Volvo is Shooting for V8 Levels of Power with 4-Cylinder Fuel Economy
You can't quote Volvo, but you can absolutely quote me: By 2015, Volvo will be a 4-cylinder car company. All of the Volvos sold in the U.S. -- cars and SUVs -- will be powered by 4-cylinder engines. These new 4-cylinders are part of the Swedish carmaker's "Drive-E" program, a Volvo mission/philosophy that stresses "efficiency without compromises." That philosophy enlists a 4-cylinder engine program that both reduces the carbon spew out the tailpipes and keeps miles-per-gallon fuel efficiency in the high 20s and low-to-mid 30s.
Then comes the "without compromises" part of Volvo's Drive-E equation. The Drive-E 4-cylinder engines are modular in that they can burn gasoline or diesel fuel, and -- eventually -- be rigged up as fuel-burning/electric hybrid powerplants as well. Beyond that, the engines are designed to make it easy to add on turbochargers and/or superchargers in order to create bigger bangs of horsepower and torque while keeping fuel economy high and emissions low because they're smaller, more efficient engines. The supercharger/turbocharger/hybrid combo is how Volvo plans to wring V8 power out of a clean, efficient 4-cylinder engine.
The first Drive-E units coming to the U.S. are a pair of 4-cylinder engines destined to replace the turbocharged 5-cylinder "T5" engine and turbocharged "T6" 6-cylinder, as well as the other powerplants in Volvo's current lineup. They will appear in the S60 sedan, the XC60 SUV and the V60 station wagon starting in January (see "Bonus #2" below), with Drive-E power being added to the XC70 SUV and S80 sedan throughout 2014. Additionally, a new 8-speed automatic transmission comes as part of the Drive-E setup.
The new T5 engine is a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder that makes 240 horsepower, while the new T6 engine is both supercharged and turbocharged to give it 302 horsepower. Those horsepower numbers are comparable -- almost identical, actually -- to the power figures of the current T5 5-cylinder and T6 6-cylinder engines. What matters for acceleration, however, is torque, and while the new Drive-E T5 and T6 4-cylinders make a bit less torque than the bigger T5 and T6 engines they're replacing, Volvo contends that the added efficiencies in the smaller engines will be worth it. The company also believes that customers will pay a little more money for Drive-E Volvos in order to save money at the pump and be able to brag at the Sierra Club meetings.
Stick with us on this next part and we'll give you two bonuses.
Volvo is in a scratchy spot when it comes to releasing the new Drive-E powertrains. The timing is set: January, 2014. But then it gets tricky because the 2014 S60s are already in showrooms, and have been for a couple of months, which makes it weird to just swap out the engines and transmissions, raise the prices, and hope that the folks who bought the "old" less green 2014 S60s will be happy because they paid less money for their less-fuel-efficient 6-speed sedans. Understandably, Volvo is considering making 2014 a short model year and releasing the Drive-E S60s as 2015 models. Volvo also has yet to determine whether the Drive-E-powered XC60s will be 2014 or 2015 models.
Then it gets a bit trickier: For the initial offering, the Drive-E powertrains will only be coming in the front-wheel-drive models. The all-wheel-drive S60s will retain the older turbocharged inline-5 and inline-6 engines, which could conceivably make the all-wheel-drive S60s less expensive than the front-drivers. Could happen -- stay tuned for a Mardi Gras of Volvo model-year and pricing roulette. OK, now you've earned your bonuses.
How cool is this? Volvo insiders told us that a short time after it completes its all-4-cylinder onslaught in 2015, the company would start bringing in 3-cylinder engines -- offering even greater efficiency with plenty of potential for power.
The tidy little wagon you see pictured in this story is the 2015 Volvo V60 Sportswagon. This S60 station wagon will also be coming to our shores early in January, 2014, loaded with Drive-E efficiency and power. The V60 versions we sampled were all Drive-E diesel models -- diesel being another future "maybe" from Volvo to the U.S. market. The V60's shape, driving character and utility all make us look forward to the wagon coming to play.
Driving the Drive-E Engines
Our initial experience with the Volvo Drive-E cars gave us much-needed hope about the direction the company is traveling in. We drove only S60 sedans with the top-tuned T6 engine -- the 4-cylinder that's both supercharged and turbocharged to wrangle 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. We'll hold of a recommendation until we know the price, but simply put, the engine fulfills its mission: The supercharger brings the low-end torque needed for quick acceleration at low revs, and then merges seamlessly as the turbo kicks in to take over higher-rpm power production. This 2.0-liter four is ambitious and a little rough around the edges, but it does make you think that you've got V6 levels of power at your disposal while harnessing 4-cylinder fuel economy numbers.
While the new 8-speed is automatic transmission doesn't break any new ground, it's always great to have the flexibility of eight forward speeds to choose from. Also great is the programming on the steering column-mounted paddle shifters (standard on Drive-E T6 models, and optional as part of a package on T5s). The gearchanges are decisive and snapping the paddles gets you down to the passing/hill-climbing gifts of 2nd or 3rd gear without any hesitation, unlike many (most) of the other paddle-shift setups out there. The transmission offers the driver three self-explanatory transmission-shift profiles -- Elegance, Performance and ECO -- but the default Elegance mode will suffice for 99 percent of your driving.
Again, the Drive-E Volvos start appearing in U.S. showrooms this January, and again, pricing is a long ways from being settled on. The Volvo engineers we chatted up -- from powertrain chief (and racing engineer) Derek Crabb all the way down the line -- all see unlimited power in efficient 4-cylinder and 3-cylinder engines inspired by forced-air induction (superchargers and turbos). So the act of faith is completed, now it's a matter of execution and pricing.
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