I spent a week testing the new Volvo XC60 T8 plug-in hybrid. It has a small battery that can be recharged with an external charger like an EV. It is also one of Volvo’s new models running on Android, but I ran into some issues with it, which I’ll cover.

Volvo XC60

Quick Look: Volvo XC60 plug-in hybrid

  • Twin engine; 8 speed geartronic
  • 340kW (233+107) and 790Nm (400+309) of torque
  • 2L petrol engine; 71L tank
  • 18.8kWh battery with 81km of range
  • 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds
  • Fuel consumption of 1.6L/100km
  • Base model: R1 218 900

The comfort and luxury you’d expect from Volvo

The XC60 is as stylish as you’d expect from the Swedish company, fitted with premium finishes, characterised by the large vertical 9″ infotainment screen in the centre. It comes standard with harmon/kardon speakers, and a bunch of safety and comfort features, including heated seats. I found it comfortable to be in the driver seat, and everything felt ergonomic.

The option packs fitted onto my test car includes power seat pack for R7 850; a light pack for R11 750; driver assist pack for R22 500; and a lounge pack for R33 500. Single options included a graphical head up display for R15 750; a 360-degree camera for R15 500, air suspension for R27 750; and 21″ double spoke alloy wheels for R22 500.

Base model R1 218 900 + extras R157 100 = R1 376 000.

A hybrid that lets you drive in electric mode

One of the main reasons I was excited to test this car was due to the hybrid model allowing you to drive in whatever mode you chose: full electric, petrol or hybrid. When I received the car fully charged, it showed 60km of range. I thought it would still be okay to drive around and do my errands, and that having a home charger will help keeping myself topped up. I was wrong.

To be clear, I loved driving the car in electric mode. The problem I found, either with my driving or just how the car is, the regenerative braking did nothing to recharge the battery. I could never gain back kms to prolong the range like I would typically in a full electric car. So I thought okay, I’ll just get home and recharge it.

Recharging the Volvo XC60 at a slow speed

The car comes with charging cables but I didn’t need to use them due to my charger having cables. The recharging aspect was another exciting thing for me, but unfortunately, I learnt the hard way, it only recharges at a maximum speed of 3.7kW. Yikes.

My charger is capable of double that, plus it goes up to 32A. When I plugged it in the first time around 10am, it said it would be fully charged by 3pm. Temperature also plays a role in charge time, which gradually increases. Charging for 5 hours felt unnecessarily long for the 60km range.

It’s just unfortunate we were/are going through the worst load shedding in our history, and with stage 6 on the schedule; I couldn’t have the car plugged in for such a long stretch. Thus it wasn’t feasible for me to drive the car solely in EV mode.

The Volvo XC60 runs on Android

You probably know this, but Volvo’s new EVs and PHEVs all run on Android natively. The car hasn’t yet received an eSIM update so I was provided with a MiFi dongle permanently plugged into the car.

Having a vehicle run on Android means you need to be connected to the internet to use its core infotainment features. This includes Google Maps (winning), Google Play Store, and Google Assistant. The problem was that none of it worked for me, even after restarting the dongle a few times. I was ensured there was enough data on the MiFi device.

The other problem in South Africa is connectivity. When you’re driving, and we all know this, you don’t get good signal on the road. Calls permanently drop, signal comes and goes, and you even end up on EDGE.  Towers are not everywhere so as you move you will have limited signal. And this is a problem when you’re driving out in the suburbs or long stretches. It worked at launch in the Sandton CBD and surrounds but as you move out of that zone, it’s not the same.

Wait, let me pair my iPhone

It took me a few days to realise perhaps poor signal was not the issue. I tried to connect the car to my iPhone after turning it into a hotspot. The problem here, and it’s no fault of Volvo, is that Android refused to connect to my iPhone. It took ages to show up (there were multiple refreshes), and when it did, I could see it disappear every few seconds; it wasn’t accessible.

I was frustrated at the experience of not being able to connect to anything, which meant I couldn’t use Google Maps – the main reason I love CarPlay, to access it. It kept defaulting to a location near the airport I think, no matter what I typed in (from a profile set on the car that I subsequently logged out of.

Driving the Volvo XC60

The actual drive on the Volvo XC60 was great, I made full use of the heated seats. It was silent in hybrid and EV mode, but when I switched to petrol mode, it was really loud, which felt weird. Perhaps I’m driving too many EVs. It’s a powerful vehicle, no doubt. You can use the regenerative braking mode but I found it a bit much, so I used the regular driving mode.

As a hybrid, at its core, it is meant to be efficient. Volvo claims 1.6L/100km; I know I could never achieve that but if you’re shopping around for a car and this is important to you, plus given the fuel costs, it is a vehicle to consider. Having said that, if smartphone integration and connectivity is important to you, you may struggle.

Interacting with the car on Android is like going through a phone’s settings. Since it’s a new system, it may also take a while for some to adjust because this is the default. I know many don’t bother pairing their phones to their vehicles but with this car, you’re forced to go into the deep menus and find what you want. I personally did not like the Android layout of apps, and felt certain visual aspects of accessing data was missing. But I know it’s a new operating system and apps need to be created for it.

Final thoughts

I applaud Volvo’s approach to doing things differently as the first manufacturer to launch a car with Android, but the experience in South Africa is not great. As a tech journalist, my focus is on what’s important to me and those who care about smartphone integration. I want to get into a car and have connectivity at minimum for Google Maps, which I rely heavily on for live traffic; no manufacturer’s default maps will come close to its accuracy.

Right now, the car is great for anyone who uses Android because it should pair easily for data, but as an iPhone user, it was a frustrating experience. I know there is an Apple CarPlay update coming, and Volvo SA has not gotten back to me on when this will happen; likely next year? I would love to test the car again when its live to see what a difference it makes, and a car that has the eSIM rolled out. Perhaps it will be a better experience than this one. If you’re an iPhone user waiting to buy a Volvo, rather wait for these updates to be live so you can test it beforehand.