An illuminating night tour of London in Volvo’s electrified XC60
But choose the right time and the right car, and you can simply go out and enjoy the drive.
That’s what we intend to do at the wheel of a Volvo XC60 T8 Twin Engine – to wait for night to fall and then experience London in a different light, in a car that’s as progressive as this diverse modern city.
Our plan is to loosely follow the course of the River Thames, starting in suburban Teddington, then wind through the heart of the city and end at the imposing Thames Barrier.
The plug-in hybrid powertrain of the XC60 T8 Twin Engine is suited perfectly to our journey.
The combination of a compact, efficient petrol engine and a powerful electric motor puts responsive performance at our disposal, and the choice of drive modes allows us to adapt to our changing surroundings.
A touch on the elegant roller control and we select Pure mode, which means electric-only power and zero emissions. We pull away in near-silence, and the quiet luxury of the cabin makes the drive through London’s still-bustling streets effortless. The feeling of well being is enhanced as we enter Richmond Park, a pocket of natural beauty amid the concrete and chaos, and one of London’s many ‘green lungs’.
We’ve only covered a few kilometres and still have plenty of zero-emissions power left. In fact, the XC60 T8 Twin Engine has an electric-only range large enough for the commute of many people and we continue through the leafy environs leaving no more trace than the Lycra-clad cyclists also sharing the road.
As we glide effortlessly alongside them, it’s good to know that the XC60’s City Safety technology detects other road users – like cyclists, and even large animals such as Richmond Park’s famed red and fallow deer – and can brake to help avoid collisions if necessary.
As the working day draws to an end for many, the streets of London begin to offer new opportunities. We spy a gap in traffic, switch to Power mode and the petrol engine and electric motor work together to whisk us briskly on our way.
As we get closer to London’s pulsing centre, the roads get busier and we select Hybrid mode. This, the car’s default mode, chooses between the petrol engine and electric motor, or uses a combination of the two, to keep us moving as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
The London cityscape changes rapidly as we drive. Night now shrouds us. Passing over Lambeth Bridge, the commanding SUV seating position of the XC60 gives us a fine view of the Houses of Parliament and the vast clock tower of Big Ben, perhaps London’s most famous landmark.
Opting for Pure mode again, we soon arrive at Piccadilly Circus. Outside on the streets, late-night revellers and theatregoers throng the pavements, yet again we’re travelling in near-silence, using electric power only. It enhances the sanctuary-like feeling of the interior, with its uncluttered design and sense of Scandinavian craftsmanship.
We stop for a bite to eat at Red Rooster in Shoreditch – the first UK outlet of Marcus Samuelsson, a Swedish chef and restaurateur. Once we’ve refuelled ourselves, we decide to give the car a top-up. Using our POD Point app we find the nearest 7kW public charge point.
This is one of the many public charging points that have sprung up across London in recent years, and one of thousands across the UK. Boosting our battery is easy – we simply take the lead out of the load compartment, plug it in, select the right option on the app and we’re underway.
In a matter of minutes we have been re-energised, and strike out for journey’s end – a dawn rendezvous with one of London’s less-celebrated, but most spectacular, sights. As we head for the Blackwall Tunnel, which plunges underneath the River Thames, we find an empty stretch of two-lane highway.
A quick flick into Power mode allows us to enjoy a thrilling burst of acceleration. This isn’t the place to make the most of this car’s remarkable performance, but it’s a satisfying reminder that it’s there when we need it.
Ten minutes’ drive from the mouth of the tunnel lies the Thames Barrier, stretching out across a 520-metre span of the river. Its 10 iridescent stainless-steel piers appear to shape-shift in the soft, ochre light of dawn.
The second-largest flood defence barrier in the world, the Thames Barrier protects 125 square kilometres of London from the threat of flooding. A powerful symbol of strength, bold design and pure innovation, this feels like the perfect place to finish our drive in the XC60 T8 Twin Engine.