From £45,5009
We drive the plug-in hybrid version of Volvo's appealing new XC90 SUV, tested in the UK for the first time

Our Verdict

Volvo XC90
The new Volvo XC90 costs from £45,750

It has big boots to fill and talented rivals to face. Is it up to the task?

1 February 2016

What is it?

It’s the range-topping variant of Volvo’s generally excellent XC90, the T8 ‘Twin Engine’ plug-in hybrid.

Like other XC90s it gets a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine under the bonnet, because that’s the way of Volvo powerplants these days. It’s a petrol unit that’s both supercharged (for low-rev response) and turbocharged (for higher-rev response), and thus it makes a pretty healthy 314bhp.

It’s supplemented, though, by an 81bhp electric motor, mounted at the back and driving the rear wheels only. It’s powered by batteries that are stored in the transmission tunnel, which of course needs no propshaft running through it. That the batteries, which can be charged by plugging the car into the mains, are in the middle means you don’t have to give up the boot-mounted third row of seats that make the XC90 a seven-seater.

The XC90 can be run on the electric motor alone, as those with a routine, short commute might well do, in which case the range is 24 miles. Or you can hold the battery charge for later, in case you’re driving towards a zero-emissions zone, or you can just leave it in hybrid mode and let it sort itself out, which is a pretty likely scenario. There’s also a ‘maximum traction’ mode in case, say, you end up trying to tow a horse trailer out of a wet field.

Technically there’s also a third ‘engine’ – a 25bhp starter/generator between the petrol unit and the eight-speed gearbox, used to smooth the transition between the drive modes and fill any torque gaps. The first time we drove the XC90 T8 we found that there was still work to be done in this area, and Volvo knew it.

Now we’ve driven a production car in the UK, which has received those improvements.

What's it like?

Massively improved over the development version, which suffered poor brake pedal feel and jerky progress as it switched between drive modes.

Now the whole shebang feels totally integrated, to the extent that you’re scarcely aware what power unit is delivering what drive at what time. The petrol engine chips in and out fairly seamlessly, but ask a lot of it and it gets a shift on. That said, the XC90 doesn’t strictly feel like a 401bhp, 5.6sec to 62mph car.

Partly that’s because it weighs 2343kg and partly because the engine doesn’t rev with terrific smoothness, so it pays to relax a bit and let the hybrid system do its thing.

The brakes feel completely normal now, too, except when you’re stationary. Then some creep is keen to ease the car forward, until you give the brakes a firmer push, at which point it gives up on the idea, which feels slightly odd.

In any mode the XC90 is extremely quiet and refined, which suits the cabin ambience. The XC90’s dash and controls are thoughtfully laid out, the portrait touchscreen is clear and quick to respond and the driving position and seats are great.

Sitting on the left side of the car in the UK usually means the ride feels firmer than in a right-hooker, because you’re usually rubbing over the worst of the drain covers and surface imperfections.

Our test car came on air springs (a £2150 option), which isolate you from the worst of that at the expense of a little hollow ‘sproing’ over sharper thumps, so this is still a pleasingly comfortable car, in a way that not all hybrids manage.

Should I buy one?

You might well. We like the XC90 more than any other large SUV at the moment and there’s very little reason to overlook the T8 based on the way it drives. Whether this is the right version for you will just come down to the sums, then: its appeal as a company car is pretty high thanks to its 49g/km CO2 emissions making it cheap to run. 

Plainly those economy claims, because of the way the European drive cycle works, are ludicrous at 134.5mpg on the combined cycle. What you actually return will depend how you use the T8: charge it every night and commute to the station every day and you might barely use a drop of fuel. Never charge it and you’ve got a 314bhp petrol car that’s hauling a fair amount of weight around. 

Either way the low benefit in kind burden – around £100 a month for a higher-rate payer – and the XC90’s generally lovely qualities are hard to ignore.

Volvo XC90 T8 Momentum

Location Cotswolds; On Sale Now; Price £60,455; Engine 4 cyls in line, 1969cc, supercharged and turbocharged, petrol, plus electric motor; Power 314bhp at 5700rpm (petrol), 81bhp (electric); Torque 295lb ft at 2200-4500rpm (petrol), 177lb ft (electric); Gearbox 8-spd automatic Kerb weight 2343kg; 0-62mph 5.9sec; Top speed 140mph; Economy 134.5mpg (combined); CO2 and tax band 49g/km, 5%

Join the debate

Comments
11

11 November 2015
This might clean up if SUV buyers turn against dirty diesel (those who are city-based really should). It would be interesting to know real-world mpg and towing capacity though.

11 November 2015
scrap wrote:
It would be interesting to know real-world mpg...
How long is a real-world journey? Used to be known as how long is a piece of string. Could be zero fuel to, say, 30mpg (no electric) possibly? Doing some quick sums though, and based on my type of journeys covering 10,000 miles per annum, and that 30mpg non-electric figure I have plucked, I reckon I would achieve 117mpg overall during a 12 month period.

11 November 2015
Nice car. Dash, centre console and wheel design look quite similar to the Ghibli. It remains to be seen how durable the powertrain will be. VW's 1.4 twincharger is not exactly the unmitigated success story. Does this unit have direct injection?

jer

11 November 2015
Agree it would cover most journeys. Really have to hand it to Volvo for their engineering work. I'd say this and the RR sport are miles more desirable than some of the ungainly styled stuff from the German mfers.

11 November 2015
Never got the whole SUV thing myself. Once I drove a BMW X5 for the day. Kept thinking it would be a good car if it was lower and lighter. You have to accept a ton of compromises and for what? An elevated driving position? It really makes sense for Volvo to push this XC90 though. I hope the drive train and interior gets into a new S60 and gets priced around 35k. I will have to pop down to the showrooms for a test drive.

12 November 2015
winniethewoo wrote:
Never got the whole SUV thing myself. Once I drove a BMW X5 for the day. Kept thinking it would be a good car if it was lower and lighter. You have to accept a ton of compromises and for what? An elevated driving position? It really makes sense for Volvo to push this XC90 though. I hope the drive train and interior gets into a new S60 and gets priced around 35k. I will have to pop down to the showrooms for a test drive.
I don't think you have to accept compromises when you can seat 5 / 6 / 7 people and all your luggage, have 4x4 and in a lot of cases (e.g. RR Sport, Cayenne) a car that in the real world there are few cars that would keep up with it. I see versatility rather than compromise.


11 November 2015
The price even isn't so bad as I thought it would be considering this is a car for every eventuality. 5 in comfort, 7 when the kids friends come back after school with just enough boot left for the school bags. Will pull little Emily's horsebox off the muddy field. Will travel in luxury and safety on long trips including the family ski trips. Low in tax liability and will still win the traffic light grand prix against most common competitors and even then people will be more gracious and won't think you a c#ck like if a Range Rover. What's not to love?

11 November 2015
The Apprentice wrote:
The price even isn't so bad as I thought it would be considering this is a car for every eventuality. 5 in comfort, 7 when the kids friends come back after school with just enough boot left for the school bags. Will pull little Emily's horsebox off the muddy field. Will travel in luxury and safety on long trips including the family ski trips. Low in tax liability and will still win the traffic light grand prix against most common competitors and even then people will be more gracious and won't think you a c#ck like if a Range Rover. What's not to love?
I don't judge people by their cars like you. I think it's resentful and a nasty trait. I would say, however, that whatever car you drive, it will be driven by a cock. I do this advisedly though and with the evidence of all the judgmental drivel you've posted like this over the years.


12 November 2015
than the Q7 hybrid, a lot cheaper, more practical, a better resolved and more modern interior, and because it was designed as a hybrid from scratch still retains the 7 seats and a decent sized boot. Fairly future proof as well considering the beginning of the end of diesel love affair is in sight, I suspect it will sell well in America, and probably a lot more than the Q7 diesel hybrid will given the current scandal.

12 November 2015
that is platform/powertrain, seats, dashboard and centre console and being carried over to next years V70/S80 replacements, the S and V90. Still want that 5 series or A6?

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