As my colleagues can attest, every time I come into the office after taking home our long-term 2020 Volvo S60, I talk about how much I love it. The main reason: the plug-in hybrid powertrain. Whether you care about the environment, comfort or performance, this engine and motor combination is the best choice – as long as you can afford it.
The speedy aspect of the Volvo may be a surprise for those with negative preconceptions of hybrids, but the numbers say otherwise. The turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes 313 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, and the motor makes 87 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. Combined, they make 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque, and it feels like it has every one of those ponies. Slam the throttle down on an on-ramp, and it charges forward, staying strong through most of the rev band. Between the electric motor and the twin-charged engine, throttle response is quick and precise, making it easy to balance power through corners. It's highly entertaining when caning it. Having that rear motor and rear-driven wheels also helps keep the car neutral under throttle, diminishing understeer.
When you're feeling frugal rather than frisky, the T8 also impresses. While it isn't fast by any means in electric mode, the motor is more than adequate for cruising around town, and a meter in the instrument panel makes it easy to tell whether you're on the verge of activating the engine. On-ramps require a bit of patience, but it's not hard to reach the speed limit by the end of the ramp. The range is also usable at an estimated 21 miles, and although driving style and temperature can affect it, my roughly 11-mile commute fittingly uses half the charge. As such, I would be able to do round-trips to work and back while using no more than a very small amount of gas, and that's if I only charge at home. If I were charging at my house in addition to using our office charger, I'd be gas-free. When the car does have to use fuel for longer trips, it gets an EPA estimated 27 mpg in the city and 34 on the highway, which is pretty good considering the horsepower under the hood. And under the trunk floor. I haven't had the opportunity to try it on a long interstate journey to test the highway estimate, but that should happen soon enough.
Besides its go-fast and go-green credentials, the T8 is also the most refined S60. One of the drawbacks of Volvo's 2.0-liter four-cylinders is that they can be coarse and thrashy. Because of how much assistance the electric motor provides, you find that you need far fewer revs, thus avoiding much of the noise produced by the non-hybrid versions. And as mentioned earlier, you might not need to run the engine at all, allowing for maximum quietness. The Volvo transitions seamlessly between electric and gas power, too.
As good as the Volvo's hybrid powertrain is, it's not perfect. Besides the slightly rough-sounding engine, the transmission is sub-par. It shifts slowly and awkwardly compared to the gold standard of ZF's eight-speed. The electric motor helps cover some of this at lower speeds, but you'll still have to interact with it when driving hard or when electric power is depleted. Our T8 Inscription model also lacks shift paddles. This won't be a problem for many, but I enjoy shifting for myself when I want to drive quickly, and the S60 is a powerful, nimble sedan. Fortunately, if you pick an S60 R-Design T8 or Polestar Engineered T8, you do get shift paddles. You don't get the illuminated crystal shifter, though. I think it would be a worthy trade-off.
Also, while it’s not so much a complaint, one can't ignore that the Volvo T8 powertrain is the most expensive option. It’s only available on R-Design, Inscription and Polestar Engineered trims, and it’s most affordable on the first two trims where it starts at $56,395. Both R-Design and Inscription are available with the entry-level turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and front-wheel drive, too, and that configuration starts at $43,895, nearly $13,000 less than the hybrid. That’s entirely for the powertrain upgrade, as the standard and optional features don’t change. But with an extra 150 horsepower, electric capability and increased refinement, it’s a great choice if you have the means.
So with the caveat of price and acknowledging the less-than-perfect transmission, I still adore the S60 T8's powertrain because it does so many things well. It lets you go fast, be frugal, and stay comfortable, all in one package. It's a near perfect choice for a daily driver. And if I had the money, I'd be shopping for my own S60 T8 right now.
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