Not long ago, we were talking about an acutely misguided moment in the not too distant past, when Volvo killed its wagon line for the American market. So guess what I’m driving around New York and New Jersey this week? Yes, it’s a new Volvo wagon, something I and many other Volvoheads have been begging the company to sell here. And better yet, this 2014 Volvo V60 is not just a wagon – it’s a practical, cargo carrying thing that’s stingy with fuel, like Volvos used to be. Only stingier.
You see the V60 wagon I’m driving is not the one just on sale this month with the four-cylinder Drive-E gasoline engine. Notably more fuel-efficient than the five- and six-cylinder gasoline models it supplements and will eventually replace, the turbocharged Drive-E four supposedly boasts 10-25% reduced consumption overall, with official highway mileage anticipated in the high thirties. Which is a big step in the right direction for Volvo.
Nor is the car I’m driving the promised Drive E gas-electric hybrid. For this V60 outside of my house goes that car one better -- it’s Volvo wagondom’s top-of-the-line and economy champ, the plug-in diesel hybrid. Capable of running on pure battery power for 30 miles at speeds of up to 77 mph, it possesses supreme torque when a 2.4-liter diesel kicks in, with an additional 215 hp and 324 lb-ft of torque joining the 70 hp and 148 lb-ft already on tap, courtesy of the electric motor mounted between its rear wheels. Yet, though it is weighty indeed at 4506 lbs, the AWD V60 diesel hybrid still sips fuel as abstemiously as any real-world car we’ve ever experienced. It is pleasant, stylish, comfortable and totally normal to drive.
If fuel-efficiency was the goal, one can only wonder, what were they waiting for? So efficient is the diesel electric hybrid configuration that this new Volvo returns over 100mpg in European testing, while delivering a real world average, in my first day, in and around New York City, of over 50 mpg. It’s such a pleasant car and offers such amazing economy I have only one question: Why won’t they sell it here?
Yes, you read that right, Volvo has no plans to sell it in the United States, or the cheaper, 184-hp non-hybridized diesel version it will offer elsewhere, though, as noted, it will offer us a gasoline hybrid, whose EPA mileage should range into the low 40s, which ain’t bad. The company says its thriftier diesel and the diesel hybrid would be too expensive and the market for it too uncertain here to take the risk of certifying it for sale.
Oh, crawfish balls. Once more, Volvo fails to re-close the deal with its target audience. Must we say it again? Some important subset of car-buying Americans – including historic Volvo fans and all those with a deep attachment to the brand -- will pay up for a greener car, something Volvo has lacked for a decade or more. Volvo’s target here ought to be those iconoclastic, educated, wealthy and semi-wealthy persons who’ll fall for a practical, but not cheap car that is not a BMW and not a crossover SUV and especially such a thing when it gets extraordinary fuel economy. Even if they charged $50,000 or more (regular wagons will start around $36K) such cars would sell. They won’t sell a million, or maybe even 8000, but the brand, which had by its own admission lost touch with its heritage, will be helped immeasurably. Selling a diesel hybrid – exactly what the industry has long known is the most-efficient type of hybrid power train, but a type of car which has never been offered in America – can only be seen as a highly progressive act, just as offering three-point seat belts as standard (one of the great defining acts of the Volvo brand) once was. So does making it a wagon. The rest of the world know wagons are the most practical cars; in Europe, they represent over 50% of sales, and it’s not because they’re stupid.
Volvo needs to reconnect with its inner leftist and work harder on reclaiming the green banner it rolled up and put aside some years ago. The diesel hybrid would be the unique selling proposition that Volvo lacks and burnish its credentials better than any snazzy ad campaign. Instead, Volvo managers look at sales in the virtually non-existent world of diesel wagons sold in the U.S. and talk themselves out of the single best thing they could do for themselves. The non-diesel Drive-E hybrid marks a big improvement on the environmental front and will likely be swell, but the diesel is sweller.
Often, when a foreign company’s reps here want far away executives to know something about the American market that appears to have eluded them back home – for instance, the USA is not just the SUV-crazed monolith they imagine -- they arrange to bring over a product they aren’t selling here for journalists to sample in the hopes they’ll talk it up. So like the Volkswagen Up!, Golf GTD (GTI diesel), and VW Scirocco I’ve enjoyed recently, the V60 came my way when Volvo’s New Jersey press office wangled one out of Sweden for demonstration purposes. And I’m here to talk it up.
Knowing that Car Talk’s man just across the state line from their New Jersey HQ can’t stop talking about Volvo wagons -- and what he perceives to be the inviolable marketing imperative that they be deeply efficient -- they have given it to him, that is, me, for the week. As you will have gathered, it’s great and I love it. It has dealt handily, too, with the winter storm that struck the East Coast this week, for which the governor of New York declared a state of emergency. In the end, while the blinding cold lingers, the storm was not quite as bad as feared. To my mind, the real state of emergency here is Volvo dragging its heels on giving Americans their diesel hybrid wagon. Volvo, whose name means “I Roll” in Latin, needs to step out and start rolling, if they are ever to lead again. The V60 diesel hybrid helps this niche carmaker fill a niche that’s barely been scratched.
The V60 Diesel Hybrid should be their “it” car. But isn’t.