From £36,9509
Cheaper, less powerful, more refined take on the big plug-in Volvo hits the nail right on the head. A more pleasant, practical, relaxing executive option you will not find
Matt Saunders Autocar
21 September 2020

What is it?

Having been one of the first to offer plug-in hybrid (PHEV) powertrains in its saloons, estate cars and SUVs, Volvo lauded an early lead over its mostly German rivals for anyone looking to cut their company car tax and fuel bills with an executive car they could plug into the mains. Gothenburg’s first PHEV offering was fully eight years ago now, though – and plenty has changed since. There’s now a lot of competition for plug-in hybrid fleet business, as well as much greater relative importance placed on those plug-in hybrids by the company car tax system, and model prices have steadily fallen.

So having first pitched its PHEVs as diesel-electric options, and then as quite highly priced petrol-electric pseudo-performance options, Volvo is finally getting down to brass tacks and making its bigger plug-in options a bit more value oriented. You can now opt for slightly cheaper and less powerful T6 Recharge-badged versions of the V60, XC60 and V90, and both of the ‘V’-prefixed estates will get you access to that highly desirable 10% benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax classification for your next company car.

Being the biggest and the most expensive T6 petrol-electric option of the new trio, the V90 might not be the one to do the most fleet business for Volvo, but it does occupy something of a notional sweet spot within that little line-up within a line-up. It’s got traditional ‘big Volvo’ practicality and luxury accommodation levels, as well as four-wheel drive for those who want it; but you can still get one out of the showroom with an associated CO2 rating of 50g/km or less, and at a price competitive with what you might pay for an equivalent Mercedes, BMW or Audi PHEV - so long as you don’t go mad with the optional equipment.

The V90 T6 Recharge does rate slightly less favourably for lab-test fuel economy and C02 emissions than some of its rivals, mostly because it retains the 11.6kWh drive battery that Volvo’s T8 hybrids have used for a while – and many rivals have bigger ones and greater all-electric range. What’s important to note, however, is that the car sits right on the cusp of the 50g/km BIK tax threshold; so, with the way new cars are now tested and classified for carbon emissions taking in the influence of optional equipment, if you lavish too many weight-adding and energy-sapping cost extras to your car, you’ll miss out on the tax saving you may be aiming for.

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Our test car was in R-Design trim, with optional 20in wheels, adaptive dampers and air-sprung self-levelling rear suspension. Thusly configured, it qualified for a sub-51g/km carbon rating, and you can add Volvo’s various driver assistance, ‘tech’ and ‘lounge’ option packs, too, without fear, and the expensive Bower & Wilkins stereo if you want it. Ours had all of that stuff, but just a retractable towbar on top of all those things would have pushed it out of the 10% company car tax band and up to 13% instead.

Now imagine having to explain to your nearest and dearest that a towbar or some heated rear seats were effectively costing you £700 a year in tax. Doesn’t bear thinking about, does it?

What's it like?

An improvement over Volvo’s comparable T8 hybrids in many ways. To be fair, the V90 T6 Recharge isn’t necessarily a better car than a T8 so much as a better-aimed one; but, to this tester at least, there was no doubt that it ran more quietly and economically in its combustion modes than several T8 Twin Engine Volvo hybrids I’ve driven and set as high a general standard for on-board comfort and isolation as any big Volvo I can remember.

The car uses largely the same turbocharged four-cylinder 250bhp petrol engine as the old V90 T5, rather than the more highly strung ‘twincharged’ 2.0-litre four that T8 hybrids use, with its supercharger working in addition to a turbocharger. The engine starts and stops very quietly and smoothly, and doesn’t disturb the reserved calm in which the car operates even when it has to work hard. 

It also combines well with the electric motor on the back axle to make the V90 feel as brisk as anyone is likely to want a £50,000 modern Volvo estate to feel. Run around in 'Pure’ or electric mode and you’ll get between 20 and 30 miles on a full charge, depending on your driving style and the ambient temperature mainly. Drive on with the car’s drive battery flat and you’ll get an easy 40mpg.

That sets the tone for a car of precisely the kind of rounded, obliging, any-occasion temperament you’d want any big Volvo to have, I reckon. It’s comfortable, simple and easy to operate, handsome to look at and very pleasant to spend long journeys in, but super-spacious and highly practical, too. The way it would simply melt into your everyday life, enriching it without imposing on it one jot, is probably its greatest asset.

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The way modern Volvos have come to incorporate the big wheels and sporty styling that so many customers want in their cars as part of its current design language, without letting those sporty influences skew the comfort-first dynamic appeal of those cars, really is very clever, isn’t it? The company worked out some time ago that, while its customers might want a car that looks a little bit chiselled and purposeful, they by and large don't want the compromised 'sporty' driving experience often associated with that. The current V90 has always been a cracking-looking car, and R-Design bodystyling sets it off very well. The facelift brings modifications to the rear light clusters and front bumper, but pretty subtle ones. Well, there wasn’t much that needing fixing.

The car has sporty-looking, gently bolstered, leather-upholstered seats, but they’re no harder or less comfy as a result of that look, and they’re no problem at all to easily slide in and out of. There’s bags of room for taller adults to sit in comfort in the back row (Volvo has replaced the 12V power outlet here for a couple of USB-C charging ports), while in the boot, you get a perfectly flat load-bay floor, which the rear seatbacks extend very nicely when folded down. No battery intrusion, then; just a smallish charging cable bag to accommodate.

The car’s driving experience is nicely simple by PHEV standards. The stubby gear selector has an extra ‘B’ setting you might not be expecting, which ramps up electrical energy recuperation on a trailing throttle – but if you elect not to use it, this is a big, serene, wafty car that’ll ‘sail’ or coast for what can seem like miles if you let it, apparently running on fresh air. It doesn’t have gearshift paddles, nor does it really have any serious performance pretensions. The ride is soft and quiet and only very occasionally trips up over a raised edge in the road, even on 20in wheels, while the controls are filtered and broadly pleasant.

Interested drivers might have preferred a bit less of an amorphous, spongy feel from the brake pedal and steering, but when you’re floating around at classic Volvo pace, the lack of tactile engagement isn’t likely to bother you too much. If you do feel like hurrying, you can select gears yourself in ‘B’ mode by knocking the shift lever left and right, and if you select the car’s ‘Power’ setting, its steering weights up a touch and its adaptive dampers do a fairly credible job of controlling its mass at swift B-road pace. The car’s perfectly well composed when it needs to be: it’s just at its best at other times.

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Should I buy one?

There are now comparable mid-sized executive PHEVs in the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6, Mercedes E-Class model ranges and, for bargain hunters, perhaps we shouldn’t forget the Skoda Superb iV, which has very comparable interior space. But none of those rivals offers four-wheel drive and an estate bodystyle at the moment – and only the BMW is likely to any time soon.

That’s just another reason why you might see a lot of everyday-use, real-world ownership appeal in this Volvo, I suppose. I certainly do. It would be a fairly expensive car for a private buyer, I guess. But then I ran a V90 D5 as a long-term test car three years ago, and that was a £45,000, 40mpg car itself.

And if I’d just traded it in for this T6 Recharge? For a car so relaxing and agreeable, and with a great deal more than the D5 ever really had to offer besides, I wouldn’t have to look very far to easily justify where the extra money had gone.

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Comments
9

21 September 2020
Wow, sounds like a great car, a superb all rounder, but £65k as tested? That's a massively expensive car, which range starts at £40,610, not £36,950 for non hybrid models.
Cars really do seem ridiculously expensive, surely the old V90/960 as it was many years back, wasn't this sort of price, and this is just inflation.
Still all that aside, I really like this car for its dismissal of sporty driving pretensions and it's comfortable spacious and handsome style.

21 September 2020

For a 4 pot 2.0 estate that'll depreciate as fast as a PHEV sinks in a pond. As to the 36 miles on a 11kw battery, no chance, tax dodgers only.

21 September 2020

£65k and 2100kg kerb weight? What an expensive lard-arse of a car. But it's not just Volvo, it seems like every single car these days is becoming expensive and obese, especially the new PHEVs and EVs that are supposed to be more "eco-friendly".

21 September 2020
Some people buy a car because they like it, not because of depreciation. For a brexiloon, you seem quite confused. Remember, "it's not about the economy, it's about freedom".

21 September 2020

And maybe some people like to know the whole story when spending 50k on a car, what are you some kind forumn dictator. And what politics has to do with it, as to your quoted comment I think you should stay away from mind altering substances before posting.

21 September 2020

The biggest advantage over its rivals seems to be the availability of four-wheel-drive, and perhaps a boot that doesn't have any intrusions due to battery locations (this is based on the reviewers' description...a picture of the boot would be nice, seeing as this is an estate car likely to be bought for load lugging...). 

A comparison with the other estates would be interesting, especiallly for those who may not need four-wheel-drive; the Mercedes E-Class, for instance, is available in both petrol and diesel guises (the petrol is more economical than the Volvo (as based on the official economy figures), and the diesel is obviously even more economical than either) and also very cossetting (as can be attested by Autocar's own Andrew Frankel who recently ran one as a long-termer).

22 September 2020

This article is wrong about only Volvo currently offering a 4wd PHEV estate. Audi offer their A6 TFSIe PHEV as an estate with quattro 4wd.

27 September 2020

After spending 30 years in the motor trade mainly as a Sales Manager I have a pretty good idea of what ‘the complete package’ looks like. Not one to join in the ‘socials’ I had to share my views on the V90 R Design . I have been running a V90 R Design pro D4 Polestar upgrade since 2018. We have a huge choice of company cars available but company policy has moved to Hybrid or Electric, Naturaly I was keen to explore the Hybrid V90 as I have found my current V90 to be the best allrounder I have EVER owned, it’s quick, well appointed great looking and doesn’t follow the crowd !! After driving the Mercedes DE300 de AMG Line Estate I found it impossible to spec, had no options on interior colours and like most of the German brands had no more than a handful of colours to it’s palette. You can build the V90 to exactly how you want it so when you spend 20,000 miles a year in it you’ve done it for you and not what makes a manufacturers live easier. When I drove the 335 bus E300 on a damp day the back end went crazy as both electric and rwd drive train are all in the same place . Not only that Mercedes, who I used to work for seem to think that it’s ok to put a great big box midway in the load area which is poor planning for an estate car. The Volvo which is naturally a fwd car now becomes Awd as a result of Electrification and retains it’s flat load area.

I cant wait until my new T6 Recharge turns up , it was a joy to drive the Hybrid on test for a few days, the car is even better than my outgoing Polestar remapped V90 !! It would be easy to follow rather crowd by going German etc but these aren’t cheap cars yet we are being more limited in how we , the consumer want them, if you want mpg, c02 emissions , top speed. And 0-60 buy the Volvo......if you want all of the above and everything else you would actually want in a car at this money.......buy the Volvo :) 

27 September 2020

I also forgot to say that the Volvo network is a joy to deal with ,has the newest range line up which are all excellent , and that’s not forgetting the core Values Volvo has as a brand, if I were still in the game I would be sat at a Volvo site, I guess if you want to be You or if you want to be different this Is the best choice  if you still know your own mind rather than being a sheep

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