Mountain Wheels: Volvo’s partially electrified S60 is part of an odd motoring future
So what is it that you miss the most already about life in the old days? Movie theaters? Time on the beach with the whole family? That lackadaisical feeling that we all apparently took for granted?
For me, it’s the connected world of automotive journalism. I am very lucky to get to drive a whole pile of new cars, but that’s a pretty lonely enterprise. And as mentioned earlier this year, when you can’t show off a Rolls-Royce to your friends and family in person, it’s almost like you didn’t have it in the first place.
We car writers are part of a small but thriving journalistic business that’s seen new models and product innovation launched with in-person events, including test drives, chats with the designers and technicians, and a lot of social time with automotive insiders and fellow writers.
Like everything else, that world came to a screeching halt in March, along with car shows. The alternative, as many manufacturers have done in the meantime, is the same sort of video experience that you, your kids and your Aunt Mabel have tried to use to replicate in-person events. But they are not quite the same thing, as flashy and car-show-styled as they could otherwise be.
Ford, I think, was the first U.S. manufacturer to have a sort of in-person event, with this week’s launch of the new Bronco — I saw 10,000 posts online about it but wasn’t there — and I hear that Porsche has been doing incredibly awkward, hyper-sanitized, small-scale media events in Europe.
Which brings me to Volvo, and the thing I personally miss most about the old days. I had a couple of glorious, back-to-back summertime trips to southern Spain to drive new models a few years back. Like many of you, I have not been on a plane since January, and even venturing as far as Glenwood Springs or Fort Collins by car now seems like a big deal, not to mention the social distancing requirements once you step onto the sidewalk.
Volvo is the only manufacturer that’s asked if and when we are going to feel comfortable enough to attend in-person launch events, and it’s made me think of a few of their vehicles I had just as things were starting to get weird. It’s also been a while since I’ve been in a newer model, with an awfully good excuse: Volvo offered its entire fleet of corporate vehicles, including our press automobiles, to doctors and health care workers for use in COVID-19 hotspots, which seems like a pretty noble undertaking.
My last drive in the new, partially electrified version of the S60 sedan was the week before everything started to get shut down in Colorado. The $64,190 T8 E-AWD is the most futuristic exponent of Volvo’s widely advertised campaign to go all electric as soon as technologically possible.
The S60 or even the big XC90 partially electric aren’t quite there, but you get the feeling of how close they’ve come in a short period and how battery reserves and charging infrastructure are really going to be the only major holdup. Tesla, which we car writers aren’t allowed to drive — thank you, Elon — took care of their own infrastructure system, and the fully electric technology seems to be there, plus range that almost makes their cars capable of seminormal automotive use.
In Volvo’s case, the system is just a start, one I am hoping we will see later this year with the launch of the all-electric XC40 Recharge crossover. The S60 itself is beautiful and sporty to drive, but that’s because it’s still got a gasoline engine, in this case a 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged engine that is good for 318 horsepower on its own. The added electrical motor and batteries boosts that total to 400 horsepower and an astounding 472 foot-pounds of torque, which makes it all desperately fast and earns the vehicle a 69 electronic mpg rating or a little more than 30 mpg running on gasoline only.
I used an Electrify America charging station in Littleton to give the vehicle a top-up (adding 50% of battery charge in about 49 minutes using a Level 2 charger). That allowed a meager 14 miles of almost entirely electric operations before the engine kicked back in — not quite the
“car of the future” experience you’d hope for. As they say, baby steps.
In the meantime, the interior details also have been upgraded, including a broad, crystal shift lever that, unlike other premium brands, will move between drive and reverse without using extra buttons.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at email@example.com.
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Spoiler alert: There was almost no drama whatsoever during my recent test of the accomplished, practical and even vaguely sexy-looking Hyundai Sonata hybrid.