Like a lot of high-mileage drivers, this year has unexpectedly made me a prime candidate for a plug-in hybrid. Most of my long journeys have been replaced by Zoom calls, so a range of 20 to 30 miles covers the majority of my daily use, which in turn balances out the dent in my average fuel economy when I go further afield. So, in theory, the XC90 Recharge T8 ought to suit me better than the B5 diesel it’s just replaced.
In 2019, five years after spearheading Volvo’s stylish new model range, it received a minor visual update and some important mechanical improvements too. For the plug-in hybrid, those changes comprise a smoother-shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox and around a 10 per cent increase in battery energy capacity as a result of later cell technology. Volvo claims 31 miles of range, but winter weather and cabin heating has taken its toll, so I’m getting around 21 miles to a full charge.
Although it’s a large SUV, I’ve always been impressed with how well Volvo packaged this technology, particularly now I’ve got three young kids. Those bulky hybrid components don’t rob the XC90 of its third row of seats or raise the boot floor, and I’ve found the minor differences in cargo capacity (40 litres) make little or no difference to its real-world abilities. There’s even a compartment to store charging cables, so they’re not getting tangled in the wheels of our buggy.
Of course, electrification does transform the performance. It’s easy to find gaps in traffic when you’ve got the instant pull of an electric motor to get our 2.25-tonne Swede moving, and that’s without coaxing 299bhp of turbocharged and supercharged petrol engine into life. So the XC90 is quite the Q-car; docile and unobtrusive while pottering around town, yet also ferociously fast when you need it to be, with amusingly prominent supercharger whine under load. You never escape a sense that you’re sat on massive reserves of power.
In my book, big Volvos work best in gentle colour schemes which set them apart from body-kitted and aluminium-accented German rivals. Ours is particularly striking with its green-tinged Pine Grey paintwork and the chrome brightwork that adorns the luxurious Inscription trim, but it also features what I think is the most desirable option on the list. The wool blend upholstery is a stylish no-cost alternative to the standard Nappa leather. It’s softer and warmer to the touch and I think it feels more premium, too. However, as I’m not Vegan, I’d give the slightly coarse leather-free steering wheel a miss – and luckily it’s a separate option.
Our XC90 has a city car-worth of optional extras fitted, on top of the abundant factory equipment. The £2,250 adaptive air suspension is coping admirably with Cardiff’s speedbump-covered roads, but the larger 21-inch wheels (£1,450) mean it’s noticeably more sensitive to smaller undulations in the tarmac than the B5 was on 20s. We’ve got a high-definition 360-degree parking camera (part of the £1,800 Lounge pack) to help keep them free of kerb rash, and the kids love the panoramic roof from the same bundle.
As a music fan, I’ve enjoyed rediscovering old albums with the help of the Bowers & Wilkins audio system – an option which lifts the Tech pack to £3,000, though that also adds Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. That same smartphone can also interact with the car using the On Call app, so I’ve been pre-warming the cabin before setting off and making use of the T8’s standard-fit fuel-powered heater to do so. However, I’d save £750 and leave the head-up display off the Climate pack, as it deletes the very useful heated windscreen.
Overall, though, first impressions are excellent and the XC90 is making light work of handling the challenges of family life. But it’ll be interesting to see how whether my ‘new normal’ suits a powertrain that I suspect will be very sensitive to improper use.
Date arrived 8th December 2020
Economy (WLTP combined) 83.1 to 100.9mpg
Economy (On test) 76.7mpg