T8 transforms Volvo S60 saloon into a road rocket

T8 transforms Volvo S60 saloon into a road rocket

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Select Fusion Red Volvo S60 T8 Twin Engine AWD R-Design Plus saloon at UK 'Recharge' event. Vaguely recall last drive of T8 XC90 several years ago (was it really as far back as August 2014 the wraps came off what was the first of a whole swathe of new Volvos free of Ford influence?) Point S60 at straight road. Floor accelerator. Wa-hey!!!!! Return to base and study spec sheet. 4.4 seconds 0-60mph acceleration. You are kidding me? No, they're not.

Not so long ago, such performance was in supercar territory requiring lots of cylinders to achieve. Today, a 1969cc petrol I4 develops 303hp and, aided and abetted by a 87hp electric motor, gives you the T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid powertrain, with a total output of 390hp. Top speed: 155mph. Not your grandfather's Volvo.

This is the third generation S60 now and it is made in the US, another sea change for the Swedish brand which also sells cars worldwide made in China. You can't tell as quality appears identical regardless of source, in a showroom-style inspection.

The launch T5 turbocharged 250hp petrol unit has been joined by this all-wheel-drive T8 combo and other powertrains. The 11.8kWh battery provides an electric-only range of up to 36 miles, with CO2 emissions from just 39g/km. Fuel economy (on the WLTP combined cycle) is up to 176.5mpg. We couldn't verify electric range as the poor thing was charging from almost 'empty' when we nabbed it but what little distance we could do on 'lecky' showed adequate performance for sneaking around the neighbourhood or downtown where EVs work best. Unless I am very lucky, the EV range would fall short of my occasional 38-mile round trip to just-auto.com towers, but it'd be worth a shot. Like the T5, the T8 Twin Engine uses an engine from Volvo's own Drive-E petrol range and an eight-speed automatic transmission.

R-Design Edition launch trim has now been replaced by R-Design Plus and is joined by the new Inscription Plus variant. R-Design Plus is designed to provide a more focused driving experience, thanks to (on T5 versions) stiffer springs, faster-responding monotube dampers, thicker anti-roll bars and a 12mm lower ride height (T8 variants come with the standard suspension settings to no disadvantage as our, er, spirited sample drive showed). Other R-Design Plus highlights include a head-up display, gearshift paddles, high-­gloss black exterior trim elements, a choice of 18­, 19­ or 20-inch alloy wheels, metal mesh aluminium interior inlays and part-leather sports seats.

The new Inscription Plus trim features chrome trim along with a different design of alloy wheels, Nappa full-leather upholstery, 'Driftwood' decor inlays and cooled seats on top of the heated seats of other S60 variations.

The S60 also can now be fitted with adaptive dampers allowing driver to select the firmness of the suspension to tailor the car's dynamics to the road surface or personal preference. Known as Active Four-C Chassis, the adaptive dampers are optional on T5 R-Design Plus and Inscription Plus versions and are controlled via the S60's standard drive mode settings, which also alter the responses of the engine, automatic gearbox, steering, brakes and climate control system.

UK prices are from GBP37,935 (US$45,975) on the road. Even better, a 405hp T8 Polestar Engineered version is coming. I can see that getting to 60mph before my eyeballs catch up.

XC90 B5 mild hybrid

The B5 diesel 48 volt mild hybrid was another must-try at Volvo UK's Recharge event. The 2020 model year XC90 line is the first with this and badges it B5. This combo is the established two litre 235hp Drive E diesel engine with a 48 volt battery, a KERS kinetic energy recovery system and an integrated starter generator. The system is claimed to improve fuel economy by up to 15% in real world driving and produces lower NOx emissions than the outgoing D5 it replaces. Energy captured by the KERS system when the car brakes or decelerates is stored as electricity in the battery and is used to supplement the engine's performance when accelerating and to power ancillary functions such as the headlights and audio system. The technology will also be applied to petrol engines in the XC90 line in the coming year.

The B5 also gets an updated automatic transmission which brings claimed improved fuel efficiency and superior gearshift quality. Acceleration from a standstill is sharper, too, thanks to a greater torque capacity in the lower gears. Clearly, you ain't going to get the neck-snapping acceleration off the line the S60 T8 enjoys but 7.1 seconds to 60mph in a large SUV weighing 2,172kg (S60 T8 is 2,031kg) is nonetheless not to be sneezed at and rather irrelevant to the school run in any case. That said, you do feel the electric motor - which tugs on the main drive belt - giving a helping hand and I always like the almost imperceptible way these starter/generator gadgets restart engines after a traffic light or similar automatic stop - much smoother and with less delay than using a conventional starter motor.

The B5 also breaks new ground for Volvo by using a brake by wire system. Do the brakes seem to work any differently? No. Are they just as good as conventional stoppers? Yes.

Volvo has, however, not left other XC90 powertrains alone. The T8 Twin Engine, in this original use of the powertrain, now has an upgraded high voltage battery with an increase in capacity from 10.4 to 11.8 kilowatt hours which usefully increases the car's electric only driving range from up to 21.7 to a claimed maximum of 28.6 miles.

I'd need to park new alongside old but Volvo noted 'evolutionary' styling updates focused on detailing such as new grille and lower front bumpers. Air intakes also have a fresh look and new alloy wheel designs have been introduced. All XC90 versions also now come with integrated roof rails and dual integrated exhaust tailpipes as standard. R Design variants have a new black, high gloss finish for the exterior trim, including door mirror casings, window frames and roof rails. Inscription grade variants have a new chrome strip that runs the full width of the rear bumper and there are also new exterior colour options.

Inside, R Design versions can now have a new slate upholstery colour in addition to the established, darker, charcoal. Two USB ports in the cabin are now standard and Momentum trim models add power adjustment for the front passenger seat while T8s now come with a purpose designed bag to store the recharging cable. That's a good idea as these can get grubby and transfer said grub to the nice boot trim or storage compartment.