They will mark the beginning of a new era for the Swedish luxury brand as they introduce power plants that are not only fully designed by Volvo, but also represent a complete change in thinking.
Recent Volvos have had engine designs that herald from the years the brand was owned by Ford.
There is nothing wrong with that per se, as designs across brands are nothing new, but it has meant that the Swedish designers have had their hands tied a bit. For an innovative company like Volvo producing top-end vehicles, conformity is not ideal.
Sweden is a country like few others, and I imagine prides itself on its uniqueness. Having their own engine design now gives the company an independence and freedom to pursue its own route to excellence.
This emancipation has led the Swedes to rationalise the engine range, and make use of the latest scientific thinking. The result is an engine range that is based on two engines – a four-cylinder petrol or diesel both displacing two-litres, but with a greater range of powertrains.
This slightly counterintuitive result stems from their premise that power is not a function of swept volume or cubic capacity, but rather of airflow.
Oxygen is the determining factor. The greater range of powertrain options is achieved by altering the engine’s other performance parameters, crucially the amount of air force fed into the chambers and the nature of the fuel injection.
Drive-E diesels will range in power from 120 to 230 hp. Petrol versions will start at 140 hp and go all the way up to 300-plus hp.
Remember that these ranges will be supplied by only one petrol or one diesel engine platform. In the case of the petrol versions both supercharger and turbocharger are combined to produce the required power.
The diesels on the other hand feature what is referred to i-Art technology. This rather obscure name describes the fact that the injection pressure has been increased to a massive 2 500 bar and that each injector has a small computer on top of it that monitors injection pressure.
Using this information, the self-adapting i-Art system makes sure that the ideal amount of fuel is injected during each combustion cycle.
The S60, V60 and XC60 will be the first Volvos to benefit from the Drive-E engines as they are to be known and will be available in T5, T6 and D4 guise initially. Volvo has chosen to keep their rather confusing nomenclature the same, and it may now even start to make a bit of sense given that we are now distinguishing merely output and fuel type, rather than engine configuration as well.
Drive-E presumably seeks to make the connection with environment or eco or electricity, all terms that we have come to believe are “good” when it comes to cars. Certainly, the Drive-E engines have been designed to mate easily onto electric drives to make hybrid drives.
Even without the dubious benefit of a hybrid setup, a new S60 D4 is said to be capable of 3.7l/km and a carbon output of under 100g/km.
The other benefit to the consumer, of luxury products at least, is that the rationalisation should make a huge difference to production cost, and Volvo has said it would like to pass this on to consumers. Government will no doubt introduce a “power tax” of some sort to ensure that only it benefits – watch this space.
Although the engines are the Swedish engineers’ most significant development, they are combined with a new eight-speed automatic gearbox which is in itself an impressive piece of engineering. Clearly living in the dark at sub-zero temperatures has some advantages.
There is also the choice of an improved six-speed manual, which they say is tuned for improved fuel economy.
Driving the cars I must confess I could feel no downside to the smaller capacity. Power and responsiveness was easily as good as I remember, and the auto boxes are now so good I believe that the age of the manual has probably passed – and I never thought I would ever write that.
Volvo’s view of the technology is summed up by Volvo’s powertrain engineering vice president Derek Crabb: “The sophisticated Drive-E technologies give high performance, improved fuel economy, considerably lower emissions and a powerful sound character.
“Our four-cylinder engines will offer higher performance than today’s six-cylinder units, and lower fuel consumption than the current four-cylinder generation.
If you take a four-cylinder Drive-E engine versus any six-cylinder engine, there’s a massive weight and size reduction for the same power.
“Fuel economy savings are anything from 10 to 30 per cent, depending on which engine you’re comparing it to.”
Crabb added the power you get from an engine has nothing to do with its size. It is about the amount of air that you can get to flow through it, and you could also make an engine more efficient if you make it smaller.