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Volvo Drive-E Engine Family First Drive

By Keith Buglewicz on February 14, 2014 3:33 PM
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More than two years ago, Volvo announced that it would be ditching its entire engine lineup in favor of a single new engine family, called Drive-E. Available in gasoline and diesel versions, this new engine architecture would be the sole powerplant for all new Volvo cars. The plan -- or at least the messaging behind it -- was that through turbocharging and supercharging, there would be no loss of performance, but a significant increase in fuel economy, and added weight savings. 

Now Drive-E is here, and we've driven the first vehicles to feature the new engine: the 2015 Volvo S60 sedan, XC60 SUV, and the new V60 wagon. Due to limitations with the existing chassis, the new engines are only available in front-wheel drive models; all-wheel drive Volvos will still use the old engines. But after driving the 240-horsepower turbocharged version, and the 302-hp turbocharged and  supercharged version, we're convinced that Volvo's strategy is right on the money. 

Also: 10 Best Luxury Cars Under $40,000

New Engines for a New World

The two engines introduced in the S60 sedan, XC60 SUV, and V60 wagon are all-new, and herald a clean break with its previous owner, Ford. Variations of this 2.0-liter engine -- including a diesel version currently not available here -- will replace every other engine in Volvo's lineup. The Drive-E engine family is all 4-cylinders, using either a turbocharger or a combination of turbo and supercharger to bring power up to the same level as the bigger engines it replaces. These new engines are smaller, lighter, more fuel efficient -- and most importantly to the company -- designed, engineered and manufactured completely by Volvo. Additionally, the smaller, lighter lineup will allow Volvo more flexibility in packaging, and its modular design allows for relatively easy integration of electric motors for hybrid versions. 

In the U.S. for now, the new engine comes in two flavors, and only on front-wheel drive models. Somewhat confusingly, Volvo is sticking with its old designations: while front-wheel drive Drive-E T5 and T6 models only have four cylinders, all-wheel drive modes with the same designation will have 5- and 6- cylinder engines. On the other hand, we doubt many buyers will care about that. They'll be more interested in the Drive-E's performance. The T5, with 240 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque (280 lb-ft is briefly available at full throttle), will be the volume model. That's 10 fewer horsepower, and 12 fewer lb-ft of torque than the 2.5-liter 5-cylinder it replaces, but thanks to lower weight and an 8-speed automatic transmission from Aisin, the Drive-E equipped car is actually quicker.

The Drive-E T6 uses a supercharger and turbocharger to get 302 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque out of the same 2.0-liters of displacement. At low revs, the mechanically-driven supercharger adds power and torque, giving this small engine the low-end grunt you'd associate with a larger 6-cylinder. Above 3,000 rpm a valve redirects air to the turbocharger, the supercharger idles, and the turbocharger continues adding boost all the way to redline. It's complicated, sure, but it also delivers on Volvo's promise of offering up 6-cylinder performance with 4-cylinder fuel economy and engine size. It, too, is paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission. 

The two engines have three driver-selectable modes: ECO+, Drive, and Sport. ECO+ changes the throttle input, disconnects the air conditioning, and enables the car's Start/Stop mode at 4 mph in T5 models to save fuel. Drive mode keeps the Start/Stop, but activates it only at a full stop. Sport mode doesn't use Start/Stop at all, and also makes the transmission settings more aggressive, holding a gear longer, and shifting at higher revs.

Also: See the 2014 Small Luxury Sport Sedans 

From The Driver's Seat

We drove the 2015 Volvo V60 wagon, S60 sedan, and XC60 SUV with the new engines, and came away impressed. The T5 version offered up strong acceleration with almost no lag from the turbo, and it proved to be surprisingly fun. The 8-speed automatic was a willing companion. We especially liked Volvo's programming for its manual function, which allows you to hold a gear from absurdly low revs all the way to redline. The T6 version of the Drive-E was notably more powerful, although the front-wheel drive cars we drove suffered from torque steer with the new engine. Some said they felt a slight flat spot in power as the turbocharger took over from the supercharger, but others felt nothing. Regardless, it's a minor nit to pick, and one that could be completely eliminated in the future through some clever engine management programming.

These two engines hold a lot of promise for the future. Hybrid versions are planned, and diesels are already on sale in Europe. While chatting with Volvo's Derek Crabb -- vice president of powertrain engineering and the chief architect behind the Drive-E engines -- he casually mentioned that the T6 version is capable of producing upwards of 400 horsepower. He didn't say exactly where we might see a 400-plus horsepower version of the Drive-E, but we speculate that such an engine would be more than adequate for the all-new Volvo XC90 SUV coming later this year. That SUV will be the first Volvo built on the company's new Scalable Product Architecture, which will be able to take full advantage of the Drive-E technology.  After our first encounter, we think the full Drive-E lineup is worth waiting for.

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