What is it?
Volvo’s shift to electrification is happening faster than most, to the point it’s currently impossible to buy an XC90 from the factory without some form of hybrid assistance.
A pure electric version of the company’s seven-seat flagship SUV might be a long way off, and a plug-in powertrain remains the preserve of the T8 TwinEngine, but now even entry-level cars get a 48V starter motor/generator and small battery. The system assists the 2.0-litre engine under acceleration and regenerates power under braking, which Volvo says can help cut down on emissions over the outgoing, combustion-only car, and gives real-world fuel economy a boost too.
Our car is the B5 petrol: a 2.0-litre four cylinder, available exclusively with all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission, but not to be confused with the slightly pricier B5 diesel. That’s also a 2.0-litre four-pot, but prefers to drink from the black pump.
There are no visual clues as to which is which, with both sporting the same mildest of mild facelifts as the rest of the range, and there’s little to separate them in performance terms, the petrol taking an extra tenth of a second to reach 62mph and having an ever-so-slightly lower top speed.
What's it like?
It’s not like there are any obvious signs the mild hybrid system is doing anything at all, an icon on the instrument cluster being the only indication that it is recuperating energy. Brake regeneration is very subtle, with nowhere near the level of deceleration you’d find in an electric car.
This is no magic bullet, though. The XC90 is still a big, heavy SUV, and while it feels responsive enough in a straight line, the engine has to work much harder here than it did in the smaller XC60 we drove earlier in the year. It’s a little more vocal under load, and fuel economy is rarely that impressive. Our testing rarely saw figures top 30mpg, even on more relaxed motorway cruises. Compare that to the high 30s we saw from a similarly-equipped B5 diesel, and it’s clear which version provides better value for money at the fuel pump.
That’s a shame, as otherwise this powertrain suits the XC90’s premium nature. It starts smoothly, is unobtrusive at slower speeds, and in traffic the start/stop system is very subtle. Momentum trim does without the optional air suspension, but even on passive dampers the ride is well-judged across most surfaces. Only particularly rough B-roads are felt to a major degree inside the cabin.