What is it? First of new four-cylinder Drive-E eco engine range
Key Features: Large engine power, small engine economy and emissions
Our view: In short, startlingly good
This is a bit of a road test with a difference, as the test subject is not a new car, but the first of a range of engines. And these are very significant engines, as despite being only of four cylinders they will replace all of Volvo’s current powertrains within the next two years.
Drive-E used to be the badge that Volvo hung on cars fitted with its most efficient, cleanest engine. Now, however, Drive-E becomes the designation of a complete new technology programme, development that began way back when Volvo was still owned by Ford and which Derek Crabb, in charge of the project, describes as revolutionary. With this technology, he adds, the V8 engine becomes a dinosaur.
The programme will see Volvo abandon its current eight engine architectures in favour of two four cylinder units – one petrol, one diesel. From these all future engines will be derived, no matter how potent they are.
The measures Volvo has come up with result in the number of cylinders in an engine being no longer relevant to its power or drivability. “By making the engine smaller we make it more efficient,” says Crabb. “They will make more power than today’s six-cylinder units, but be more than 50 kilos lighter, and they will offer lower fuel consumption than today’s four-cylinder generation.”
The two new units are both turbocharged. In its most powerful form the petrol unit will also boast a supercharger. The diesels will span power outputs from 120 to 230hp, the petrols 140 to past 300hp.
To the basic architecture are added a number of innovations designed to improve the engine’s efficiency. In the petrols, for example, the measures include high-speed continuous valve timing, very finely tuned heat management, and low-friction measures such as adding ball bearings to the camshafts.
The diesels have seen major advances to the common rail system in what Crabb describes as “the second step of the diesel revolution,” after the invention of the lambda sensor for direct injection in the 1970s. Instead of there being one sensor on the common rail, there are now sensors in each injector, and each also boasts an intelligent chip to further refine the fuel control, along with similar low friction measures to the petrol engines.
Added to the engines are all-new gearboxes, in six-speed manual or eight-speed auto form and specifically developed to improve fuel economy.
The results are impressive, to say the least. So far only the D4 diesel has reached showrooms. It’s on offer in the S60 and V60, V70, S80 and XC60 and XC70 models – Volvo’s best-selling V40 will get the unit later in the year.
Compared to the previous D4, it’s a completely different beast – significantly more powerful, with 181hp and 295lbft of torque. All of which means cars with this engine are faster – by two seconds to 62mph. Yet they are far more frugal, and cleaner. Volvo can now offer a D4-engined S60 with 99g/km emissions and thus zero Vehicle Excise Duty (VED). For business users, benefit-in-kind rates will be slashed.
It all sounds very impressive, but what are they actually like on the road? In short, startlingly good. On the launch event The Car Expert tried the new engine in the XC60, the S60 and the S80.
Roads varied from traffic-choked town centres to fast country routes with sweeping bends and long straights. And through all of them the D4 proved to be just about the smoothest diesel we’d ever driven with, certainly with such power.
The gearboxes were equally impressive – slick shifting manuals, silky and swift autos.
And finally, these engines are so compact, that they offer plenty of space to add such future tech, such as the plug-in hybrid drivetrains that are just a couple of years down the line, and will improve economy and emissions still further.
Volvo has made great strides in recent years in turning its cars into more attractive propositions, in terms of styling, technology and safety. An increasing number of drivers who have previously bought upmarket German rivals, and those buyers of more mainstream brands are now looking towards Volvo – Drive-E will see far more doing the same…