IT’S CHANGING me, this Volvo. Having spent last month eroding any lingering cynicism I had towards SUVs as a category (for being too heavy, too thirsty, too cumbersome and thus deserving of unquestioned enthusiast vilification), the sleek Swede has since had a similar effect on my opinion of hybrids.
I’ll admit to being something of an unwilling hybrid sceptic, not because I don’t see the value in the technology, but because all the ones I’ve experienced have been disappointing. Heavier and more expensive than conventional drivetrains, they often have odd-feeling control weights (fizzing brake pedals, for example) and struggle, without exception, to reach their predicted ‘electric only’ ranges in the real world.
These aren’t shortfalls the Volvo sidesteps entirely, in fact it’s still guilty of all of them, yet it’s easily the most impressive hybrid powertrain I’ve driven. The electric motor delivers a surprising performance boost, with instant step-off and, when the road gets twisty, rapid response as you feed in the throttle on corner exit. The Volvo really hustles for a porky SUV, too: combined outputs of 300kW/640Nm propel the 2105kg T8 from 0-100km/h in just over 5.0 seconds.
However, it’s the benefits provided by the batteries in mundane city driving that are more useful. I’ve been charging the T8 at work (a full charge takes just over four hours via a conventional socket) and it’s able to get me home and halfway back to the office without using a drop of petrol. That’s just over 30km on electricity alone, which is impressively close to the on-board computer’s claimed EV range of 35km.
And I haven’t even been trying to be economical; the air-con is always on and my driving style normal. It’s quite satisfying actually, to glide along in near-silence, cocooned in the sumptuous cabin, smug in the knowledge that you’re not burning PULP.
Plugging the T8 in has seen this month’s commuting fuel number drop from 8.0L/100km to 4.8, which is impressive considering I’m not charging it at home, or on the weekends.
Of course, prod the throttle too heavily, or run out of charge, and the combustion engine ignites, which can sound a little gruff initially, though the transition from full EV to hybrid propulsion is fairly smooth.
The integration of the eight-speed automatic gearbox is unobtrusive too, with swift and silky shifts only adding to the drivetrain’s sense of refinement and completeness.
So there you have it, a hybrid that delivers on its on-paper potential, both as a driver’s SUV and a premium, frugal family hauler.