Volvo blazes hybrid trail with 2020 S60 e-AWD

The 2020 Volvo S60 Inscription e-AWD. Volvo/TNS

While Volvo has always been a step ahead of the crowd when it comes to safety, the Swedish carmaker these days is carving a new trail with hybrids and plug-ins, too.

Volvo sold nearly 23 percent more plug-in hybrids last year than the previous one. This year it expects plug-in hybrid cars to make up 20 percent of its total sales, according to Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson. And, know this: Volvo is the only carmaker in the world to offer a plug-in variant of every model in its lineup.

The 2020 S60 T8 E-AWD Inscription proves another point: Volvo isn’t shy about packing plenty of punch into these fuel-efficient creatures. The S60, among the most powerful of hybrids, touts a combined 400 horsepower from the alliance of its 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged I-4 engine (313 hp) and two electric motors (87 hp).

With gas and electric working together, the nearly two-ton sedan can get up to 60 mph in an amazing 4.4 seconds — without drama, fuss or much noise. The S60 also produces 472 pound-feet of torque, an impressive figure for a smallish midsize luxury sedan.

The T8 plug-in for 2020 gets a larger 11.6-kWh battery pack but that doesn’t mean a longer driving range: It still gets only 22 miles on electric alone. Volvo claims fuel economy of 69 mpg-e combining gas and a full charge, but that could take some magic. The gas engine is rated at around 30 mpg when operating alone.

So here’s the deal: If you don’t wander far, you could go days before tapping the gas tank. A full charge takes 3 hours at a 240-volt station; not bad. The trick with hybrids is that you must be diligent about charging daily. It’s easy to forget, or get lazy. For those folks, a nonhybrid S60 is available with the same 313-hp 2.0-liter engine.

S60’s ride is on the firm side but comfortable and well composed. The suspension is tuned to keep it flat through the S-curves, but it also handles the road’s imperfections admirably. Electric-assisted steering is lightweight, possibly to a fault since it hampers feedback.

Power is delegated via a smooth and decisive 8-speed Geartronic transmission. Annoyingly, the shifter drops it into neutral first so you have to tap it twice to get into a drive gear from reverse. All-wheel drive is standard across all four trim levels of S60 and it’s front-wheel biased, sending power to rear wheels only when needed.

Selectable drive modes tailor the driving dynamics to fully electric, maximum power for sportier driving, or a blend of adjustments to throttle, steering and suspension for individual driving style.

This is the third generation for the S60. It’s also the first Volvo to be built in the U.S. at its new factory in Ridgeville, S.C. It gets Volvo’s new signature grille, a streamlined profile with curved hips and a ducktail trunk lid. Volvo designers say they set out to give it a “confident and playful” look.

But it’s inside where Volvo really shows off its style, build quality and exceptional materials, especially with the Inscription trim. Elegant touches include a gem-shaped crystal shift knob (it glows at night!) designed by a prominent Swedish glassworks firm, and gray driftwood inlays on the dashboard and doors.

A $2,200 luxury seating package offers soft Nappa leather seats, heated and cooled, with bottom-cushion extensions to provide added comfort for taller folks. Seats are 10-way power adjustable, include four-way lumbar support and back massage for long-haul comfort. Even side boosters are adjustable.

Head- and leg-room is generous throughout the cabin; The S60 is 5 inches longer this year so rear-seaters inherit 35 inches of leg room, ample for six-footers.

But interior storage is in short supply, with little cubby space beyond the door pockets. Even the center console is only an inch deep. Trunk space, too, is wide but shallow and below average at 11.6 cubic feet. It’s enough for a week’s worth of groceries but a long weekend for four could be a challenge.

On the tech side, all S60s now get the expanded 12.3-inch virtual instrument panel and head-up display for convenience. A 9-inch vertical touchscreen accommodates Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system. Slide the screen of icons horizontally to reveal apps and functions, but good luck getting familiar with it. It’s sluggish at times and not the most intuitive of systems. Even changing radio channels was confounding.

But the optional Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system ($3,200) will blow your sneakers off. The volume capability is triple what human ears can endure. Then again, Stairway to Heaven was unbeatable.

Volvo takes a backseat to no one on safety, with many features coming standard: forward collision warning, pedestrian detection automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning and road departure mitigation. Optional are blind spot monitor, reverse automatic braking and adaptive cruise control.

Parking sensors detect the curb in front as well as how close you are to the vehicle in the next space.

Even with foes from Audi (A4), Mercedes (C-Class) and BMW (3-Series), the S60 Inscription makes a pretty good case for itself with power plus efficiency, a handsome interior and advanced technology. Now we can expect Volvo to stay ahead of the game in the growing hybrid world, too.

Barry Spyker was the automotive columnist for The Miami Herald and editor of its Wheels & Waves section. Readers may send him email at spy2351@yahoo.com.

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