How a hybrid works - Five things the Volvo XC90 T8 could teach you about it

The refreshed Volvo XC90 R-Design T8 Twin Engine in Thunder Grey Image: Volvo
The refreshed Volvo XC90 R-Design T8 Twin Engine in Thunder Grey Image: Volvo

Hybrids are more popular than ever before. Over 2.2 million plug-in vehicles were delivered last year: 9% up on 2018. This growth would have been even more significant had the two largest markets – China and the United States – not stagnated in the second half of 2019.

In the previous six years, the growth in plug-in vehicles raced ahead at between 46% and 69%. But, while hybrids are becoming massively popular, they’re a bit of an unknown entity for many South Africans.

Here are five things you should know:

1. Hybrids represent the ultimate marriage of two technologies

A hybrid – the XC90 T8 plug-in hybrid (PHEV), for instance – uses two engines (in the case of the T8, an electric motor delivering 65kW and 240Nm and a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo- and supercharged petrol engine providing 235kW of power and 400 Nm).

The cool thing about these two powerplants is that they work together seamlessly. When you're pulling off from a traffic light or stop street, the electric motor does the job on its own (meaning you’re consuming absolutely no fuel). It can do this for up to 43 km.

At higher speeds, the petrol engine takes over. It’s a great example of two technologies working in parallel.

Volvo XC90 R-Design T8 Twin

Image: Volvo

2. The brakes do more than just stop the car

Brakes on a car are essential but, in regular cars, they actually result in a waste of energy. With hybrids, the kinetic energy that was propelling the vehicle forward can recharge the battery. This is called "regenerative braking".

The XC90 T8 also uses the "braking effect" to recharge the battery.

"Regenerative braking" is not the sole domain of hybrids. In 2009, Formula 1 introduced a regenerative braking system called the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS).

Volvo XC90 R-Design T8 Twin Engine

Image: Volvo

3. Hybrids can reduce interior or seating space

Hybrids need batteries – because those battery packs recharge the electric motor. While smaller and lighter lithium-ion batteries are replacing nickel-metal hydride ones, batteries do take up space – which can compromise interior or seating space. This is not the case with the XC90 T8; the engineers positioned the batteries very cleverly, and so the vehicle retains all seven seats, or you could opt for the six-seat configuration which makes for even more space in the rear.

 Volvo XC90 R-Design T8 Twin Engine

Image: Volvo

4. Not all hybrids are the same

There are lots of different types of hybrids on the market. For instance, you get so-called "mild hybrids" that purely give a boost of electrical power to support the petrol engine. A "full hybrid" such as the XC90 T8 can run on either the electric motor or the petrol engine (or both at the same time). This is also known as a "parallel hybrid".

Volvo XC90 R-Design T8 Twin

Image: Volvo

5. Hybrids are great fun to drive

Finally, this is probably the most important thing you need to know about a hybrid: it's great fun to drive. This is thanks to the fact that the electric engine offers oodles of low-down torque. Floor it, and you will race forward at breath-taking speed. So, you’re not only saving the planet. You’re having fun too, which is not a bad combo! 

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