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The Continental: An Extensive Drive in Volvo’s Diesel Hybrid and Goodbye to Two (Questionable) Icons

Can hybrids be fun? Last week, I spent several hours behind the wheel of the Europe-only Volvo V60 D6 plug-in hybrid, and it’s so interesting that I’d like to devote a few paragraphs to it. Using the 212-hp, 2.4-liter five-cylinder turbo-diesel found in the V60 D5, the V60 D6 packs its rear axle with a Bosch-sourced electric motor that makes about 70 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. That’s a significant power boost, which comes at an extra €5000 above the conventionally powered D5 with all-wheel drive. This kind of power for the money wouldn’t be a bad deal by itself, but with the plug-in hybrid, the customer gets an entirely different car.

This D6 sports a large lithium-ion battery pack placed below the (shrunken) luggage compartment. It stores enough power to travel 20 to 30 miles on an electric charge without the diesel coming to its aid. I got fairly strong acceleration, even uphill, and was able to travel electrically at up to 75 mph. In a regular hybrid, you must use the gentlest of touches on the pedal to avoid triggering the internal combustion engine. Not so in the D6; moreover, you get a clear visual indication on the dashboard of how far you can push it without the aid of conventional power.

To drive fully electric at all times, you select “Pure.” Only when you abuse the pedal will the IC engine jump in. “Hybrid” mode automatically switches between electric and diesel propulsion with slight boosting. “Save” mode keeps the diesel running at all times to keep the battery charged for later entry into an electric-only zone, and “AWD” makes sure the rear axle is engaged at all times to sharpen response on rough and slippery terrain. My favorite mode, of course, was “Power.” Here, the diesel is always running, and only in this mode does the E-motor give its full boost. With engine and E-motor pushing simultaneously, 276 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque provide vehement acceleration—at least up to about 95 mph. Then, the E-motor is switched off so it won’t overrev, and the D6′s accelerative performance becomes equal to that of a D5; a D5, we point out, that is overweight by 661 pounds. That’s the extra heft on top of the D5 with conventional all-wheel drive; the front-wheel-drive D5 weighs 875 pounds less than the plug-in D6.

So, is it fun? Yes, if you like video games; perhaps not so much if you like cars. You can feel the extra weight in quick corners, and there is a highly artificial feel to the powertrain. The brakes are the worst: Stepping on the brake pedal—which triggers energy recovery to help charge the batteries— feels like you are squeezing a rubber ball. By the way, you do need to plug in the car to fully recharge the batteries: The car doesn’t completely recharge the batteries in order to reduce the number of charging cycles. Should the V60 D6 come to the U.S.? Why not? Combining a diesel with an E-motor provides better fuel economy than a gasoline hybrid, although you’ll never feel connected with the engine.


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