Cabin is a pleasure to use
Already rightly recognised as one of the most accomplished large SUVs in the class, Volvo has now introduced a T8 hybrid version. Following a similar approach to the V60 PHEV, the XC90 T8 combines a powerful petrol engine with electric drive to offer a range of driving modes to suit a variety of circumstances.
The previous generation XC90 was a hit for the Swedish manufacturer as it provided an alternative to more humdrum seven-seat MPVs on the market as well as the all-German offerings. Combining high levels of practicality with a comfortable and tasteful design gave it sufficient longevity to remain on sale for a decade.
The second generation XC90 is the first car to come from Volvo under its new ownership and showcases the qualities that its forthcoming models will focus on. Clean lines and clever details abound, and there's a greater focus on cabin ergonomics and the use of upmarket materials. This pushes the XC90 up against premium competition, but its quality is sufficient to match the best in class.
Where the T8 model differs significantly from the rest of the XC90 is in the powertrain. It is the flagship of the range, and combines a four-cylinder petrol engine that is both supercharged and turbocharged with an electric motor. Crucially the battery pack for the T8 is housedwithin the transmission tunnel, so it retains the crucial seven-seat configuration which is key to its appeal.
The T8 model can be driven in a number of modes, similar to those found on the V60 PHEV, to suit the conditions. There is a pure electric mode, a 'save for later' mode where electric charge can be reserved for low emissions zones, a performance mode where both power sources are used and a hybrid mode which lets the vehicle decide on how power is delivered for best efficiency.
The XC90 is a tremendous car in conventional form and although it commands a price premium the T8 version has potentially even more to offer. As a company car it comes with significant cost savings, and for those who regularly travel into cities the low emissions rating is a real boon. It also does this without sacrificing any of the comfort or practicality that makes it such an appealing prospect in the first place.
There's something of an anomaly with the XC90 T8 in respect of costs, as it is comfortably the most expensive model in the range yet, depending on how it is used and the circumstances of the purchaser, could provide exceptionally low running costs and the some of the lowest taxation levels for any seven-seat car. The bottom line is that anyone considering a T8 should do their homework first.
Practicality remains am XC90 key strength, and it's one of only a handful of cars with three rows of seats in this sector. Granted, the third row is really for occasional use and targeted at children, but the two seats are a useful addition and fold flat when not in use. The boot itself is a good size and access is straightforward from the rear, while oddment storage in the cabin is generous and well thought out. And it's no surprise that a car of this size affords occupants in the first two rows a good level of space
Volvo's reputation for safety is closely followed by the firm's efforts in the area of cabin and driver ergonomic. The car's digital-effect main dials present subtly different types of information depending on the driving mode, while the hi-tech infotainment touchscreen display is easy to use and presents information in a clear and easy to read format. The cabin's overall uncluttered appearance is proof that less really is more in terms of buttons and dials.
Comfort is the XC90's strongest attribute, particularly in T8 form. Already well-insulated from the outside world, the ability to run in electric mode means that almost complete silence is available in the right conditions. All three rows of seats are comfortable, particularly those in the front, and the whole cabin ambience contributes to the high comfort levels. The ride quality is generally very good, with just the occasional disruption over larger bumps which is not helped by the larger alloy wheel option.
Keyless entry and ignition is to be expected at this level, as is a good quality anti-theft system. Privacy glass, a sturdy rear load cover and covered storage areas in the cabin are also welcome.
Volvo continues to make strides in safety technology and, as the XC90 is the firm's flagship, it's unsurprising that it's packed with clever kit. The plethora of airbags in the cabin is expected, as is clever electronic stability control, but Volvo has gone further with the likes of intelligent cruise control and active braking systems that will stop or slow the vehicle if an impact is likely. Detecting traffic and other hazards at junctions allows the car to compensate for any driver blind spots, while it's easy to forget the car's all-wheel drive system – a useful inclusion to counter against unpredictable grip levels.
The hybrid powertrain makes the T8 model not only the most economical XC90 but also the fastest, outsprinting the most powerful diesel version with significant ease. However even though there is rapid and effortless acceleration on offer, this is not designed to be a sporty SUV; when driven with élan it responds faithfully and accurately, but it is happiest when comfort is the priority. The hybrid powertrain is also easy to use despite its complexity and can be left in hybrid mode.
One of the XC90's strengths is its family appeal. The value of the seven-seat flexibility shouldn't be underestimated, while the various thoughtful child-centric safety features and cleverly designed cabin oddment storage areas and infotainment options ensure that the car easily fits into a busy family routine.
It's sufficiently easy to drive for a novice but it is a large, powerful and expensive vehicle and so is unlikely to be on the shopping lists of many new drivers.
This XC90 is a significant step forward compared to its predecessor as well as more recent Volvo models, with high standards of fit and finish as well as the choice of materials. The XC90 has built a strong reputation for itself and brought new buyers into the brand, and the new car has the potential to repeat the feat.
The height of the XC90 means it is a small step up into the cabin, which shouldn't be a problem for the relatively able-bodied. It's the same at the rear, with the powered tailgate making light work of accessing the boot, while the raised load lip is helpful when moving heavy or bulky items. Cars with air suspension can be independently lowered at the rear to further improve boot access.
Volvo has ditched traditional approaches in favour of a tablet-like touchscreen that allows users to pinch to zoom and swipe to navigate the various functions. There's a little lag in operation but the overall approach ensures quicker access to the wealth of functions. The standard audio system is good but the optional Bowers and Wilkins upgraded system is exceptional, if pricey.
It only takes a few minutes to appreciate the step up in quality that the XC90 offers, particularly in top-spec Inscription form. From the outside the design is clean, elegant and unfussy and looks good in a range of colours, whilst inside tasteful combinations of materials and finishes make it a relaxing place to be.
The XC90 is a big car but the various parking sensors and parking camera do much to help make squeezing into tight parking spots relatively straightforward. The optional automatic parking system works well too, and will exit parking spaces as well as move into them.
Tyre mobility kit fitted as standard.
Petrol engine options – 2.0-litre T6 (320hp); 2.0-litre plug-in hybrid T8 (400bhp). Diesel engine options – 2.0-litre D5 (225bhp). Transmission options: eight-speed automatic gearbox. Trim levels: Inscription, Momentum, R-Design.