In the UK Volvo has had a contrived image problem, in the late 1990’s to early 21st Century motoring journalists would routinely label Volvo owners as being old, frumpy, school teachers, safety first liberal upper-middle class. You were seen as someone who would queue all day at Marks & Spencers in the fast checkout till for milk instead of hanging out in a fashionable but dreary nightclub in Mayfair full of PR bods thinking they are trendsetters or those dreary reality TV stars who randomly glass one another in a desperate bid to remain in the public spotlight in front of the awaiting lenses of the paparazzi’s who don’t give a damn.
For Volvo that’s certainly no longer the case, today Volvo is designer trendy cool. It’s become that fashionable nightspot without the drawback of nasty individuals because Volvo owners like to discuss over a glass of something even cooler and then leave early to watch the Opera. Or leave early to get up early the next day so that they can mow the lawn with perfectly straight stripes.
It mirrors the design image and engineering makeover Volvo has undergone since being released from the iron shackles under previous Ford ownership. The myths created by motoring journalists back in the day bear no resemblance to Volvo’s modern-day reality.
The XC90 is a prime example. Look at it. It’s got that crisp Scandinavian styling inside and out, it’s so far removed from it’s predecessor it’s as if Volvo has not only raced into the present day but also has one foot in the future.
If you were to compare the current XC90 with a Range Rover/Sport then I would say the differences in the interior, as a specific example, is that the Range Rover has more leather trim on the lower and upper door cards. The XC90’s interior is no less inviting a place in which to spend time it feels better built, looks more elegant and has an excellent seating position and comfort.
The XC90 is priced from £46k, is offered in three trim levels and has a range, 2WD or AWD and is only available with an 8 speed auto transmission. And of course, it’s offered with a 4-cylinder diesel engine. New emissions legislation has forced Volvo to phase out the old range of straight 5-cylinder engines. Downsizing is the name of the game.
The only petrol engine available in the UK is the four-cylinder, 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged engine. With the addition of a plugin hybrid model things have gotten a whole lot more interesting. However If you think Plugin Hybrids are all about increasing fuel efficiency then think again.
What I have learnt over the years is that Hybrids or Plugin Hybrids still can not compete with a modern-day turbo diesel for range nor mpg. Hybrids are really about reducing the CO2 emissions. The XC90 T8 Hybrid is one such example emitting just 49g/km of the bad stuff.
The 2.0-Litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged and supercharged engine powers the front wheels and outputs 316hp and 400Nm of torque. The rear wheels are powered by a 86bhp/240Nm electric motor. Not only do you automatically join the AWD club but you get something more important, instant acceleration.
Forget about spec, options, equipment levels and overall luxury for a moment. Most Hybrids I have driven have been quite boring to drive, heavy, lethargic, dead. Like the Golf E which I still maintain is like driving a corpse.
The XC90 T8 Hybrid didn’t fare much better, it’s burdened by new hybrid technology and all of this technology is heavy and shoehorned out of sight and you usually feel it undermining the driving experience. Like the Lexus LS Hybrid which is as close to driving as tank as you will ever get.
I said the XC90 T8 Hybrid didn’t fair much better, but that was in my mind before I had even gotten behind the wheel. In reality, it is brilliant, it is fast off the line, 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds fast which is very fast for a 2.5-tonne vehicle. You don’t expect this surge of power and when for the first time you floor the throttle the speed can be momentarily overwhelming.
But as with all hybrids, the extra weight of the electric motor and batteries deaden the handling and ride. The XC90 T8 Hybrid has not fallen prey to deadly weight issues. R-Design spec models in Volvo-land mean you get uprated suspension, the XC90 T8 Hybrid didn’t handle like a sports utility vehicle it handled more like a smaller sports saloon.
It has balance and poise through the corners that I was not expecting. Obviously, and without going into detail, Volvo has managed to pack and distribute all the Hybrid tech evenly across the underlying chassis.
Even on the 21-inch alloy wheels, the ride is supple and comforting enough at low and mid speeds. Yet it is stiff enough to enable you to chuck the XC90 into corners without experiencing any over reaching front end dip of the nose that is commonly associated with large SUV’s.
It also gripped through the corners progressively and there was no uncomfortable stutter/shuffle with the change of direction from one corner into the next. The weight seems to have been distributed so evenly that the XC90 T8 Hybrid feels lighter than the size and weight suggests.
The 2.0-litre ‘Twin’ engine on its own right is also very flexible, when you accelerate hard you can hear the whine of the supercharger kick-in. Power delivery is linear yet adaptable to your requirements and the addition of the hybrid power means that you have instant power literally on demand.
Because XC90 also has that rear-mounted electric motor in addition to the supercharger there is next to no turbo-lag, indeed acceleration is pre-emptive.
The new 8-speed auto transmission is so much more decisive on upshift and downshifts although it feels slightly awkward when in low-speed mode such as navigating through urban traffic.
There are also get a number of driving modes, for the most part, I left it in eco-mode and there seemed to be no shortage of power. The five driving modes basically alter the engine and gearbox mappings so you ultimately accelerate and change gears that bit quicker as the modes are maxed out to it’s prime setting.
With optional air suspension, the ride height lowers or raises depending on which driver mode setting you select. So if you go from eco mode to sports mode the ride height lowers for better aerodynamics, the engine revs increase by around 500rpm and the gears change that little bit quicker.
The XC90 is a big vehicle so naturally, it offers massive amounts of space, so need to go into boot space, knee room, it’s one size that really does suit all. The third row of seats add additional practicality. With no boot lip manoeuvring large items is a breeze. And though the XC90 has increased dimensions over its predecessor those third-row seats will always be more child than adult-friendly.
So all is well with the Hybrid XC90 right? No not really because all Hybrids are inconvenient and that’s the truth and it’s all to do with recharging the batteries. Fully charged the XC90 T8 Hybrid has a pure electric range of 28 miles. The silent running is fantastic, and the acceleration is better and smoother than a petrol or diesel could ever be engineered to be.
But in the real world outside of the test labs the actual real pure electric range is closer to around 12 miles, because electricity isn’t as efficient per joules as gas-powered cars. That’s a scientific fact. And recharging the batteries from 0 to max takes between 4-5 hours through a mains plug, 3 hours if you have an optional fast charger unit.
Not all is lost because the Xc90 T8 Hybrid, like all hybrids, generates it’s own electricity through engine coasting and braking. However, a 100-mile round trip mustered only 2 miles of reclaimed electricity.
While driving the engine can be switched to function as a generator but this uses additional fuel and the return to gain ratio is debatable. Thankfully the good old polluting combustion engine saves the day because toxic petrol will give the XC90 a total range of around 500 miles.
However the overall mpg rate wasn’t impressive, the best I could manage was 27mpg, a modern V8 supercar can do 30mpg. These are the inconvenient facts about hybrids, they are not economical at all they are designed to appease clean air legislators.
The Volvo on test came fully loaded with toys and tech and optional extras gone mad. But the one toy of most interest was Auto Pilot. Semi-automated driving technology. Working with the adaptive cruise control Auto Pilot will steer for you without any input required.
For safety reasons you have to have your hands on the steering wheel, there is a 30 second grace period where you can remove your hands perfect for opening a packet of crisps and a drink. However, after this grace period, a warning is issued and the function switches back to manual steering.
The system works remarkably well however it is only for use on the motorway and if you do use it on a b-road the system gets confused, it can not cope with uphill-camber changes or an acute series of bends. So keep it for motorway use only.
All in all, the XC90 T8 Hybrid and all other hybrids are appeasement cars developed to satisfy government bureaucrats and clean air targets. But you know what? If I were going to buy the XC90, the T8 Hybrid would be my choice of model I will take a hit on the fuel economy and the slight inconvenience of recharging the batteries because, without doubt, it is the best model in the XC90 range.