Volvo's XC90 showcases cutting edge technology in Recharge T8 plug-in hybrid guise. Jonathan Crouch drives it out in improved form.
Ten Second Review
Volvo must adapt to survive as an independent car maker. Proof of that has been delivered by this model, now usefully improved, the XC90 Recharge T8 Plug-in hybrid. It's a family-sized luxury seven-seat SUV for a very different world.
The second generation XC90 was a car that fans of the brand anticipated impatiently and what we got when it arrived was worth the wait. Absolutely everything about this MK2 model was fundamentally new and engineered to set fresh class standards. Nowhere is this more evident than with the Recharge T8 Plug-in hybrid petrol/electric variant we're going to look at here.
Here, you get the potential of supermini-style running costs. On top of that, there's the sort of proper full-sized seven-seat versatility that few rivals can credibly offer and the kind of cool, authentic Scandinavian charm we haven't really seen from a new Volvo in a very long time. It all sounds promising doesn't it? Time to put this car to the test.
The 'Recharge T8' badging applied to this car denotes its petrol/electric powertrain and plug-in hybrid usability. In fact there are three engines if you're going to be pedantic about it and count the 25bhp starter motor/generator that pitches in from time to time to smooth any gaps in torque delivery between the two main power sources. One of these is the 303hp turbocharged/supercharged petrol unit borrowed from the old conventional T6 model that drives the front wheels. In an XC90 T8 though, it's assisted by a separate engine at the back, an 87bhp electric motor powered by a battery pack neatly packaged away in the transmission tunnel.
It's all enough to deliver a set of stats that it's rather hard to get your head around. So, 386hp and 62mph from rest in just 5.8s - the kind of storming performance you'd get in this segment from, say, a Porsche Cayenne S - matched with real world fuel and CO2 readings that could potentially equal those of a frugal supermini. That's assuming you select the most performance-orientated of the five driving settings that T8 owners are offered - the 'Power' mode that sees both petrol and electric units permanently working together. Alternatively, there are four other drive choices: a 'Hybrid' setting that sees the two engines cutting in and out as necessary: an 'AWD' mode that gives you permanent 4x4 traction off road: plus a 'Pure electric' setting that only uses the battery power and can take you up to 30.4 miles (more than most people's daily commuting distance) on a single charge. There's even a 'Save' option so that on a longer trip, you can hold that charge until you get to the city driving you might have to do at the end of the journey.
Design and Build
The look of this second generation XC90, according to its exterior design manager Anders Gunnarson, needed to be 'timeless'. If, like its predecessor, its model life must stretch across the decades, then you can certainly see why. Hence the considerable depth of thought that's clearly gone into a sense of style reflective of brand values both old and new. So many large luxury SUVs appear bulky and intimidating: this isn't one of them. On the outside, this refreshed XC90 offers subtle upgrades to the original award-winning exterior design, such as new wheels, exterior colours and a revised front grille, among other details. Otherwise, things are much as before, with a sculpted bonnet flowing into LED front headlights with a distinctive so-called 'Hammer of Thor' design.
Up-front, the cabin is simple, elegant, very uncluttered and dominated by a huge infotainment colour touchscreen that's presented portrait-style on the centre console. We like the technical niceties too: the CleanZone interior air quality system for example. This automatically switches to recirculation mode if outside conditions change - say in a polluted city centre or when you enter a smoky tunnel. Middle row passengers get individual seats that slide and recline for greater comfort on longer journeys. And even third row folk get decent standards of space. Unlike a rival Audi Q7 TFSIe, you can have third row seating in this XC90 T8 model. Out back, there's 397-litres of luggage space with all the seats in place, or 775-litres up to the windowline with the third row folded.
Market and Model
The on the road price of this Recharge T8 Plug-in hybrid model lists from around £67,000. That means you can expect to pay a premium of around £9,000 over the comparable B5 diesel version. The range starts with 'Inscription Expression' trim, after which there are two main spec levels, 'R-Design' and 'Inscription', with iterim 'Pro' variants of each also available. Standard equipment levels are comprehensive. All models get smart alloy wheels of at least 19-inches in size, plus LED headlights that at night can bend with the road and dip themselves automatically. You also get roof rails, rear parking sensors, auto headlamps and wipers and a power-operated tailgate.
Inside, there's full leather trim and a powered driver's seat, 2-Zone Electronic Climate Control and a clever 'Sensus Connect' infotainment system you activate via a large 9-inch centre console touchscreen. From here (or via voice control), you can access a 10-speaker 330-watt High Performance Sound system with DAB digital radio. Plus there's a 'Sensus Navigation' system with Traffic Information and European mapping, plus, as you'd expect, Bluetooth 'phone compatibility and USB and aux-in ports.
XC90 safety gear includes a run off-road protection package which tightens seatbelts and activates energy-absorbing technology in the seats when the car detects challenging terrain ahead. Another system is the auto-braking feature, which cuts in if a driver pulls out in front of oncoming traffic. Both safety systems aim to bring Volvo closer to its vision of nobody being seriously injured or killed in any of its vehicles by this century's third decade.
Cost of Ownership
As part of the changes made to this updated MK2 XC90 line-up, Volvo introduced a higher-capacity battery to this T8 variant, which enhanced its all-electric driving range by around 15%, so it's up from 22 to 30.4 miles - a useful increase. Theoretically then, you could use an XC90 T8 every day without ever visiting a fuel station unless you needed to undertake a longer trip. That's assuming of course that you keep the lithium-ion battery fully charged. That'll take a little longer than before thanks to the bigger battery. Owners can buy a wallbox from Volvo that will charge their cars on 16-amp power in about three hours. If you're out and about and find a 10-amp pubic charging point, the needed time will be slightly lengthier - around four hours - while connecting up to a normal domestic three-pin 6-amp supply will take eight hours.
Ultimately, to justify this T8 model's price premium over the conventionally-engined variants in the range, you really have to try and plug it in at every opportunity, otherwise you'll simply find yourself running a heavy petrol-powered SUV. And one that will need more frequent refuelling than more conventional XC90 derivatives because its fuel tank size falls from 71 to 50-litres due to the need to make space for the hybrid powertrain and the battery. If on the move, you want to prioritise all-electric progress, you can select a 'Pure' driving mode that prioritises electric-only operation and would be useful in an urban environment. In everyday use though, most T8 owners will be driving in the 'Hybrid' mode that the car's powertrain automatically defaults to, a setting in which the vehicle will automatically alternate between petrol and electric power - and the basis for a faintly incredible-sounding set of WLTP-rated running cost figures: up to 104.5mpg on the WLTP combined cycle and up to 61g/km of CO2. A 'Driver Performance' option on the centre-dash screen graphically shows how frugally you've been driving your XC90 and on this T8 model, also includes an interactive graphic showing what's currently being powered by what.
While we can't imagine any XC90 T8 owner ever actually achieving the brand's officially-quoted returns, the important thing is that the government believes them, so business users will be able to write down as much as 100% of the cost of this car against their tax liability. And a 40% tax payer could be driving an XC90 T8 while incurring a 16% BIK tax bill that would be way less than half of what they would pay for a conventional diesel-powered large luxury SUV in this class. If you're a business buyer browsing in this segment, these are figures that'll reward a bit of thought if you're just about to blindly sign on the dotted line for a conventional diesel model.
Volvo seems to be flourishing under foreign ownership and this Recharge T8 Plug-in hybrid XC90 model is a good example of why. You might have expected Chinese company control to stifle the company's Scandinavian character. Instead, what we've been given here is a return to Swedish charisma and an emphasis on all the things that the Gothenburg brand does best - cool restrained style, real-world practicality and class-leading safety.
Of course, this Volvo's not perfect. There are still sharper-handling choices and more capable off roaders in this sector. In balancing these virtues though, this XC90 sets its own class standard and in doing so, establishes a family benchmark amongst luxury SUVs that rivals will struggle to match. Add in the astonishingly low running costs that come with Plug-in hybrid technology and it's a difficult formula to resist if you're shopping in this segment. Company founders Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson would have liked this car. More importantly though, if you're shopping in this segment, we think you will too.
This improved second generation Volvo XC90 aims to make the most of its sleek Swedish design values. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
Volvo's second generation XC90 was worth the wait, a seven-seat luxury SUV that has given key rivals like Audi's Q7 and the Land Rover Discovery a lot to think about. Safe, efficient, clever, practical and stylish, it has re-established this Swedish maker as a credibly prestigious automotive brand. This revised version offers a slightly smarter look and some extra electrified tech. It's well worth a look.
The Volvo XC90 is just about the perfect example of a vehicle that created a niche for itself that no rival could seem to penetrate. If you wanted a 7-seat luxury 4x4 that was never really a sports utility vehicle, that was supremely comfortable and, above all, was neither shouty like a German nor trying too hard to fit in with the country set like a Land Rover, it was plum perfect. Nothing even got close.
Because of this, the first generation XC90 hung around for ages. After all, why mess with a winning formula?
Later versions, sold right up to 2014, tidied up the basic formula but were otherwise much the same as the models that first rolled into dealers in 2002. That's one heck of an innings. At least though, it paved the way for something different. There was no way that the second generation XC90 would be a mere 'evolutionary' design. Even so, few were ready for quite the radical change Volvo's Chinese owners Zhejiang Geely have funded. The low-key approach of old? It's fair to say that has been usurped by a much more extrovert look.
The key news with this revised MK2 XC90 model lies in the introduction of an advanced kinetic energy-recovery braking system, which is coupled with the company's existing 2.0-litre internal combustion engines to create a integrated electrified mild hybrid powertrain, identifiable by the brand's latest 'B' badging. Otherwise, things are much as before. The car sits on Volvo's light, stiff 'Scalable Product Architecture' (SPA) platform. Most customers choose the 235hp B5 mild hybrid diesel but there are also two mild hybrid petrol models too, the 250hp B5 and the 300hp B6. The other option is the Recharge T8 petrol/electric plug-in hybrid model, billed as 'the world's most powerful and cleanest large SUV'. This delivers a combined 386hp output, with a thumping 640Nm of torque. 62mph from rest is dispatched in just 5.8s, yet this car can also give you 26 miles of pure electric driving range when fully charged.
All the engines drive all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. Across the range, there's the option of an 'Active Four-C Chassis' package, which gives you four-corner adaptive dampers and electronic air suspension. Handling strikes a good balance between comfort and agility; cruising refinement meets the required executive standard; and there's the potential for a mild amount of off road prowess. A standard 'Pilot Assist' system offers a degree of highway-orientated autonomous driving technology. And you might be interested to know that conventional variants can tow up to 2,700kgs.
Design and Build
On the outside, this refreshed XC90 offers subtle upgrades to the original award-winning exterior design, such as new wheels, exterior colours and a revised front grille, among other details. Otherwise, things are much as before, with a sculpted bonnet flowing into LED front headlights with a distinctive so-called 'Hammer of Thor' design.
The interior still seems boldly-styled, with a massive tablet-like touch screen control console helping to create a cabin that's modern, spacious and uncluttered. Volvo's clearly put a lot of budget into driving up materials quality and this XC90 gets soft leather and wood with handcrafted details, including an optional gear lever made of crystal glass from Orrefors, the Swedish glassmaker, and diamond-cut controls for the start/stop button and volume control. This genuine seven seater features innovatively designed seats that also free up interior space for passengers in both the second and third seat rows. Even the third row can seat an adult up to 170cm tall.
As for the boot space on offer, well that's inevitably going to be a little restricted with all seven seats in place, though even in this configuration, you still get 397-litres of luggage space. Fold the 3rd row and you can load up to 1,102-litres, if you pack to the roof.
Market and Model
All XC90 variants come with 7 seats, automatic transmission and AWD and there's a choice of three core trim levels - 'Momentum', 'R-Design' and 'Inscription' - with additional 'Pro' versions of the latter twoh. Most UK buyers will want the volume 225hp B5 diesel version; the unique Recharge T8 petrol/electric plug-in hybrid variant is priced from around £68,000. Pricing for the mild hybrid XC90 models starts from around £55,000.
Top models can be ordered with features like 21-inch Inscription alloy wheels and powered, heated and ventilated seats trimmed in Nappa leather. Inside, the tablet-like touch screen in the centre console drives the minor controls and a whole host of Internet-based products and services. Audio services in the plushest variants come courtesy of a monster Bowers & Wilkins stereo that's juiced up by a 1,400 watt amplifier, 19 speakers, and the latest sound processing software. It even has air-ventilated subwoofers. The electronically controlled air suspension has choice of five modes, including one where the driver is free to tailor the settings to his or her personal taste.
XC90 safety gear includes a run off-road protection package which tightens seatbelts and activates energy-absorbing technology in the seats when the car detects challenging terrain ahead. Another system is the auto-braking feature, which cuts in if a driver pulls out in front of oncoming traffic. Both safety systems aim to bring Volvo closer to its vision of nobody being seriously injured or killed in any of its vehicles by 2020.
Cost of Ownership
Volvo claims that the advanced kinetic energy-recovery braking system introduced with this revised XC90 offers drivers up to 15 per cent fuel savings and emission reductions in real-world driving. This new brake-by-wire system interacts with the energy-recovery system and reduces fuel consumption and emissions by recovering kinetic energy under braking. The introduction of these XC90 'B'-badged cars represents a major step for Volvo towards its electrification ambitions.
On to the figures, all of which we'll quote to WLTP standards. In the B5 diesel most will choose, expect up to 42.7mpg on the combined cycle and up to 171g/km of CO2. Inevitably, these figures take a tumble with petrol power; the B5 manages up to 32.4mpg and up to 199g/km, while the B6 manages up to 30.7mpg and up to 210g/km. If you want to do better, you'll need to look at the top T8 Recharge petrol plug-in hybrid model, which delivers up to 63g/km of CO2, 100.8mpg and up to 28.6 miles of pure electric driving range. Maintenance should be relatively affordable for a car of this kind, with intervals every year or 18,000 miles. Three or five year pre-paid servicing packages are available to help you budget ahead. The warranty is the usual three year, 60,000 mile package.
Volvo seems to be flourishing under foreign ownership. You might have expected Chinese control to stifle the company's Scandinavian character. Instead, what we've been given here is a return to Swedish charisma and an emphasis on all the things that the Gothenburg brand does best - cool restrained style, real-world practicality and class-leading safety.
Of course, this Volvo's not perfect. There are still sharper-handling choices and more capable off roaders in this sector. In balancing these virtues though, this XC90 sets its own class standard and in doing so, establishes a family benchmark amongst luxury SUVs that rivals will struggle to match. Company founders Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson would have liked this car. More importantly though, if you're shopping in this segment, we think you will too.