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The 2019 S60, now in its third generation, comes off the line at Volvo’s new assembly plant in Ridgeville, South Carolina. (Volvo)
 

2019 S60 and V60 Volvo’s newest chips in the transformation game

They’re not the crossovers buyers in almost all major world market currently crave, but Volvo’s 2019 S60 midsize sedan—and to a lesser extent, its V60 station wagon counterpart—are significant indicators of this niche brand’s intent to stay viable in an auto market in upheaval over transformative technology.

And transformative economics: the S60 is the first model to come from Volvo’s new $1.1-billion assembly plant in Ridgeville, South Carolina. At least for now, the V60 wagon will be built in Europe; in 2021, the Ridgeville plant will phase in the next-generation XC90 crossover, said Anders Gustaffson, senior vice-president Americas and president and CEO of Volvo Cars USA.

Although most of the new, third-generation S60/V60 range is conventionally-powered, the line-topping T8 and the Polestar Engineered performance-oriented variant of the T8 are the real markers for where Volvo’s heading. The T8 models inject plug-in hybrid-electric electrification to simultaneously allow all-electric drive, enhance fuel economy and performance while simultaneously reducing emissions and incorporate standard all-wheel-drive (AWD). This electrification play is important, because Volvo had promised that starting in 2019, all new models will be available with an electrified-powertrain choice.

Apart from the obviously updated (almost entirely for the better), slinkier sheetmetal and dimensional changes—an increase of 3.8 in (97 mm) in wheelbase and 4.9 in (124 mm) in overall length—coming from now being on Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) meant to underpin virtually of all Volvo’s model lineup. Where the plot gets a little hard to follow is the stairstep of driveline options.

The T5 is front-drive only, getting 250 hp and 258 lb·ft (350 N·m) from the slightly stroke-biased turbocharged 2.0-L 4-cylinder that is the modular foundation of all Volvo IC-based powertrains. Easy enough.

Go to the T6 variant of either the S60 or the V60 brings the same engine, but with the addition of supercharging to aid low-speed torque and mitigate turbocharger lag. This arrangement is good for 316 hp and 295 lb·ft (400 N·m); the max torque comes over a lusciously broad range that starts at 2200 rpm and AWD is standard equipment. And stick with us here: for the T6 models, AWD comes old-school way, with a BorgWarner-supplied mechanical coupling linking the transverse engine up front and the differential at the rear axle.

“Twin-Engine” revolution

The technically intriguing (and complex) T8 driveline is what Volvo likes to call a “Twin-Engine” plug-in hybrid-electric (PHEV) setup. Once again, the turbo- and supercharged 4-cyl. is up front, now tuned for 313 hp (3 hp less than the T6 configuration) and the same 295 lb·ft (Polestar: 317 hp and 328 lb·ft).

Meanwhile, the T8’s electric rear axle drive (ERAD) comprises a 65-kW (87-hp) permanent-magnet traction motor with a liquid-cooled stator. The motor weighs just 75 lb (34 kg). It drives the S60 on its own when the car is operating in EV-only mode; it imparts all-wheel-drive and acceleration boost when required, plus provides braking/coasting regenerative ability to help recharge the battery pack.

But that’s not all; up front, the 2.0-L engine for T8 models features a crankshaft-integrated starter generator. This electric machine has 34 kW (46 hp) peak power used to start the engine, charge the battery and provide its own boost to the engine. This starter-generator also is liquid-cooled and weighs about 40 lb (18 kg). It can inject as much as 150 N·m (111 lb·ft) of torque to the engine crankshaft. Blend all this—IC engine, starter-generator and rear electric motor—and Volvo calculates total system power for the T8 at a thumping 400 hp and 472 lb·ft (640 N·m).

The power for the ERAD comes from 96 lithium-ion cells packaged in the central tunnel; the battery-pack capacity is 10.4 kWh and adds 113 kg (249 lb) to the T8 models’ curb weight. It accepts power from the grid-connected plug (Volvo gives owners a clever 110V/220V cable), vehicle regenerative braking or the engine-connected starter-generator. Plugged in at 220V, the company said the battery can be fully recharged in 2.5 hours.

Purposeful performance

Maximum electric-only driving range is 21 miles (34 km), with EPA fuel economy figures of 27 mpg city/34 highway and 72 MPG3. The full collaboration of turbocharging, supercharging and two types of electric boosting summons 60 mph (97 km/h) in a blistering 4.4 s; if this is “mild” electrification we’ll take it. The offsets are a plump-ish curb weight (around 4300 lb [1950 kg] is our best estimate until Volvo deals out an official figure) and the T8’s plump starting price of $54,400—although that’s hardly out of line for competitors of similar size and performance, such as Audi’s S4 or your pick of the multitude of souped-up Mercedes-Benz compact-midsize sedans.

The T6 variant of the new third-gen S60 is no slug, either, and the handsome and comprehensively-equipped R-Design trim shows off the S60’s new sheetmetal to best effect. Driving time in the Polestar Engineered was a combination of mostly exhilarating damped by a few downers, not the least of which being the fact that Volvo offered only 20 copies for the U.S.—that’s correct, two-zero—through its Care by Volvo subscription service and they all were “subscribed” in less than an hour. Volvo execs said more Polestars will come (we speculate component supplies may dictate some of the measured rollout) and the full electric vehicle (EV) Polestar 2 the brand displayed at the recent 2019 Geneva motor show was a spectacular sight.

But for now, the S60 T8 and Polestar Engineered are immensely desirable performance sedans that are serious examples of electrification’s potential. The combination of gasoline engine and rear electric motor seems an almost ideal arrangement and the S60’s startling, linear acceleration is inimitable by most conventional standards. We wish the brake pedal wasn’t so wooden and the T8’s system weight was less obvious, but if and until full EVs are ready for mainstream duty, Volvo’s got the best transitional solution we’ve tried.

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