IAIN ROBERTSON 

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Volvo’s mid-size executive estate car is a paradigm for both business and private motoring demands, writes Iain Robertson, providing space, pace and agility but now incorporating plug-in benefits that reduce tax implications and running costs significantly.

Trying to define the typical company car is governed by its ‘user-chooser’ status, which makes the exercise remarkably difficult. In the good old, pre-computer days of biscuit and grocery reps, who dined out on a transport selection ranging from basic Ford Escort to the middle manager’s Cavalier SRi, assessing which was the ‘provided’ mode of mobility was much easier. There is now so much potential for car manufacturers, it is little wonder that some brands are entirely company funded.

While prestige brands have always done well out of the corporate sector, with ‘salary sacrifice’ and various tax-dodging efforts being explored, the end-user can be hit particularly hard in his back pocket, if his firm provides his wheels. Yet, just look along your local streets and you can second guess those persons opting for the mileage allowances. Semi’s with Range Rovers parked outside them are not so unusual in our status-focused new car scene.

IMGThe ‘premium’ brands have performed well, with the registration of Audi A4 models outpacing the entire Ford Mondeo range, as a measure of the shift from mundane to luxury. The ‘buyer’ wants more and is seemingly able to afford the transition, or his bosses are.

Swedish-based, Chinese-owned Volvo is in a great place at present. The clamour for its products is helping it to break all previous records and consumer satisfaction with the brand is on an all-time high. Its corporate vs. retail sales graph displays a heavy, near-75% bias towards the company car sector, which would probably be more, were dealerships to tick the ‘company car’ box on the V55 first registration document…which they tend not to. Incidentally, a 40% taxpayer would be liable for £265 per month in company car tax for the Volvo tested here.

Volvo’s carefully measured new model programme has the effect of adding excitement and not without some justification, because the combination of a 303bhp 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine, with an 87bhp electric motor (472lbs ft of torque in total) and an 11.8kWh lithium-ion storage battery, placates (temporarily) the anti-car environmentalist lobby, while laying an engaging pathway towards full model electrification in the future.

IMGHowever, those horsepower figures may seem at odds with Volvo’s eco-stance. After all, even tipping the scales at 1,990kgs, this V60 can scorch the benchmark 0-60mph sprint in just 4.6s, before coursing on to a top speed of 155mph. The clever stuff lies in its plug-in hybrid technology, or ‘T8 Twin-Engine’ in Volvo-speak. Apart from a lowly 39g/km CO2 rating, which is not exactly ‘tax free’ but ensures that ‘tax-minimal’ is the sugar coating, a WLTP combined fuel economy rating of up to 166mpg is not to be scoffed at.

Naturally, very few owners will reach upwards into that territory and 70-80mpg will be nearer the norm, which is still an excellent result, but, as we know from the WLTP ‘more realistic’ classifications, the figure will be attainable, which ensures that this high-performance thriller can gain free access to congestion charge zones, thanks to its EV-only range of around 36 miles, while depressing the throttle factors-in out of town thrills. As a city commuting machine, V60 T8 is a major points-scorer.

In all-wheel drive R-Design Plus specification, the chassis is blessed with Volvo’s Active Four-C adjustable suspension system. Controlled by the car’s Drive Mode settings (the small but beautifully crafted knurled roller, located behind the equally lovely ‘twist-to-start’ switch), responses to steering, the 8-speed automatic gearbox, engine management, brakes and even the climate control system can be altered across a series of different parameters, related directly to the honed ride and handling qualities. Ranging between luxuriant and racy, with immense grip provided by the 235/40×19 tyres (+£550 option on the test car), this model is a ‘your-wish-is-my-command’ V60.

IMGGiven its head on the open road, the V60 T8 flicks between urban civility and A-road aggression, without displaying the merest smattering of ill mannerisms. In fact, its power delivery is so fluent and allied to not even a hint of histrionics that relaxed and undemanding progress becomes the norm. When you need to dip into its vast reserves, its responses are immediate but somehow more logical than they might be in some so-called high-performance cars. The all-wheel drive system maintains the highest standards of stability and mechanical grip and the pace at which tortuous back doubles can be tackled is eye-opening.

Although equipped with paddle-shift, the reactive transmission block-shifts down the ratios, every time the throttle is floored in Drive, which means that its applications will be limited either to when towing, or just to stop automatic upshifts on twisty roads, or when the driver desires greater control, as in adverse weather conditions. The electronic parking brake also features an ‘Auto’ setting, which is more practical in built-up areas, or traffic snarl-ups.

The pair of bags you see in the boot contain the cables for either domestic three-pin, or charging-post devices. The US-built V60 boasts a price tag almost 50% more than a base level model (a pre-discount £58,355 including options), this version is not exactly inexpensive but, in terms of performance per Pound, it is virtually unrivalled. It also looks the business, hunkered 12mm lower to the road surface than the more luxurious Inscription Pro model.

IMGModerately well-equipped as standard, the R-Design Plus specification factors in Volvo’s supremely supportive Contour sports seats, with their adjustable pads, a head-up instrument display and the aforementioned gearshift paddles mounted to the steering wheel. The signature, 12.3-inch portrait touchscreen mounted in the middle of the dashboard is now more logical to flip and slide through its numerous menus and levels of connectivity, including the Volvo On-Call app and both iPhone and android links.

Conclusion:      Exhilarating to drive, despite immense safety margins (and supportive electronics), the V60 T8 is a stunningly engaging machine possessing heaps of space and flexibility that underscores its role for both drivers and enthusiasts.