Especially in range-topping Inscription trim, the Volvo XC90 is one of the nicest three-row utility vehicles available today, with elegant design, impeccable quality and more refinement than a white-tie gala. The XC90 T8 builds on those laurels with an advanced powertrain that's not only incredibly potent and refined, it's impressively efficient to boot.
Providing an advertised 18 miles of electric-only range is an 11.6-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. This vehicle's standard TurboCord allows you to charge it from 110- or 220-volt household outlets. Hook it to a standard 110-volt socket and it will take all night to charge. Tap into a 220-volt power source however and Volvo claims it can be fully juiced in as little as 2.5 hours. Thanks to its J1772-style connector, you can easily plug your XC90 into public charging stations for on-the-go replenishment.
Once its battery pack is depleted, the XC90 operates as a standard hybrid, which means it's still impressively economical, returning an EPA-estimated 27 miles per gallon combined. When driving like a sane person and fully utilizing that electric-only range, I was able to average around 34 mpg during my time with this vehicle.
As in other Volvos, a turbo-and-supercharged four-cylinder engine is nestled under the hood. Displacing 2.0-liters and matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission, this unit delivers 313 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, though it's not working alone. A crankshaft-mounted starter-generator throws an additional 111 lb-ft of torque into the mix, while a separate, rear-mounted motor spins the aft tires, providing both all-wheel drive and 87 extra horses. Add everything up and the XC90 T8's drivetrain is rated at 400 hp and 472 lb-ft, figures that compare favorably to the Volvo's major rival, the Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring plug-in hybrid. The Lincoln is endowed with 494 hp and 630 lb-ft of torque, plus it offers an electric-only driving range of 21 miles. Other plug-in competitors include the Land Rover Range Rover Sport PHEV and the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid.
This Volvo's got enough kibbles 'n bits to hit 60 mph in the mid-5-second range and it feels every bit that quick. Smooth and nearly silent, its electric motors provide a wallop of low-end torque to get things moving, though the engine is practically as refined. Incredibly quiet and nearly vibration free, Volvo's 2.0-liter is an absolute gem. In fact, the same could be said about this entire powertrain, which is so seamless you won't even realize it's a hybrid. In comparison, the Aviator Grand Touring is nowhere near as nicely calibrated, herking and jerking at odd times.
Plug-in XC90s come with about half a dozen driving modes. These adjust its steering feel, braking performance, climate control system and more. Hybrid is the standard mode, which operates this vehicle as, you guessed it, a regular hybrid. The gasoline engine and electric motors work together to deliver good performance and efficiency. Click the elegant little roller switch on the center console over to Pure and the XC90 will run solely on electricity, though there is a caveat. This setting further enhances efficiency by putting the climate control system in eco mode and lowering the air suspension, if equipped. What's the catch? Well, in Pure mode the gasoline engine will kick on in certain situations, such as when you request more power than the electric motors can provide or if you exceed 78 mph. Avoid flat-footing the accelerator or ripping down the interstate and you will have no trouble keeping this Volvo running purely off the battery.
Underway, the XC90's interior is tomblike in its silence. Even at highway speeds this vehicle remains almost eerily hushed, which is ideal for the available Bowers and Wilkins sound system, a $3,200 extra. Crystal clear yet pounding, you can crank the volume up without any distortion or junky rattling sounds to detract from your favorite tunes.
This Volvo's steering has some heft to it, but it's regrettably uninvolving no matter which driving mode you select. Fortunately, the brake pedal feels natural, seamlessly switching from regenerative to friction braking as needed. It's completely transparent and nicely weighted, being neither mushy nor grabby.
My top-shelf Inscription model is equipped with optional 21-inch wheels, an $800 extra. These rollers look great, but I don't necessarily recommend them. Even when fitted with the available $1,800 height-adjustable air suspension, my XC90's ride is not quite as smooth as it should be. No, it's not brutal by any means, but there is a bit more impact harshness than I'd like, probably because those wheels are so heavy.
That slightly clopping ride is not the end of the world, but there are a couple other annoyances worth mentioning. For instance, those beautiful, leather-wrapped sun visors do not extend to cover the width of the front windows, a curious safety omission. This is a vehicle that will sound an alarm if you so much as have a dirty thought, but shielding taller drivers' eyes from glare isn't important? The XC90's standard automatic high beams are not good… at all. On multiple occasions while driving at night I noticed the system switching on when a car was right in front of me and the beams failing to dip when oncoming traffic got much too close. Eventually, I just stopped using this feature. Finally, my tester is fitted with a crystalline shifter, which looks like a little piece of art mounted to the center console, though you still have to double-click it to select the gear you want, which is kind of silly.
Naturally, the XC90 T8 includes plenty of other driver-assistance technologies like blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking and rear cross-traffic alert, to name a few. They all work well, including Pilot Assist, the automaker's name for adaptive cruise control with lane centering. On the interstate at higher speeds, this system is rock solid, keeping the XC90 locked in the middle of its lane while smoothly adjusting speed to match surrounding traffic. Curiously, it's far less confidence inspiring on two-lane roads, where it can ping-pong from one lane marker to the other.
If you like lots of swiping and scrolling, you'll probably love Volvo's Sensus Connect infotainment system. This is not the worst multimedia offering available today, not by a long shot, but neither is it my favorite since it can lag from time to time and the menus are pretty confusing. I actually had to search the owner's manual because I couldn't remember how to save radio presets and it's not obvious how you do that. At least there's plenty of real estate on the 9-inch screen and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included.
As I alluded to earlier, the rest of this Volvo's cabin is stunning. The overall design is super clean and elegant. The Nappa-leather upholstery is probably the nicest you'll find this side of a Rolls-Royce and there's lovely stitching everywhere. My tester's gray-hued, open-pore ash-wood trim is beautiful to look at and touch.
Comfort in the XC90 is a bit of a mixed bag. The front chairs are absolutely throne-like, heated, ventilated, adjustable in more ways than you can count and they're even able to give you a massage. The second-row buckets are a bit on the narrow side and not nearly as cushy as the fronts, plus they're quite difficult to tilt and slide for accessing the third row. Speaking of the XC90's aft-most accommodations, they're a tight squeeze for adults, which is no surprise, but oddly enough the lower cushion is at an excellent height and provides plenty of support, something that's very unusual in this segment.
The 2020 Volvo XC90 T8 is offered in three trims: entry-level Momentum, midrange R-Design and top-shelf Inscription. The base price is around $68,000, though my tester drove off the assembly line in Gothenburg, Sweden with an MSRP of $86,790, a total that includes a rather modest destination charge of $995 and $18,295 in options. If you crave this Volvo's subtle design, tasteful interior and pleasant demeanor but are unwilling or unable to shell out nearly 90 grand don't fret. You can get a non-hybrid T5 front-wheel-drive variant for about $50,000, which should deliver much of the same fundamental excellence if not quite as much opulence.
This Volvo is an absolutely lovely piece of work, one of the best of its breed available today. Luxury may be antithetical to environmentalism, but the XC90's plug-in powertrain goes a long way to improving both the driving dynamics and, more importantly, fuel efficiency.