Cars

Plug-in hybrid duel: Audi Q5 vs Volvo XC60

Gunning for similar territory is Volvo’s XC60 T8 Twin Engine. In £59,670 R-Design Pro guise, this newly updated plug-in SUV packs a smaller-capacity battery than the Audi (11.6kWh versus 14.1kWh) but offers a slightly greater electric range, according to WLTP testing procedures (29 miles versus 26 miles). And like the Audi, its official economy and CO2 numbers offer plenty of on-paper appeal.

But whereas the Audi’s electric motor is integrated into its seven-speed transmission and uses a separating clutch to feed drive torque into the quattro drivetrain in conjunction with the petrol engine, the Volvo’s two powerplants are totally separate. At its nose, there’s a 2.0-litre four-pot (turbocharged and supercharged, for good measure) with 299bhp and 218lb ft driving the front wheels. At the back, there’s an 87bhp electric motor with an additional 177lb ft of torque, driving the rears.

Well, that’s standard specification, at least. Software tweaks by Polestar Engineered take things a bit further in our test car. This £745 option lifts the petrol engine’s power and torque to 313bhp and 234lb ft and drops the 0-62mph time from 5.5sec to 5.4sec. Admittedly, the numbers attached to both cars do seem somewhat out of step with their underlying eco-friendly ethos, but they are at least fairly evenly matched in terms of straight-line performance.

That said, with their petrol engines locked out of play, neither is dramatically quick, although both demonstrate respectable accelerative enthusiasm. The Audi’s electric motor has 258lb ft, which gives it an 81lb ft torque advantage over the Volvo, and so it hustles down the road with more urgency when you nail the throttle, but as far as response and linearity are concerned, it’s pretty level pegging.

The differences begin to emerge when both are operating as conventional hybrids and their petrol engines are brought back into the mix. Here, the Audi begins to eke out an advantage. Step-off in both is smooth, but it’s the silken manner in which the Audi’s combustion engine sparks up and takes over proceedings when you delve deeper into the throttle pedal’s travel that allows it to nudge ahead. It’s not that the Volvo’s is uncouth, but it just happens to make you marginally more aware of its arrival.

There are two reasons for this. First, the Volvo’s petrol motor is louder than the Audi’s when you’re tooling about. It’s by no means deafening, and the noise itself isn’t actually too bad – there’s a very distant aggression to its throaty warble – but you hear it and are immediately aware of it.

The second reason is a shade more convoluted. Because the Volvo’s electric motor can’t summon quite as much torque as the Audi’s, the minor hesitation between action and reaction – between pressing the throttle and the car accelerating – feels slightly more exaggerated in the Volvo and that momentary lull also heightens your awareness of the point at which the petrol engine steps in. And because the Volvo’s powerplant doesn’t deliver acceleration in quite as linear a fashion as the Audi’s EA888 unit, the whole process just misses out on that final level of elegance. It’s still impressive, but the Q5 does it better. And you know what? The Audi also nudges ahead when you forget about nursing any remaining electric range and go for it.

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