High-horse plug-in hybrid rekindles joy of driving a sedan …
Sedans are such a rarity now that it’s a special treat to drive one, especially when it’s a sophisticated looking, high-horse plug-in hybrid from Volvo.
You may recall a time when Volvos were boxy and boring, but safe as the vault at Fort Knox, assuming it still has one.
This week’s thriller was the Volvo S60 Recharge AWD Ultimate Black Edition, which is a long way of saying a sporty luxury sedan with AWD, and Recharge is Volvo’s shorthand for saying it has an electrical component. This one is a plug-in, which currently (pun intended) is the way to go for practical powertrains.
What that means is that not only do you get a sleek Swedish design, but massive power, a 36-mile electric range great for city drives without adding to air pollution, and AWD for the occasion when winter delivers road slop. Meanwhile, the interior of this black beauty is one of the most comfortable I’ve experienced in the past year. More on that in a bit.
First, let’s look at the S60 from the outside. Since it’s a sedan the ride-height is low enough to crawl in and out without a step ladder or threatening a groin pull. The profile is lean and low with a long hood and short rear end. Lights are thin T-shaped “Thor’s Hammer” numbers that wrap from nose to the front fenders.
The grille, while large is not garish and this being the Black Edition the grille and logo are blacked out, as are the trunk’s logos and the snazzy wheels tucked inside R19 rubber. Taillights are typical Volvo snazzy, sort of a laid down J shape. It’s all as sophisticated as a James Bond tuxedo.
But the power, handling and ride make this Recharge Ultimate a blast to drive.
Get this, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder is supercharged and turbocharged, something Volvo does in several models, plus is enhanced by a 143-horse electric motor powering the rear wheels. That’s the plug-in hybrid portion that helps pump up horsepower here to 455, with a torque rating of 523. Wild child!
And you can adjust via the 12-inch info screen, whether you want hybrid power, Pure electric, or Power modes, along with full-time AWD. Any way you go the power will push you back into the plush seats while planting a smile on your face. This car was the fastest on a highway entry ramp, clocking a triple-digit speedometer reading, of anything I’ve driven that costs less than $80 grand.
Wow, this power is awesome and just so darned incredibly smooth aided by an 8–speed automatic. You feel like you’re on a bullet train as torque is instant.
Watch Mark’s video: 2023 Volvo S60 Recharge AWD Ultimate Black Edition review by Mark Savage – YouTube
Handling is sporty too with quick steering and a firm, precise feel. A few other makes feel racier, but this is a perfect blend of responsiveness and luxury. Likewise the ride is well controlled yet firm without being punishing. I drove this to downtown Chicago and back and some of the streets I was on made the moon appear silky. Never hit a bump that jarred the interior.
More on that hybrid system, which charges either via a plug-in, or via regenerative braking and engine backup. So an overnight charge gave me 36 miles of all-electric range, or I could let the system choose to mix and match gas and electric power for best performance and efficiency. Around town a driver could just use electric mode to reduce emissions.
Yet a button on the info screen allows the driver to go hybrid and charge at the same time. Here the braking and engine recharge the batteries to use electric power as needed. I used 20 miles of charge getting from my house to a highway stent heading to Chicago, then switched on the charging and had regained about 15 miles of charge while cruising the freeway. Awesome!
The shifter also can either be put in Drive and feel like any gas-powered car would, or put in B, for Battery. This is one-pedal driving that more rapidly slows the vehicle and recharges the batteries. If you’ve ever driven a golf cart or snowmobile it sort of feels like that. I love this setting as you rarely need to touch the brake pedal, so less wear and tear on brake discs.
Fuel mileage depends, of course, on how much battery you use for electric power. I averaged 32 mpg on the Chicago roundtrip, but more like 50 around town when I was using mostly electric power. The EPA rates the S60 Recharge at 31 mpg on gas and 74 mpge on electric. Sadly this horsey engine prefers premium fuel, but then you won’t be filling up frequently, if you keep it charged.
Again, running errands around town you can boost your numbers by putting the Volvo purely in electric mode.
Now originally when I climbed in the S60 I thought I was gonna be miserable for the week as the seats were so tight and had a bevy of buttons and controls for adjustment. But the info screen lights up to show you the bottom cushion leg extender and lumber support adjustments, so within a few minutes I was set. Long-legged drivers will love that bottom cushion extension.
On the highway drive and around town these charcoal leather and Nappa leather trimmed Black Edition seats were absolutely perfectly shaped and soothingly supportive. The front and rear seats also are heated, the rear seat heat and steering wheel heat are part of a $750 winter package that also includes headlight washers. That’s a European thing, but one that US makers should consider. Nice to clean the lights of road grime in winter.
Everything looks great inside too, from the soft leather-like dash and door panels to those seats that include gray accent stitching. Design is Scandinavian minimalist, yet the dash features textured metal trim while air vents and door releases are chrome as are the stereo speakers in the doors. Volvo’s console is gloss black, and for the life of me, I couldn’t find a wireless phone charger. Odd! But there are plugs in the center armrest to accommodate a charger.
The screen is a touchscreen that slides for additional layers of adjustment. I’m getting used to these Volvo screens, but it does take a while to master them and sometimes can be awkward to use while driving. Note this is now a Google-based infotainment system.
I’d love to see a flat-bottom wheel here to reflect the sporty nature of this luxury sedan, plus it’s not a power tilt/telescope wheel, but at least it’s heated. Better yet, you can set the seat and steering wheel heat quickly on the screen and it remembers the setting, even when you turn the ignition off and return. Bravo, many vehicles require resetting everything, a first-world annoyance in winter when running errands and hopping in and out of the car.
Volvo also includes a head-up display, along with a full bevy of safety equipment, not surprising for a Volvo as it earned its safety reputation ages ago. Standard are lane departure (which can be switched off via the info screen), blind-spot warning, parking sensors, collision avoidance, smart cruise control, automatic braking and more.
Overhead is a dual sunroof with power shade. That and the roof are controlled via a sensor overhead that you can just slide your finger over to retract the shade, and then the roof.
The optional Bowers & Wilkins stereo deserves mention too as it’s a monster with amazing sound, but adds $3,200 to the cost. Maybe save that for a home stereo unit. A fine harman/kardon premium sound system is standard.
The sparkly black paint job is gorgeous and only adds $695 to the price, but is sharper than most black paint schemes. Your call.
Rear seat room is good, plus those seats fold down to increase cargo room while also including a center pass-through for long items, something most European makes include that others do not. Rear seat headrests also can be folded down with the push of a rear-seat button, making for better rear visibility for the driver if there are no passengers riding in row two.
Trunk space is sufficient, but smaller than in some sedans at 11.6 cubic feet. Certainly it will hold 4-5 suitcases.
Finally, there’s the price, and this may surprise you. The S60 starts at a modest $41,300 for its front-drive version with a still generous 247 horsepower engine, and is a standard hybrid. AWD is a $2,300 option on lower trim levels. It was standard on the Recharge Ultimate.
Move up to the better-equipped Plus model and the price is $44,000, while the lowest cost Core plug-in hybrid lists at $51,250. The tested Ultimate was $59,045 to start, and $63,690 as tested. All prices include delivery fees.
That’s luxury sedan level pricing for sure, but if you consider its competitors, such as the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, Genesis G70, Cadillac CT4, Lexus IS, or Mercedes C Class, they can approach that price too. Yet the Volvo melds luxury with power, styling and a plug-in hybrid system that is second to none.
FAST STATS: 2023 Volvo S60 Recharge AWD Ultimate
Hits: Sharp looking sedan, excellent power, ride and handling. Big sunroof, heated wheel, heated front and rear seats, supper supportive multi-adjust seats, big screen, awesome stereo, a stylish luxury interior, plus head-up display and a full bevy of safety equipment.
Misses: Infotainment screen can be distracting to use while driving and no power tilt/telescope steering wheel. Pricy stereo upgrade. Prefers premium fuel.
Made in: Ridgeville, S.C.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo & supercharged I4 w/plug-in hybrid electric motor, 455 hp/523 torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Weight: 4,450 lbs.
Wheelbase: 113.1 in.
Length: 187.4 in.
Cargo: 11.6 cu.ft. (rear seats in place)
Tow: 2,000 lbs.
MPG: 74 elect./31 gas
MPG: 32.0 (tested)
Base Price: $59,045 (includes delivery)
Climate package (headlamp washers, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel), $750
Black metallic paint, $695
Bowers & Wilkins premium audio, $3,200
Test vehicle: $63,690
Sources: Volvo, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage