There are roomier 3-row SUVS, but $4 a gallon gasoline will keep the Volvo XC90 plug-in hybrid a sustainable choice
Table of Contents
2021 XC90 Updates
Ride and Handling
Pilot Assist System
Room to Improve
Back Seats and Cargo Space
Why Buy the Volvo XC 90 Recharge?
There is something special about tooling along in a 5,300-pound Volvo XC90 SUV on battery power. Of course, it would be more special if the driving range was farther than just 17 to 21 miles, but that still leaves a lot of daily driving that can be done without gasoline or exhaust. The energy assets of the plug-in Volvo XC90 Recharge T8 will be even more relevant as the price of gas in California crests $4 a gallon.
Volvo packs a lot into this large-midsize SUV. The two-box body has three rows of seats for six or seven occupants. The vehicle feels solid, and the tester had no squeaks or itchy vibration noises.
The second-generation Volvo XC90 was introduced in 2016 and had a major refresh in 2020. The update restyled the front and rear fascias and added a new waterfall grille design. The six-seat configuration was also added, along with a slightly larger hybrid battery and other tech updates.
The body shell seems fairly generic “SUV” (like a Ford Explorer), but with well-applied Volvo features. Luxury competitors include the Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring, Range Rover P400e, BMW X5 xDrive45e.
Volvo added minor updates for 2021, including two USB-C ports in the back seat, wireless phone charging on the shift console, and front parking assist. And the Digital Care Key was added, which can be used to set a speed limit, such as for young drivers in the family.
Volvo is on the threshold of delivering a wave of emissions-free models. The company hopes to have battery-powered vehicles account for half of its global sales by 2025.
In the second half of this year, Volvo has plans to launch a small coupe-style crossover. In addition, Automotive News reports that the XC90 will be redesigned sometime in 2022 for the 2023 model year. And other industry rumors talk of a longer XC100 SUV on the way.
The XC90 is available in many trim levels with seats for six or seven, in front- or all-wheel-drive models. The powertrains for gasoline or gas-electric plug-in hybrid models are “charged” direct-injected, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines. Depending on the model, the engines are either turbocharged or turbocharged and supercharged. All powertrains are paired with an eight-speed Geartronic transmission.
The entry XC90 T5, with a 250-horsepower turbocharged engine, has starting prices that range from $50,095 to $52,595. All MSRP pricing includes the $1,095 freight charge from Gothenburg, Sweden.
The midrange XC90 T6 AWD has a 316-hp turbocharged and supercharged engine and a starting price of $58,045.
And the XC90 T8 Recharge eAWD plug-in models have a 400-hp turbo and supercharged engine with an 87-hp electric motor. Starting prices range from $64,545 to $71,345.
Today’s tester, an XC90 Recharge T8 Inscription, had a starting price of $70,845 and was $79,560, as tested.
Check on current XC90 pricing here.
Volvo has long been a safety innovator. It is well known for inventing the three-point seat belt in 1959. The carmaker also was among the first to add rear-facing child seats and side-impact air bags. Today, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has designated every Volvo model a Top Safety Pick Plus.
The XC90’s safety features and advanced technologies are extensive. Among them:
Volvo’s City Safety System focuses cameras and sensors on accident avoidance or mitigation. The system integrates intersection autobrake, blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert with autobrake, and cyclist and large animal detection with automatic braking.
Forward Collision Warning. Drivers are alerted by a pulse of the brakes, an audible tone, and an illuminated warning in the driver display and head-up display.
See the Specifications chart below for more features.
The Volvo XC90 Recharge T8 applies a sophisticated handoff of supercharging and turbocharging. The supercharger engages first for immediate off-the-line power and then shuts down as the engine revs increase. Then the turbo takes over for power in the higher rpm range. There is some engine noise on hard acceleration, but the force feels brisk and the gear changes are fluid.
Total system power defies the concept of a four-cylinder with power ratings of 400-hp and 427 foot-pounds of torque for near-instant pulling
The powertrain integrates an 87-hp electric motor at the rear axle (for all-wheel drive) and a smallish 11.6 kWh battery pack. Packaging of the hybrid battery does not compromise interior space, Volvo says. And cargo cubic footage is the same as other XC90s.
Fuel economy ratings on premium fuel — with all-wheel drive — are 27 mpg combined city and highway driving; premium fuel is recommended. Those ratings translate to a combined 55 mpg-e with electric and engine power.
The 18.5-gallon take should provide nearly 600 miles of range. My driving returned 25-26 mpg around town and up to 30.8 with highway driving, which might have gone higher on longer commutes.
A hold-and-charge function allows the driver to bank the current battery charge for later use. The charge function uses the gas engine to charge the battery to a certain level.
Volvo works with ChargePoint to offer the Home Flex charging system. The 240-volt Level 2 home charger can provide up to 50 amps of power, depending on the capacity of the home’s electrical panel. Pricing for the unit starts at about $700, not including installation or other electrical work.
- Volvo includes a Level 2 120- or 240-volt cable (22.9 feet long) for charging at home.
- Plugging into a 110-volt household connection will take 6 to 8 hours.;
- Using the 3.6kW AC fast charger (240-volt) will take 3 to 4 hours;
- Plugging into a public DC fast charger (50-150kW) will take about 40 minutes to 2 hours.
The ride is carpet-quiet around town, but there was more ambient noise on the highway than I expected. The air suspension provided a comfortable ride around town, but it felt less confident and a little busy at 70 mph and in sporty maneuvers.
The all-wheel-drive system launches with traction to all four tires and then adjusts to mostly front-drive until more pull is needed.
Shift points from the eight-speed Geartronic transmission are well-timed for power on demand. There are drive modes of Comfort, Dynamic, Eco, Individual and Off-Road, but the power was strong enough that I drove in Comfort most of the time.
According to Volvo, the 5,100-pound XC90 Recharge T8 can hustle to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds.
Braking has refined stopping force and is free of an on-off action when engaging the brake pedal; that gap in grip is a common side effect of some regenerative brake systems. The disc brakes are up to the 5,000-pound towing task and above-average stopping distance. With the XC90’s 14.4-inch discs front and 13.4 inches rear, Volvo cites a stopping distance from 62 mph to zero in 36 meters or 118.1 feet. According to a recent Consumer Reports analysis, that distance puts it well below the average of 134 feet for comparable midsize luxury SUVs.
There are layers of usability to the hybrid system. I like that when the battery runs out, there is no difference in the driving attitude as the system switches to the gas engine. It functions as a standard gasoline-electric powertrain.
In the default Hybrid mode, the system uses the electric motor and gas engine individually or in parallel, depending on the need for power.
The Pure mode maximizes driving on the hybrid battery and is functional to 78 mph. But performance is reduced and the air conditioning is partly disengaged, though it can be activated manually.
In Power mode, the gas engine and electric motor work together to drive the front and rear wheels. Steering and braking are set to Dynamic performance, and the gauge display changes to a red Sport mode.
The off-Road mode can be used at speeds below 12 mph and not above 25 mph. The split of power front to rear is locked at 50/50.
Pilot Assist is a hands-on-the-wheel driving assistance system to assist with steering, acceleration, and braking. It is designed for use on highways and at speeds up to 80 mph. I find the system is most helpful in stop-and-go commuter traffic.
It is a trustworthy system that has been improved since I first tested it in 2016. Pilot Assist will keep the vehicle centered in the lane and, in my experience, did not let it drift across the white highway lines or Botts dots.
But do not become complacent. A variety of situations can cause random but brief shutdowns. For example, I experienced system shutoff in such conditions as direct sunlight into the sensors, faded and light-colored or faded concrete highways, and white semi-trucks and trailers alongside the XC90 in traffic.
There is a Swedish design ethos to the interior that is upscale and manicured. But it is not too precious for children to scuff up. The cabin is broad enough to provide a range of storage areas and logical placement of controls and switches, what few of them there are.
There are many technologies layered into the electronics, but I struggled with the 9-inch touch screen. Volvo uses a vertical screen for less scrolling, but it still takes eyes from the road. Also, finding the touchpoints takes time to master, and the camera screen is narrower than a horizontal format.
Touch screens might be sexy to designers — and to product planners for their reduced hardware costs. But a few more buttons would be helpful to make simple adjustments without having to reach over and tap twice to make one change.
The front headroom is tall at 38.9 inches with the panoramic roof (standard on the Recharge). Driver sightlines are completely open across the hood, over the shoulder, and out the rear glass. The steering weight is light for tooling the mall parking lot or it can be adjusted to be made firmer. The turning circle of 38.7 feet is tighter than some midsize sedans.
The seats are power-adjustable with lumbar and thigh extension of the cushion. In addition, the XC90 Recharge T8 offers an attractive wool blend upholstery as a no-cost option to Nappa leather.
Volvo does excellent leather — it’s the full leather treatment, not “leather-trimmed.” But the fabric upholstery is a refreshing choice and seems somewhat “sustainable” for those who care. Fabric is not sweaty in hot weather or chilling in the cold; however, front-seat ventilation is not available with cloth. The T8 Inscription includes heated front seats, and the Climate package, $750, adds heated wiper blades, heated rear seats and heated steering wheel.
The sun visors give inadequate coverage at the windshield pillars and do not slide or have extension panels, but they have covered and lighted mirrors.
The shift console is crowded with the crystal gearshift handle, ignition stub, brake release, cup holders, and the newly added wireless charging pad. There also is a 12-volt plug for a cigarette lighter and a nearby tiny ashtray.
The XC90 is a spacious five-seat SUV. Three rows with seven seats is the standard configuration, but for $500, it can be configured as a six-seater. Add an integrated center seat booster cushion for $300.
By the numbers, second-row legroom is generous at 37 inches, but there is a crunch of legroom with passengers in the second and third rows, no matter their sizes. Scooting the second-row forward to accommodate those in the third row (with a short 31.9 inches of legroom) feels claustrophobic with the seat is so close to the front seatbacks.
But the space has good foot room and the seatbacks recline a few inches, but the bench is short for adult thigh support.
Folding the tip-and-slide second row to gain access to the way-back takes manual muscle that will not be easy for some.
Cargo space is wide at 46 inches and tall at 32 inches. With the optional four-corner air suspension ($1,800), the loading height can be lowered several inches to a comfortable 29 ½ inches.
The second row folds and drops the head restraints in one easy maneuver, but there is no power folding option, nor is there a strap or leverage device to raise the third-row seats from the cargo area.
Volvo expects and extracts much from its plug-in XC90. It has compelling luxury features and engaging Swedish influences, but there isn’t much that hasn’t already been applied to most evolved SUVs.
Young, upward evolving families will value its safety reputation and the many around-town trips in complete electric mode.
Volvo has evolved this generation XC90 Recharge T8 as far as possible, and a redesign will be welcome. But the ever-rising price of gasoline will keep this plug-in a sustainable choice.
Body style: full-size, 6- or 7-seat AWD SUV
Engine: 313-hp, 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged, direct-injected 4-cylinder
Battery pack: 11.6 kWh
Total system power: 400-hp and 427 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 8-speed Geartronic with drive modes
Fuel economy: 27 mpg combined gasoline-engine only; 55 MPGe with electricity and gas engine
BY THE NUMBERS
Fuel tank: 18.5 gal.
Cargo space: 11.2-34.1 cu. ft. (loaded to the ceiling)
Front head/leg room: 38.9*/40.9 in. *w/moonroof
2nd-row head/leg room: 38.5/37 in.
3rd-row head/leg room: 36.3/31.9 in.
Length/wheelbase: 195/117.5 in.
Width/height: 79.1*/69.6 *84.2 mirrors not folded
Tow capacity: 5,000 lbs.
Curb weight: 5,355 lbs.
Turning circle: 38.7 ft.
Standard Inscription equipment includes: keyless entry with pushbutton ignition, panoramic moonroof with power sunshade, wood-blend seat upholstery, wireless charging, power front seats with lumbar and cushion extension, hands-free power tailgate, 2 USB ports front, 2 USB-C ports rear, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Harman Kardon audio system, 12.3-inch driver gauge display, 9-inch Sensus Connect infotainment touch screen, Wi-Fi hot spot, 20-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires
Safety features include: 8 air bags, Pilot Assist system; roll stability and electronic stability controls; lane-keeping assist; drowsy or distracted driver alert control; oncoming lane mitigation; automatic braking after collision; run-off road mitigation and run-off road protection
Base price: $64,545, including $1,095 freight charge; price as tested $79,560
Options on test vehicle: Inscription package $6,300; Air quality package with advanced air cleaner $250; Denim Blue Metallic paint $695; Climate package, $750 (heated wiper blades, heated rear seats and heated steering wheel); Advanced package, $1,700, adds head-up windshield display, high-level interior ambient lighting, and 360-degree surround-view camera; Integrated center seat booster cushion, $300
Where assembled: Gothenburg, Sweden
Warranty: 4-years/50,000-miles with roadside service and free scheduled maintenance for first three services (10,000 miles, 20,000 miles and 30,000 miles) for 3 years or up to 36,000 milesRead more