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%