2021 Volvo XC60 T8 Recharge long-term update: Electric AWD

The XC60 T8 Recharge has a distinctive all-wheel-drive setup. How does it perform when the temperatures drop? That's what this update is all about.

Good winter performance starts with good tires.
Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Our 2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge SUV is a favorite member of Roadshow's current long-term fleet -- and not just because of how well that Denim Blue paint pairs with the City Weave interior. The plug-in hybrid T8 powertrain means we're seeing great mileage for such a heavy (4,693 pounds), powerful (400 horsepower) SUV. But the T8 setup also makes for an odd all-wheel-drive system, which I figured couldn't possibly be any good on the ice or in deep snow. I'm happy to report that I was wrong, though this system does require a bit more finesse than your average AWD crossover.

What's different here? Well, the XC60 uses what Volvo calls eAWD. A more common industry term is a "through-the-road" hybrid setup, which is to say there's no mechanical linkage between the electric system driving the rear wheels and the turbo- and supercharged engine driving the fronts. This makes for a relatively simple and cost-effective way of adding electrification, but it means that both systems must work perfectly in sync to provide good performance in low-grip situations. The simple fact that they aren't always perfectly in sync makes this car feel unlike anything else I've driven on snow and ice.

First off, I need to mention that our XC60 got a considerable upgrade in the form of a set of Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3 winter tires. I've been running Hakkas on my personal cars for over a decade. They're among the best on the market, but the studded versions I typically run deliver a lot of road noise with that grip. The unstudded R3s are blissfully quiet by comparison. That's hugely important here because the XC60's calm and peaceful nature is a huge part of its charm. Despite that, the R3s still offer huge grip both in deep snow and on slippery ice.

Tires covered, let's start with a common driving situation: pulling out of a snowy or icy parking spot. Fire up the XC60 Recharge, put it in Drive and, typically, nothing happens. The car relies on the electric rear motor as much as possible at low speeds, so that means when you're dodging shopping carts in the parking lot this thing is a silent, smooth EV. It's also rear-wheel-drive, which isn't ideal in our hypothetical winter situation.

Hit the gas and you'll spin up the rear wheels and, for just a moment, you'll go nowhere. The car detects this and quickly fires up the gasoline engine to provide power to the front axle. In my experience this always gets me going, but that the rear axle has already started spinning means grip is somewhat compromised. It'd be better if all four wheels moved at the same time. (Which you can make happen -- more on that in a moment.)

Here's another common situation: accelerating out of a corner and crossing a patch of ice. In a front-wheel-drive car, the front end tends to slide the most. For a rear-drive car, it's the back that steps out. For an AWD car, it depends on the differential setup, making it a great test of where and how quickly power is being distributed. 

For the XC60 in this situation, with the gasoline powering the front wheels and electricity spinning the rears, I'm surprised to feel the rear of the car get extra lively. We're not talking Drift Kings type stuff, but the XC60 T8 feels like a sporty AWD car with a rear-biased torque distribution.

Why surprising? That's because the front axle, driven by the gasoline engine, has significantly more power. So why does it feel like this? I figure it comes down to throttle response, a place where EVs shine. The electric drivetrain at the rear reacts more quickly than the gasoline engine up front, making the XC60 great fun in the snow. 

Mind you, the stability control quickly comes in to ensure you stay pointed in the right direction, but that bit of playfulness is a welcome surprise. I genuinely look forward to my late-night, mid-blizzard take-out runs.

2021 Volvo XC60 T8 Recharge

I will miss this place.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Finally, I was able to try out another challenging situation for AWD systems: three wheels on ice and only one with grip. A simpler, open differential system without some active-braking smarts will just leave you sitting there spinning your wheels. Whether it's a single front or rear wheel that had the grip the Volvo quickly got the power where it was needed.

So, is the XC60 Recharge good in the snow? Yes, especially when paired with a good set of winter tires. But to ensure you get consistent grip and performance in inclement conditions, make sure you manually select Constant All-Wheel Drive mode from the selector knob on the center console before you set off. This keeps the engine running and ensures both axles are constantly driven. Or, if you're dealing with a snowy or particularly icy parking lot or driveway, go ahead and throw it into Off-Road mode. This also keeps both axles at the ready and changes the throttle response as well to ensure you keep moving.

My time with the XC60 is sadly drawing to a close, as it's heading west -- to the Midwest, specifically -- and out of my life. But don't worry, we still have plenty of updates to come.

Check in with Roadshow's other long-term testers