Volvo XC90 2020 t8 recharge phev (awd)
review

2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge Plug-In Hybrid review

Rating: 8.0
$101,570 $120,780 Dealer
  • Fuel Economy
    2.1L
  • Engine Power
    246kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    49g
  • ANCAP Rating
    N/A
Does adding plug-in hybrid electric power with 35 kilometres of range take the XC90 to the next level?
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We all know how good the Volvo XC90, something of a dark horse in the large luxury SUV segment, can be. Does adding plug-in hybrid power turn Volvo’s XC90 into the ultimate fuel-sipping family wagon?

While the overall Volvo XC90 range starts from $89,990 before on-road costs, our test model sits at the other end of the range. Its full name is a long one: 2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge Plug‐In Hybrid.

The price tag is a little longer as well, with a before on-roads asking price of $114,990.

Our tester lobs in at $120,625 thanks to some boxes being ticked: Climate pack ($600), heated windscreen washers, heated rear seat, heated steering wheel); rear power-folding headrests ($275); charcoal perforated nappa leather interior with ventilated front seats ($2950), and metallic paint ($1900).

2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge Plug‐In Hybrid
Engine2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo/supercharged petrol, plug-in hybrid
Petrol Power and torque246kW @ 6000rpm, 440Nm @ 2200–4400rpm
Electric Power and torque65kW @ 7000rpm, 240Nm @ 0–3000rpm
Transmission8-speed torque-converter automatic
Drive typePetrol front wheels, electric rear wheels
Kerb weight2315kg
Fuel consumption, claimed2.1L/100km
Fuel use on test7.8L/100km
Boot size (two-seat / five-seat / seven-seat)1868L/1019L/369L
ANCAP safety rating (year)Five stars, 2015
Warranty (years / km)Five years / unlimited kilometres
Main competitorsAudi Q7, Lexus RX400h, Range Rover Sport PHEV
Price as tested (ex on-road costs)$120,625

Optional equipment aside, this XC90 is loaded up with standard inclusions, befitting a large luxury SUV with six numbers in the asking price.

There’s a 9.0-inch vertical touchscreen centre display with all of the modern-day tech, 12.3-inch driver digital display, adjustable head-up display, four-zone climate control, bending LED headlights with active high beam, ‘Four-C’ active chassis, air suspension and 22-inch alloy wheels.

The sound system, made by high-end British audio group Bowers and Wilkins, is awesome. With 19 speakers, including an open-air subwoofer and dashboard-mounted tweeter, it pumps out 1400 watts of glorious volume and clarity.

Plus, it looks awesome, with the kevlar speaker cones visible through the detailed steel covers.

There’s loads of safety tech on the XC90, as well. Beyond adaptive cruise control, Pilot Assist is Volvo’s polished version of semi-autonomous driving, and works well. And beyond that point, there is a swag of active and passive safety technology: Autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, traffic sign recognition, lane-keep assist, driver-alert control, along with many other smaller details, designs and features.

While we did love our time with the diesel-powered long-term XC90 a little while ago, this plug-in Hybrid XC90 promises to be even better at dodging service stations, especially when plugged in.

The 2.0-litre twin-charged petrol engine up front makes 246kW at 6000rpm and 440Nm at 2200–4500rpm, while the two electric motors at the back develop 65kW at 7000rpm and 240Nm from 0–3000rpm.

If the spec list sounds familiar, that's because the Recharge is more or less a rebrand of the mechanical package from the previous T8 Twin Engine model, as Volvo looks to ramp up its electrification efforts.

Combined, the XC90 Recharge is capable of hitting 100km/h from a standstill in only 5.5 seconds. For a seven-seat luxury SUV weighing in at 2315kg (272kg more than a non-hybrid T6 R-Design), it’s not too shabby.

Despite being surprisingly quick, you don’t buy this car for how fast it is in a straight line. You buy it for the space, the seats and the potential for little fuel usage.

Zero litres per hundred kilometres is achievable with this car, provided you do two things: not drive more than 35km in between recharges, don’t drive up long steep hills, and not ask for all of the straight-line performance on offer.

Achievable, yes. But also, it’s really unlikely. In my own regular everyday usage, short trips around town starting with a full battery saw fuel usage between 0.9–1.4 litres per 100km, because the engine kicks in for harder acceleration and longer hill climbs.

After 70km, fuel economy crept up to 4.3L/100km, which included lots of battery-sapping highway driving.

With less and less battery involvement, that economy levelled out to around 8–9L/100km for overall usage. This could be bettered by using the battery more zealously, or could also be worsened by charging up even less.

Is 35km of range achievable on only battery power? Yes. We did 35km once without any fuel usage, and topped out at 31km on a stinking-hot day with multiple stops and flat-stick air-conditioning all-day. Something certainly not helped by the thin cloth sunroof cover, which lets plenty of heat into the cabin.

On that day, we also came across some problems with the onboard tyre pressure monitoring system. Perhaps it was the sheer heat of the day, but it recorded low pressures on all four tyres, when they were fine. Not a big problem, except for my quickening heart rate as I began thinking about sourcing four 22-inch Pirelli tyres on a Sunday.

We charged the XC90 mostly at home during our testing, via a regular old household plug that took roughly three and a half hours to fill up the battery from empty. How long it takes doesn't matter so much however, because you can plug it in at night before you go to bed, and have it ready to roll in the morning.

With a Type-2 plug, The XC90 is able to be topped up much faster via more powerful chargers in the urban wilds. However,

In terms of driving, the combination of both petrol and electric drive is seamless. It switches and co-mingles smoothly, requiring eagle-eyed attention to notice the integration. If you do notice, it’s likely through the throttle response. There is a brief delay as the engine fires up and begins delivering power and torque.

Brake pedal feel is different as well, owing to the integration of regenerative braking; feeling wooden on first usage. It’s something that you get used to over time. But if you are jumping from one car to another regularly, this might remind you of how old drum brakes feel through the pedal. But unlike that old tech, these brakes work quite well when put to task. They are just lacking in terms of progressive feel underfoot.

Where the Volvo performs strongly is similar to other specifications: the ride and general comfort is outstanding. Despite the big diameter wheels and low profile tyres, bumps and undulations are handled wonderfully, and the steering feels direct with a nice balance.

And now that the engine is often not running at all, the XC90 becomes even more quiet. It’s almost eerie.

The interior of the XC90 is another strong point, with a understated sense of style that seems unique to the Swede against others in the segment. It’s cleanly designed, functional and quality. The portrait-style infotainment display works well, although Apple Carplay and Android Auto only takes up a fraction of the screen.

Climate control runs through the display as well, adding a few steps to make adjustments, but keeps buttons at the minimum. A new addition is the wireless charging pad near the gear shifter, which does lose a little bit of storage space.

The seats, with adjustable everything it seems, along with massaging, cooling and heating, are also great. They look suave, and are surprisingly thin, allowing for extra legroom in the 2nd row.

And there is plenty of that on offer. There’s 40/20/40 sliding and tilting available for adjustment of space, but adults, kids seats and anything else in between can fit in comfortably here. If you have any doubts about how serious a family car this XC90 is, have a look at the trick booster seat in the middle. The middle seat base flips back onto itself, raising the seat height and precluding the need for putting a booster seat in.

Along with sunshades, ISOFIX points, top tether points, four air vents and two power outlets, this could be the perfect 2nd row for a growing family.

The XC90 continues to impress in the 3rd row, also. It’s a genuine seven seater, with enough room to fit in adults in all places. Legroom, headroom and general comfort is all there, along with cup holders and armrests. Keep your eyes out for the spider, as well – there's one in every XC90, but your kids might see it before you do.

With the 3rd row in use, there is 369 litres of boot space still available, better than many others can muster. Fold that third row back into the floor, and you liberate a total of 1019 litres of boot space. And if Ikea beckons, then go full van mode: 1868 litres is available as a two-seater.

There is a 12v plug in boot, along with curry hooks and handy partition that flips up out of the floor. Under that, you'll find a spot for your cargo blind and a mesh barrier. Your charging cable goes into a bag in boot, without a dedicated spot.

While the integration of the electric drivetrain hasn’t impinged on interior space, our tester didn’t have room for a spare wheel – full-size or temporary. Instead, an air compressor and goo kit is all that fits.

For the first three years or 45,000 kilometres, servicing for this vehicle is set at $1795. Or, $598 per year.

Even though when the battery is practically flat, the hybrid powertrain still helps out with enough power for initial acceleration, along with switching the engine off when coasting and stopped. However, it doesn't seem to bring the same fuel consumption benefits of a Toyota or Lexus hybrid at these times.

If you don’t regularly drive more than 30km each day, then the XC90 has the potential to use virtually zero fuel overall. And being able to charge up it’s small batteries quickly, you can start to hopscotch your way.

Hybrid power is something difficult to get right. Some have done it well, while others are missing the mark. While this Volvo doesn’t offer the same kind of raw range as other plug-in hybrids, it’s got a short range nimbleness that will suit some certain users very nicely.

With a big price premium over comparable conventionally-powered XC90s, this plug-in rechargeable model won’t be for everyone. The thirty-five kilometre range will be underdone for many, and when depleted, only brings minor improvements to fuel economy.

However, the XC90 might suit some users perfectly. Plug-in hybrid vehicles do combine the best of both worlds to a degree, without mastering either. No range anxiety is a boon, and provided your home range is within a few suburbs instead of right across town, the XC90 could slash fuel bills quite a bit.

Strengths of safety, refinement, comfort and an interior fine-tuned for family usage are all still there, all wrapped up in a package that has managed to maintain a unique feel and appeal for the Volvo XC90.

The XC90 won't suit everyone out there, and in the cold and harsh light of fiscal rationale, feels expensive for the benefits. But at the same time, it will bring strong appeal to some buyers, and will suit them and their own usage nicely.