Let’s start with a quick reminder. The XC60 is Volvo’s compact luxury SUV. All new for 2018 the second-generation XC60 shares its core with Volvo’s larger, widely-beloved XC90 SUV. Our recent exposure to the 2018 Volvo XC60 was not Kelley Blue Book’s first, but this outing was special for two reasons. 1: It was our first chance to drive the range topping XC60 T8 plug-in hybrid. 2: The sun was miraculously obscured in the midst of our Denver-based test drive…as foretold by TV morning shows across the land.

Not to be outdone by the great American solar eclipse of 2017 the Volvo XC60 T8 presents a dazzling display of technology. Powering the front tires is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that is both turbocharged and supercharged to the tune of 313 horsepower. Meanwhile a lithium-ion battery packed housed in the car’s center tunnel sends electrons to an electric motor that spins the rear tires, adding another 87 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque to the mix.

With its unconventional yet stout hybrid powertrain the XC60 T8 moves with unsurprising authority. Mash the accelerator and gobs of electric torque launch the XC60 forward with thrilling immediacy. After a short beat the gasoline engine joins the party. Depart the farmers market in anger and the XC60 T8 can lunge from nothing to 60 mph in a hair less than 5 seconds according to Volvo. That’s darn quick. But driving the T8 isn’t just about startling suburban dog walkers. It’s also about efficient movement.

Impressive economy

For tamer excursions, the T8’s fuel economy should handily top the less-powerful, non-hybrid XC60 T6 AWD, which sports a similar engine setup minus the magic of electrification. Volvo hasn’t yet released fuel economy figures for the XC60 T8 but its hybrid powertrain also appears in the XC90 where it yields a 4 mpg city and 2 mpg highway advantage versus the un-electrified all-wheel drive XC90 T6 trim (20city/25hwy). As a plug-in hybrid the larger XC90 T8 offers 14 miles of pure electric range. Electric range for the smaller XC60 T8 is still forthcoming but an XC90-like number is a fair guess. Bottom line, chose the 2018 XC60 T8 and you’ll be rewarded with more power and lower fuel costs.

While we’re on the subject of money, a 316 horsepower Volvo XC60 T6 AWD Momentum trim starts at $45,895 including destination charges. By contrast the hybrid XC60 T8 eAWD Momentum’s asking price of $53,895 might seem a bit rich, but wait. The government wants to help. No, really. The T8 is eligible for a $5,002 federal tax incentive, effectively dropping the price to $48,893. For a mere $3,000 premium versus the T6 (less with state incentives) the faster, more efficient XC60 T8 is a comparative bargain.

Also: Get your first look at the new and redesigned cars of 2018

With financial justification in order you’re probably wondering what it’s like to spend time with the XC60 T8. For starters, leaving from a stop conjures the eerie silence of an electric car. As speed increases the gasoline engine contributes thrust, sound, and vibration but generally speaking the XC60’s quiet slow-speed demeanor remains. When overtaking less motivated commuters or tracing mountain passes at needlessly quick speeds our XC60 T8 eAWD expressed a confident composure. It also steered with a light agility that translated well to urban settings where a rapid change of direction could be your ticket to rockstar parking.

Slow for that sweet parking spot and you’ll notice one of the T8’s shortcomings. Brake feel. Press the leftmost pedal and your foot is greeted with touchy, artificial responses, making it hard to stop with finesse. Another trick to master is the gear selector. It requires two pulls to get the XC60 moving; one pull activates neutral, one more selects Drive. Make sure you understand the shifter routine before you…say…perform U-turn in front of on-coming traffic.

High safety marks

On a related note, did you know Volvo is big into safety? It’s true! To our great delight we did not have a chance to test Volvo’s City Safety automatic braking system with pedestrian and large animal detection. Nor did we try out Oncoming Lane Mitigation, which can automatically steer the vehicle away from a head-on collision. But we did try the XC60’s optional adaptive cruise control with Pilot Assist while sauntering through Denver’s increasingly terrible rush hour traffic. This semi-autonomous system helps manage speed and steering during traffic jams. In our experience the system maintained a reasonable distance from the vehicle ahead and was smart enough to not freak out when a Ford Fiesta sporting a Jedi Academy Alumni sticker merged into my lane. We did notice that in the absence of lane markers the XC60 tended to creep toward the curb. For now, even with Pilot Assist, driving a Volvo XC60 in traffic requires a watchful driver. Sorry, humans. You haven’t been replaced just yet.

Our time in the XC60 T8 revealed a few quirks but honestly it’s a Volvo, quirks are part of the charm. Consider the big picture and hybridizing the XC60 brings many more positives than negatives. You really have to respect any 5 passenger SUV that can outpace a Nissan 370Z in a stoplight drag race then immediately command Earth-first cred at the Whole Foods. If the XC60’s comfortable driving position, impeccable material quality, tidy yet practical cabin, and tasty Swedish design shine bright like the sun the T8 plug-in hybrid powertrain both enhances and draws attention to its brilliance…like some convenient celestial metaphor.

While America was nursing a wicked case of eclipse fever Volvo shared its goal to sell 1 million electrified cars by 2025. The XC60 T8 eAWD represents a step toward that increasingly electrified future. Based on our rocky mountain drive it’s an efficient, surprisingly quick future we’re eager to embrace.

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