Volvo's Drive-E powertrain is seamlessly efficient
Innovative powertrain mirrors performance of much bigger engines in V60 and S60 tests around Las Vegas. In flashy Sin City, E is for energy efficient.
LAS VEGAS?Las Vegas is Sin City, a place infamous for excess and reckless abandon.
It could be considered curious, then, that this was the location chosen for a test of Volvo’s new Drive-E powertrain systems ? a conservation-conscious line of engines from a traditionally conservative brand.
Perhaps the sensory overload of the Strip was meant to prime us to appreciate the simplicity and practicality of the Drive-E platform, designed to deliver improved performance and streamlined efficiency as Volvo moves into an era of revolution under its new ownership.
Or maybe the organizers just thought Vegas would be a good time.
Regardless, the innovation on display was intriguing, and the cars were fun to drive.
With the Drive-E family, Volvo joins the movement to prove that cylinder count can be removed from discussions of engine power output without sacrifice.
All Drive-E engines share the same basic architecture: direct-injected, inline four-cylinder layouts made primarily from high-pressure die-cast aluminum designed to reduce weight and increase air flow.
Various turbocharger configurations are then installed to alter power output. The ability to integrate hybrid technologies at a later point has also been factored into the design.
The change requires a nomenclature shift for Volvo followers. Although the term T4 currently denotes a four-cylinder turbocharged engine, T5 a five-cylinder, etc., the numbers associated with Drive-E powertrains apply not to the number of cylinders, which is fixed at four, but to ranges of horsepower output.
Two gasoline-powered engines will be available in the initial rollout: the T5 (240 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque that will overboost to 280) is already available, and the T6 (302 hp and 295 lb.-ft.) will launch this summer.
Two lower-powered gasoline engines and four diesel engines will bring the total to eight worldwide over the next several years, although there are currently no plans to make the diesel versions available in North America.
Both powertrains are paired with eight-speed automatic transmissions and are front-wheel drive. For now, buyers will need to look toward the legacy powertrains for all-wheel-drive options.
For our test on the desert roads surrounding Las Vegas, the T5 was installed in a V60 sportswagon, a new-to-Canada model that made its debut in January. The T6 was installed in an S60 sport sedan, which has seen a significant redesign over its previous iteration.
I first took the S60 out for a spin to Nevada’s Valley of Fire. To mimic the power output of a six-cylinder engine, the T6 Drive-E uses a supercharger to increase torque at low throttle, and then hands control over to a turbocharger once the boost is built up.
Paired with the S60’s sport chassis and the usual Volvo trimmings, the outcome is a powerful, smooth, stable and responsive ride. In other words, it performs in exactly the manner one would expect from Volvo’s mid-size sport sedan, and that’s a very good thing.
This is especially notable given the promised fuel efficiency. The Canadian numbers are pending, but this configuration promises 8.4 L/100 km combined, as rated under the U.S. system.
My afternoon was spent touring Red Rock Canyon in the V60. The T5 Drive-E was a noticeable step down from the T6, as is intended, but it’s well-suited to the sportswagon platform.
This configuration promises fuel consumption of 8.1 L/100 km combined.
In addition to the standard and sport drive modes available on both engines, the T5 offers an eco mode that changes the throttle mapping and gearing to improve fuel efficiency, and prompts the engine’s auto start-stop feature to engage at about 6 km/h instead of at the usual full stop.
I flipped eco mode on while cruising around the outskirts of Las Vegas, where the roads are wide open and traffic is light.
The difference in drive feel was enough to detract from the fun I was having with the car at the time, so I promptly turned it off.
However, the system would truly shine in a city like Toronto, where stop-and-go commuting is an everyday reality and the promised 5-per-cent improvement in fuel efficiency could be readily tapped ? especially since engaging it takes only the push of a button.
In terms of handling, the conditions on our test day were perfect for demonstrating a wagon’s main drawback when compared to a sedan: the increased surface area in the back made it much more susceptible to high-wind conditions.
These winds were truly gale-force, and the V60 still handled them well, just not as well as the S60 did.
Would that drawback be enough to offset the benefits that come with having a total of 43 cubic feet of interior space at your disposal in a sporty and fun little package? That’s for you to decide.
The 2015 V60 sports wagon landed in dealerships in January and is available with a T5 Drive-E powertrain starting at $39,800. The T6 Drive-E is slated to arrive this summer, and an S60 equipped with one will start at $42,850.
Transportation for freelance writer Stephanie Wallcraft was provided by the manufacturer.