It costs GBP13,000 to have this badge on the tailgate and PHEV electrified power underneath

It costs GBP13,000 to have this badge on the tailgate and PHEV electrified power underneath

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Liking PHEVs (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles) is one thing. But is around 30 miles of pure electric running really worth a premium of at least GBP13,000?

That is what UK buyers are looking down the barrel of should they be considering Geely owned Volvo Car's very popular XC60 crossover, launched last year. Although I suspect the acclaimed new XC40 is already nibbling at it from below, the XC60 remains Volvo's most popular model. Here in the UK, the automaker posted its second-highest annual sales figure for 25 years, selling 46,139 cars in 2017. This was only slightly behind 2016's record-breaking figure of 46,696, and was an especially strong result in an overall market down nearly 6%. Volvo also increased its UK market share by 5% in 2017, up from 1.73% in 2016 to 1.83%.

The XC60 was the best-selling model in the UK last year, with 16,302 sold, followed by the V40 (14,256) and the XC90 (6,210). The annual XC60 sales are particularly notable considering they included the run out of the first generation model and the introduction of the redesigned version. Globally, 2017 sales rose 7% to 571,577 cars with the old XC60 off just 9.1% to 141,506 in its final year plus 38,460 of the 2018 model launched at Geneva. Add those in and total XC60 volume rose 14.8% to 179,966, far and away the brand's most popular model behind the XC90.

So far in 2018, in the first four months total Volvo sales rose 13.6% to 200,042 cars but XC60 volume is slipping a little - old and new combined reached 54,838 versus 56,577 of only the old model last year but 11,790 XC40 sales suggests possibly a little sibling cannabilism - the newcomer, not on offer a year ago, is a handier size that I think I'd probably go for now it's available.

Although it's being unfairly demonised, diesel really is the way to go once you get up into larger, 4WD crossovers, provided you do sufficient mileage to keep complex, urea-sipping Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) systems with their diesel particulate filters happy. Do somewhere around 12,000-20,000 motorway miles a year and all should be well, with the diesel particulates being burned off as the electronics dictate. Potter around town at the rate of 3,000 miles a year (as I do) and going diesel is asking for trouble and possible four-figure emissions system repair bills.

Here in the UK, Volvo offers four engines - two petrol and two diesel - and all based around their latest 1969cc I4. All come with 4WD and an eight-speed Aisin-Warner automatic transmission and you have the choice of 190kW D4 and 235kW D5 PowerPulse diesels, a 254kW T5  petrol and the T8 Twin Engine. Of course, the T8 wins the CO2 emissions contest hands-down at just 49g/km which means a 40% company car 'Benefit in Kind' taxpayer is slugged around GBP174 a month. Everything else attracts tax of between GBP344 and GBP482 due to CO2 outputs of 133/136, 144 and 164/167 respectively - diesels are noted for much better fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions. Fuel-wise, the XC60s officially return somewhere between 51 and 55mpg on the EU combined cycle, the petrol 39 and the T8 134.5.

So going T8 will save you at least GBP170 a month in tax (plus attendant other benefits in depreciation write-downs, etc) as well as fuel cost savings but the price of PHEV entry is high - a D4 in R Design Pro trim will cost GBP43,705 while the T8 equivalent (the combo only comes with top trims) is a whopping GBP56,850. Saving the difference in tax payments alone will take three years and seven months for a company buyer, the private buyer (hello) will have to manage that on fuel (and maybe maintenance) savings alone. So, at least for private buyers, it's very much a heart and environment choice to go PHEV, a drivetrain Volvo Car UK has estimated 12% of all buyers would go for.

EVs, though, are struggling across the EU. ACEA data for the first quarter of 2018, announced earlier this month, said 37.9% of all new passenger cars in the EU ran on diesel. Petrol cars accounted for 55.5% of the market, making it the most sold fuel type. Alternatively-powered vehicles accounted for 6.5% of EU car sales in Q1 2018, with electrically-chargeable vehicles making up just 1.7% of all cars sold. That was down from 1.9% in Q4 2017 but the overall 'big picture' for 2017 wasn't all bad by any means. According to ACEA, 852,933 alternative fuel vehicles were registered in the EU, up 39.7% compared to 2016. The uplift was mainly driven by the hybrid electric segment (+54.8%), followed by electrically-chargeable vehicles (+39%) and other alternative fuels (+16.4%) that returned to growth after losing ground in 2016.

Said ACEA: "When looking at their market share, alternative fuel vehicles still only play a minor role in the European Union. Alternatively-powered cars accounted for 5.7% of the EU market in 2017, with electrically-chargeable vehicles constituting 1.4% of total passenger car sales last year."

Only an actual buyer can make the final decision - do I want to spend GBP13,000 to feel good about driving with much lower emissions? If yes, the XC60 PHEV is a great drive. It charges up from a regular home point in about three hours (due to parking congestion and a CEO needing his Tesla charged I didn't try the office box) and that's good for about 30 miles which is not quite enough for my 42-mile round trip. After the battery is depleted, the car performs much like a regular hybrid - it'll do as much as it can on electricity, generally at low speeds as it recharges a little from the petrol motor. When you do have plenty of volts in the pack, it's the rocket ship of the range and great fun to drive in a non-Volvo-like manner - 0-60 in just 4.9 seconds (versus 6.4 for the T5) and this is accompanied by the smugness of knowing how few CO2s your ride is emitting, sometimes with no emissions at the point of use at all, such as when sneaking around the suburbs at about 20mph. You can select various drive modes but the default is hybrid where I mostly left the selector.

The downside is a smaller luggage compartment - 468 litres versus 505 - because batteries have to go somewhere and that is under the floor which also rules out a spare wheel of any size, a pet hate of mine. Anything other than a tread puncture usually can't be fixed by the pump-and-goo 'tyre repair kit' so whatever CO2s are saved by leaving a wheel's weight out are more than offset by the CO2s emitted by the flatbed that has to take you and car home or to the nearest tyre shop.

Volvo wowed us with its XC90 interior and then handed it down a size to the XC60 and now, a size smaller again, to the XC40. It just oozes Swedish style and the tablet style Sensus infotainment screen is one of the biggest, this side of Tesla, and very intuitive to use. As with the XC90, Volvo's UK unit boosted specifications compared to some markets and Momentum (base) includes Europe wide navigation with traffic information and lifetime map updates, nine-inch centre touch screen and voice activation, City Safety with Steer Assist, Oncoming Lane Mitigation, LED headlights with active high beam, two-zone climate control, power tailgate, leather upholstery, heated front seats, Drive Mode settings, 18" alloy wheels and an 8" TFT driver's information display. New with the redesign were models tailored to fleet 'user-choosers' allowed to select a model according to pricing parameters but not to go nuts with the options list. Hence a Momentum Pro adds active bending headlights, On Call assistance, power driver's seat with memory, and heated steering wheel and windscreen. R-Design has blacked out 'sports' trim inside and out, firmer suspension and various interior tweaks plus a few extras for its Pro derivative. Inscription has nappa leather, power front seats, larger driver digital display, larger wheels, more chrome and interior wood inserts and the Pro pack adds items such as seat massage.

R-Design trim was forecast to take 30% of sales, the Pro version (test car) 10%, Momentum 25%, Momentum Pro 10%, Inscription 15% and Inscription Pro 10%. The tester was loaded with options, adding GBP8,650. I can understand thinking about a parking aid or a full suite of driver assistance, premium sound, or laminated side and rear glass but paying extra for smartphone integration, full keyless drive/handsfree tailgate, metallic paint and a power passenger seat, is pushing it, after asking the buyer to shell out GBP56,850 as it is.

Love PHEVs as I do, I think I'd just go for the same trim level plus an option or two from GBP44,440, at least until the 'lecky range is a bit more than just 30 miles.