on-board computer. 

In such systems, a conventional prop shaft is used, but in the V60 PHEV this is not needed thanks to the rear-wheel drive electric motor. 

Volvo’s new electronic AWD system works in a similar way to its mechanically connected AWD system, but benefits from the ability to engage far quicker to ensure that even in low friction environments such as icy roads the highest level of traction is maintained at all times. 

While Volvo briefed us on this feature we were unable to test it fully due to lack of suitable conditions, but we were told the system successfully endured its first winter of cold winter testing in Northern Sweden. 

2012 Volvo V60 PHEV

2012 Volvo V60 PHEV


Although Volvo may have some tweaking to do to the drivetrain before the V60 PHEV is ready for prime-time, the ride and handling seems production ready. 

Based on the gasoline V60, the V60 PHEV shares the same steering and suspension geometry, but with uprated components designed to take the car’s additional weight.

The hard work has paid off. With no discernible bad manners in ride or handling, the V60 PHEV provides a smooth ride and positive steering. 

In fact, thanks to the increased weight from the additional battery pack and a 50/50 weight distribution the car is more pleasant to drive than a gasoline V60.


The example of the Volvo V60 PHEV we drove may still be an engineering pre-production vehicle, but it already has excellent promise. 

The software flaws we witnessed in the car’s drivetrain system are ones which we believe Volvo has time to sort out well before it reaches production in 2012. 

2012 Volvo V60 PHEV

2012 Volvo V60 PHEV

Sadly though, the the V60 PHEV isn’t due to come to the U.S. Volvo claims there isn’t enough interest yet in diesels in the U.S. to justify bringing the V60 PHEV to the U.S. market. 

So why examine a car which isn’t even coming to the U.S? 

Volvo has told us that the V60 PHEV will be a gateway vehicle to more models, which will most likely include a plug-in hybrid suitable for the U.S. market. 

Think of the V60 PHEV as Volvo’s missing link between a gasoline past and an electric future - one we think will be extremely interesting.


Volvo provided airfare, accommodation and meals to enable HighGearMedia to bring you this review.