Over the past decade, Volvo has morphed from a Scandinavian curiosity – best known for the safety of its automotive 'bricks on wheels' – to something more nuanced. And, dare I say it, more interesting.
The now Chinese-owned marque seems to have found a purpose and direction beyond being simply safe and Swedish.
In addition to a handsome, angular design language linking its popular SUV range to its passenger cars, the brand has also taken a firm position on electrification, declaring that each of its model lines would have an electric motor variant from 2019 and that by 2025, 50 per cent of its sales will be electric.
This S60 T8 R Design, the third-generation version of the brand’s mid-sized luxury sedan, is the evidence of this commitment in practice in the form of a plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) drivetrain, wrapped in solidly handsome sheet metal.
Launched in Australia late in 2019, the S60 comes in four variants starting with the T5 Momentum ($54,990), rising to the T5 Inscription ($60,990), the T5 R Design ($64,990), and finally this range-topping T8 R Design ($85,990).
Our test car also came fitted with a Premium Pack adding a panoramic sunroof, rear window sun curtain, a banging Bowers and Wilkins sound system ($5000), and metallic paint ($1500).
The T8’s powertrain positions it as the performance leader in the range, combining a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine (246kW/430Nm) driving the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic; and a battery-powered electric motor (65kW/240Nm), driving the rear hoops and giving full-time all-wheel drive capability.
On the road, the combination delivers an instant kick off the mark that launches the 3-Series-sized sedan impressively, nailing the 0-100km/h sprint in 4.3 seconds despite its two-tonne mass.
Selectable drivetrain options offer the choice of running in zero-emissions electric power (‘Pure’), combined electric and internal combustion engine (‘Power’), or default ‘Hybrid’ mode.
Best of both worlds
Being a hybrid, the T8 is perfectly capable of driving on fossil fuel power alone, but if you want to stretch your time between fills and do your bit for the environment, it offers up to 45km of electric-only driving.
As with all things EV, however, the claimed electric range is somewhat theoretical. When running with air-con and other vehicle systems on, for example, this quickly becomes a real world 30-35km. So, too, is the T8’s claimed 2.0L/100km fuel consumption figure largely academic, since our test returned a figure closer to 7.0L/100km.
Fully charging the 12kW/h battery takes around five hours via a conventional home socket, or three hours via a higher-power wall unit or public charging location. A flap on the passenger-side front guard provides access to a multi-point charging socket, while a stowage bag tethered in the 390-litre boot houses the supplied charging cable.
A battery gauge in the main digital instrument panel shows how much charge you have at any given time, while an adjacent readout shows the remaining kilometres of electric-only range. It quickly becomes a personal challenge to see how far you can eke out of each tank by recharging whenever possible.
Scandinavian by design
The cabin is spacious, comfortable and luxuriously trimmed, displaying the sort of minimalist design aesthetic for which the Scandinavians are known.
There’s a pleasing shape and layout to the dash design, with a tasteful mix of quality materials, including shapely leather-trimmed seats and stitched leather on the dash and doors.
It’s also terrifically well insulated from road and wind noise, while all but silent in electric mode – transitions from electric to ICE power are discernible only by the muted snuffle of the petrol motor kicking in.
The steering is accurate and well weighted, while the T8’s body control is impressively taut, in keeping with its status as the performance hero in the range. The ride on its low profile 19-inch wheels is not as cosseting as the base version on 17-inch rubber, but remains fairly civilised even on bumpy stuff.
With the impressively smooth, fast and sophisticated S60 T8 R Design, Volvo is charting a new era in sports sedans, one where prestige buyers have all the pace of a high-performance V8, but with the ability to do their bit for the planet by plugging in, recharging and managing their daily commute while choosing whether to burn unleaded.