Last week Volvo showed off its latest range of DRIVe cars, which are designed to be as economical and environmentally friendly as possible, while not compromising the overall driving experience for the owner. With so much emphasis being put on CO2, Volvo is by no means the only manufacturer that's introducing low emission options to its customers, but that doesn't make it any less commendable.
OK, so I'm not really the sort of car buyer that looks at CO2 levels and factors road tax bands into my total cost of ownership, but I know that many consumers do just that. It's also worth remembering that many large corporate and governmental organisations have put quite stringent CO2 caps on company car fleets, so producing desirable cars with low emissions is a key criteria today.
Volvo now offers DRIVe models in the C30, S40, V50, XC60 and XC70 ranges, while the newly developed 1.6l diesel DRIVe engine will also make its way into the V70 and S80 ranges by the end of August. With the emphasis on economy as well as low emissions, it comes as no surprise that all the DRIVe models feature diesel power plants, with all but the XC60 and XC70 sporting the 1.6D engine, while the two XC models both come equipped with a 2.4D lump.
The big news at the event was that Volvo has managed to get the CO2 emissions on the C30, S40 and V50 down to a very impressive 104g, which is actually only 4g away from being completely road tax exempt! Even so, a £35 per year road tax bill is not bad for a car that doesn't feel particularly compromised in order to achieve that result. To get a good idea of what Volvo's latest low emission cars were like I took a C30 DRIVe for a spin and put roughly 100 miles on the clock around the Cotswolds.
The 1.6D DRIVe engine still manages to pump out 107bhp and 176lb ft of torque, which might not make for the most exciting of drives, but it's not woefully underpowered either. I certainly didn't feel like I was taking my life in my hands when overtaking, which is often the case when you're driving a car designed for economy rather than performance.
All DRIVe models also have their ride height lowered by 10mm, which Volvo claims reduces fuel consumption, but will also improve handling, should you wish to have a little fun when you get bored of being economical. In fact I probably drove the C30 a bit more enthusiastically than the target buyer, which would account for my average fuel consumption of 48.5mpg, which is some way off Volvo's claimed 72.4mpg figure.
To be fair, the car did everything it could to convince me to drive economically. Like the Toyota iQ that I reviewed recently, the C30 DRIVe has a change up light that highlights the best time to change gear from a fuel economy perspective. I still find this kind of thing odd, since in my eyes a change up light should be indicating the best time to change gear from a performance perspective, but I guess that means I'm not a DRIVe kind of driver!
Helping keep those emissions down is Volvo's intelligent start/stop functionality, which will cut the engine once the car has been brought to a stop and the gearbox placed in neutral. This means that whenever you stop at traffic lights or get caught in traffic, you won't be burning fuel, or emitting any exhaust fumes. The system is surprisingly unobtrusive, and after a while I stopped noticing when the engine cut out, and barely registered it starting as I slipped the car back into gear.
One of the problems with auto start/stop systems is that if your engine is off while you're sitting in traffic, the in-car systems such as air conditioning and the stereo system are running down the car battery. Volvo has addressed this problem in two ways, first, the temperature of the cabin is constantly monitored even with the engine off, and if it rises above a certain level the air conditioning will be activated. Of course this won't help on a very cold day, when you're going to need the engine running for the heater to work, although ticking that heated seats option might be worthwhile if you're expecting cold winters.