- Safest in its class
- Smooth and spacious
- Seven seats
- Needs access to a plug socket
Ben Griffin went for a county drive in the XC90 T8 Twin Engine, a plug-in hybrid version of the seven-seat sports utility vehicle from the Swedes, to see whether you should buy one.
Motorists really are spoiled these days. Not so long ago you had to choose between fuel economy and performance, practicality and desirability. Now you can have the both – and without necessarily breaking the bank.
In the case of the Volvo XC90 T8 plug-in hybrid, it can go from 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds, top-out at 140mph and manage a claimed 134.5 miles per gallon of fuel while emitting just 49g/km of CO2. It also has seven seats and was the safest car of 2015.
So exactly what is the catch, would we class it as desirable and should you buy it over its Germanic rivals? We headed off into the great British countryside to find out.
Volvo XC90 T8: What is new?
The latest XC90 SUV is underpinned by a new platform and has been heavily revised. It features Thor hammer-esque daytime running lights, rounded wheels arches and an arrow through the 'floating' front grille. Somehow it looks smaller, with a hint of crossover about it.
Volvo has taken the Tesla approach to the interior, resulting in fewer physical buttons and a large portrait touchscreen display that lets you poke and swipe options. Even the heating temperature can be adjusted by dragging a bar up or down a slider, which can prove somewhat distracting until you get used to it.
Unlike most touchscreens on the market, the XC90 can display multiple things at once. So you can keep an eye on your route directions or use Apple CarPlay and adjust the air conditioning without having to jump from one option to another, reducing the issue of distraction.
The Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine is the flagship car of the range and is the same as the standard combustion engine-powered version save for a few hybrid-specific tweaks such as a crystal gear selector and unique badging at the rear.
Speaking of which, leaning over to adjust the volume can cause you to knock the crystal gear lever into neutral and the drive mode button wheel thing takes more concentration to use than it should, but otherwise the design and ergonomics of the Volvo are top-notch.
Volvo XC90 T8: How practical are we talking?
Because of the underlying nature of the SPA platform, which was designed with hybrid powertrains in mind, there is virtually no loss of practicality in electrifying the XC90 T8. It still has seven seats, the rearmost of which can accommodate adults up to 5ft 7-inches.
This makes it the only seven-seater hybrid around, with only Tesla's seven-sear Model X proving a close competitor. In the case of the BMW X5 eDrive40 and the Audi Q7 plug-in hybrids, the ability to seat seven is lost, making them less useful when your turn to do the school run comes round.
We say virtually because the fuel tank is now 50 litres in size, but this issue is somewhat counteracted by the fact it can cruise around 27 miles without touching a drop of fuel.
Headroom is a strong point for the first two rows of seating, while front and middle-seat legroom is also generous. Every seat is the same, adding to the comfort, while the rearmost two point somewhat inwards to make them feel more included.
Fold the third row of seats down and boot space rises from 451 litres to 1,102 litres, the process of which is easily done using a basic mechanism. Fold the next row down too and you end up with 1,951 litres, making it incredibly shopping-friendly.
The BMW X5, in comparison, loses out on that third row of seating resulting in 500 litres of boot space rising to 1,720 with the seats flat.
As for towing weights, the XC90 can manage 2,700kg braked (750kg unbraked), which is significantly less than a Land Rover Discovery but that is still a pretty big trailer or caravan.
Volvo XC90 T8: What about performance and handling?
Like the Swede's first foray into plug-in hybrids – the V60 Plug-In estate – Volvo has used a 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged petrol engine that compliments an 87bhp electric motor and beefed-up starter motor. Total output is 407hp and 640Nm of torque once you factor in wastage.
That sounds like a huge amount, and it is, but even in the sporty mode the best description is brisk, mainly because it has 2,343kg to lug around and also because of the lofty ride height. It builds speed nicely but there's never a surge.
Sport mode does make it even easier to overtake, but we found the hybrid setting was best as it makes the drive smoother and better on fuel. You can also go for pure electric or one that encourages enhanced energy regeneration for topping up the battery, should the need arise.
Even at motorway speeds, the XC90 is a quiet, comfortable car. There are no creaks or any wind noise to ruin your preferred digital radio station; its electric motor capable of pulling you away from the lights in glorious silence if you are gentle enough with the accelerator.
Bury your foot and the 2.0-litre makes itself known, providing lots of revvy noise but not oodles of go. With that said, the pace of the eight-speed automatic gearbox quickly quietens it down and peace is restored.
Side by side with the standard XC90, the T8 is just as comfortable on a motorway as it is wading through a ford (trust us, we managed to find one). This is thanks to a revised suspension setup that can cope with the extra weight. The optional adaptive air suspension has also been adjusted.
The XC90 is reassuringly firm for cornering and can be driven quickly without encountering too much body roll, but it feels more like a luxury cruiser, which suits its hybrid, eco-friendly nature. Its size and weight are largely forgotten until you end up on tight B-roads.
The brake pedal is a tad reluctant at first, but will bring the XC90 to a halt in rapid fashion if need be and it actually encourages smoother braking habits, which is a good thing for a hybrid.
It is easy to forget the off-road credentials of a modern-day SUV, given most of us stick to tarmac, but the XC90 T8's powertrain is clever enough to offer a mixture of front, rear and all-wheel drive for maximising traction. There's also a B mode that greatly increases the engine braking if you ever have to tow anything.
Volvo XC90 T8: Is it good on fuel?
Volvo claims the XC90 T8 will travel up to 134.5 miles per gallon of petrol, which is an astonishing claim and one that stems from its ability to drive for up to 27 miles on electric alone.
It is, therefore, financially beneficial to keep the lithium-ion battery charged, which takes a standard wall socket 3.5 hours and Volvo's home charger (a £395 extra) one hour fewer. A green light around the charging port indicates a charge is complete, while a flashing green light indicates you connected the 4.5-metre cable correctly and the power is on.
Get a bit lazy or forget to charge the battery and the fuel economy figures drop massively – this is a supercharged and turbocharged engine tasked with lugging an incredibly heavy vehicle around, after all – so those who routinely make long journeys away from a plug socket will find the D5 diesel a better choice.
Of course, the ridiculously low CO2 emissions figure makes this a mighty fleet machine and one that avoids vehicle excise duty (VED) and London's congestion charge, should you ever have to venture into the capital.
Compared with its rivals, the XC90 T8 performs well. The X5 xDrive40e is said to offer up to 85.6mpg. Its D5 diesel cousin, meanwhile, offers up to 49.6mpg and is £14,000 cheaper but CO2 comes in at 149g/km. The T6 petrol beat is considerably less efficient and more expensive to buy.
As for the Model X, it can be had at this price point if you want an all-electric car with seven seats, but you will need to plan your journeys or pay extra for a larger battery capacity that offers more miles between charges.
Volvo XC90 T8: What about equipment and value?
The XC90 T8 is available in three trim levels, with R-Design offering a more sporty ride, Inscription offering more luxury and Momentum something more of us can afford, but without scrimping on the extras.
Standard equipment has been deliberately improved for the plug-in hybrid to help justify the £60,455 asking price. Hill Start Assist, twin-exhaust pipes, rear-park assist, 19-inch alloys, two-zone electronic climate control, three-spoke multi-function steering wheel, leather upholstery and even the panoramic roof are part of the Momentum package.
Volvo's navigation system and eight-inch display is also standard, instructions from which can be viewed through the digital display where analogue dials would normally sit or an optional head-up display.
An entry-level X5 xDrive40e SE, which also has navigation as standard, is considerably more expensive – especially when you consider the lower consumption and output.
It is possible to choose between two styling packs (both £3,400 extra), one of which adds a 'luxurious sparkle' (Volvo's words, not ours), while the other adds skidplates on the front and rear bumper, side skirts and front decor frames.
Adaptive air suspension is £2,150 extra and those wanting more their XC90 to survive in the winter can go for the £575 winter pack that includes heated front seats, heated front windscreen and a heated steering wheel.
Volvo XC90 T8: Safety levels?
Volvo is keen to remind journalists it invented the three-point harness in 1959. Though that was a long time ago, the Swedish brand is still setting the pace because the XC90 is as safe as it gets on four wheels.
Independent European safety test organisation Euro NCAP found the XC90 was not only the safest SUV in 2015, it was the safest car overall in the same year. Its safety systems scored it 100 per cent, while passenger occupancy was 97 per cent.
Part of its high-level of safety stems from curtain airbags for all seating rows and autonomous safety features including lane keep assist (which can practically steer the XC90 without help), front collision assist with automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control that keeps you a set distance from the vehicle in front, but it's also down to the use of high-strength boron steel where it counts.
Even better, Volvo's central location of the lithium-ion battery means it can go untouched in the event of a serious side impact. Then there's run-off road protection, which limits spinal injuries in the event of going off the road, and pre-tensioners for every seatbelt.
Volvo XC90 T8: Should I buy one, then?
Combining seven seats and eco-friendly motoring, the XC90 T8 shows you can have a hybrid without compromising on practicality. It is a startingly competent machine that offers strong performance in a quality, luxurious package.
Having to plug it in for the best fuel economy figures may prove hassle for some motorists, but then those who can afford even the most basic model will likely have a garage, driveway or somewhere to charge the thing nearby, making it less of an issue.
To be honest, the only real catch is the fact most of us will never be able to afford one of the best sports utility vehicles around. Those that can, however, will appreciate a more lung-friendly school run.
- 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol and electric motor
- 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds
- 49g/km of CO2 (BIK 7 per cent)
- 134.5mpg (combined)
- From £60,455