Mountain Wheels: Volvo’s hybrid XC60 and BMW’s 330e mix performance with electric bonuses

Volvo’s top-of-the-line XC60 hybrid model features a 400-horsepower 2.0-liter engine/electric motor combination that provides tangible power and a short all-electric range.
Andy Stonehouse/Courtesy photo

I recently had a somewhat animated request to entirely stop reviewing gasoline powered vehicles, forever. While I understand the urgency of that request, my anecdotal read on electric vehicle saturation, especially in Summit County, suggests that’s a pretty tall order, especially overnight.

As a way of moving the needle, however, let’s continue to address some other hybrid options. More EVs are headed my way for tests in the coming weeks, but I find they often don’t turn out to be actively marketed for winter use. Let’s see if things have changed this winter.

Volvo, which positioned itself as the first carmaker to promise to dump gasoline motors from its entire lineup (as many others have now promised to do), so far hasn’t offered us much info about its new C40 and XC40 all-electrics. You might remember the Polestar 2 I drove last spring that is built on a similar platform.

My time in the full-size XC90 hybrid also suggested that real-world fuel savings were not really part of the equation. However, if you’d like a hybrid experience that more fully delivers, the one-size smaller XC60 Recharge — base priced at $61,000 and tested at $71,340 as a top-of-the-line T8 Inscription model — channels the same powertrain as the XC90 into a more sprightly, responsive and semi-decent mileage kind of situation.

Besides the slightly hovercraft-styled reality of the vehicle’s four-corner air suspension system, which set itself down on top of curbs when I parked a couple of times, the 60 seems like a more practical use of the electrified platform. That air system is also helpful if you do want to lightly go off-roading, as it will give you significant lift when you want it.

It’s still 400 horsepower with 472 pound-feet of torque — and it’s still got just about 19 miles of full-electric range — but I found it easier to push the mileage into the 30-mpg range, depending on how hard you drive it. Officially, it’s rated at 57 mpg of gasoline-equivalent, or 27 mpg for its gas-only engine.

All of that electric boost shows up more tangibly here and adds extra oomph to what I believe is one of the most pleasant crossovers of its size category. Like the 90, it’s super stylish, comfortable and still utilitarian, with a little less of the pure mass.

It’s also devoid of the shudder, the ambiguity and the disconnected feeling I found in the bigger vehicle as the hybrid shifts and blends between electric kick and regular gas-engine wallop. I still could never quite get used to Volvo’s paddle-operated engine braking system, which either slowed me down too much or didn’t seem to do much at all.

The design is fantastic, from its ultra-anatomical, perforated leather seats and the cream-colored cabin. The dash is low and flat and the A-pillars are thin. Though the boxy, oversize side mirrors can get in the way of some visibility, and rear headrests can be automatically dropped to provide clearer rear vision.

Rear seating will still accommodate most passengers, though the cabin is a bit more plain back there, with B-pillar mounted air conditioning and heating vents. You’ll also find reasonable storage space (63.3 cubic feet total), though the under-deck space is largely used up by batteries and the air bottles for the optional lift system.

For an equally stylish experience that also offers all the sporty response and handling of the BMW 3-Series sedan, there’s also the 330e hybrid. It is offered as a very sporty rear-wheel-drive model, starting at $42,950, or the more practical xDrive all-wheel-drive model for $2,000 more.

I had some time in the former, optioned up to $59,645 of MSport bits with pretty much everything you could throw at it, but also equipped with high-performance summer tires — last winter. Ugh. My advice is to go for the xDrive version if you are doing mountain duty.

Hybrid technology in BMW land means a 2.0-liter turbo, a hybrid battery and an electric motor which work together to provide 228 horsepower and an admirable 310 pound-feet of torque. Like the Volvo, the all-electric range is designed exclusively for short journeys (22 miles in the RWD model, 20 in the AWD), but the vehicle gets a 75 mpg of gasoline-equivalent rating, or 28 mpg for its gasoline engine alone. BMW has an arrangement with the EVgo charging network, should you be able to find an EVgo charger in your neck of the woods.

It’s also loaded with tech that manages to make a Prius look like a toaster oven. There’s a GPS-based navigation optimization system that can figure out the best spots on your commute to switch into all-electric mode, plus a magical litany of drive mode micromanagement settings.

Andy Stonehouse

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