Volvo's New Plug-In Hybrid SUV Is The Next Step Toward Electrifying Its Lineup

Volvo’s most powerful, fuel-efficient and expensive midsize crossover has just hit the market, offering a glimpse into the Swedish automaker’s long-term plans for electrifying its portfolio.

The 2018 Volvo XC 60 plug-in hybrid generates 400 horsepower, achieves the fuel economy equivalent of 59 mpg combined, and starts at $52,900 before a $5,002 federal tax incentive – numbers that might cause a shopper to favor it over others in the premium segment.

The plug-in hybrid version of Volvo’s bestselling midsize crossover, a powertrain critical to the company’s plans to phase out gasoline engines, can travel 17 miles on electric power before switching over to its gasoline engine. Volvo has pledged that, starting 2019, its new models will be hybrids or all-electric; none will only have a gasoline engine.

 

The next-generation XC60 crossover, which arrived in dealerships in August, also comes in two gasoline engine-only configurations. The turbocharged, 250-horsepower T5 and the turbo- and super-charged, 316-horsepower T6 will comprise the majority of the nameplate’s sales. The T8 twin-engine plug-in electric hybrid will account for about 15% of purchases.

Refining the T8 powertrain, which is already available in Volvo’s redesigned XC 90 SUV large SUV and S90 sedan, is crucial to the automaker’s plans to electrify its forthcoming lineup.  “They’re going to get engineering expertise and customer feedback and apply what they've learned to the next generation,” said Brent Romans, senior automotive editor at Edmunds. “Right now, they’re using it to get a lot of power and decent fuel economy. It’s a halo vehicle; 400 horsepower is a big number for the class.”

Volvo has not released the T8’s official battery range or fuel economy estimates yet, but reporters were invited last week to test the new powertrain in Denver, a city Volvo said represented its target demographic – design-minded, well-educated high earners with active lifestyles and a mindset that reflects with “the Volvo ethos of attainable luxury” – as well as the type of steep, mountainous roads where the all-wheel drive crossover excels.

Volvo plans to launch five all-electric cars between 2019 and 2021. Three will be Volvo nameplates and two will belong to the automaker’s Polestar performance arm.

The electrification program dovetails with another of the automaker’s initiatives: that no driver will be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo by 2020. To further that goal, Volvo has introduced a cadre of standard features that competitors don’t offer, such as a collision mitigation system that automatically brakes for cyclists and large animals.

“We’re not the brand that looks at what technology is out there and how can we use it,” said Malin Ekholm, vice president of the Volvo Safety Center. “The way we focus on safety is really looking at what accidents are happening out there, understanding what we need to do in order to mitigate and avoid these accidents, and then understand what technology is available.”