The original Volvo XC90 soldiered on for a remarkably long time in modern car terms, going 13 years with just minor updates before being replaced.
When it was replaced, the new model marked a new direction for the brand. Not only did it exude an effortless sophistication but it also introduced the all-new SPA platform that has since gone on to underpin so many of its current models.
Among the features of that platform is the ability to offer electrified drivetrains and since 2016, the XC90 has been available in T8 Twin Engine hybrid guise.
Now the whole range has had a gentle update with some subtle styling adjustments, the addition of a mild-hybrid version and the upgrading of the battery in the T8 plug-in hybrid to offer better performance.
Volvo’s headline economy figure for the refreshed T8 Twin Engine is 100.9mpg but, as with any such claims you need to dig deeper to find the truth. I did more than once manage well in excess of 100mpg on local runs but longer commutes revealed a more varied picture.
Taking my kids to rugby training - a 12-mile round trip almost entirely on A roads - gave economy of 103mpg as the electric motor did virtually all the work. Longer journeys within the battery’s real-world 21-mile range returned similar figures. However, once you get beyond that all-electric capability the numbers look less impressive, dropping to a more diesel-like 43mpg over a 50-mile route undertaken without a full battery charge.
So economy is a matter of usage and driving style but what’s pleasing about the Volvo’s hybrid arrangement is how it behaves in regular use. Some hybrids fire up the petrol engine if you so much as glance at the throttle or exceed 30mph but the Volvo is far more usable. Even under quite firm acceleration the XC90 will hold off using the petrol engine. Helpfully, the rev counter shows you the point where the engine will kick in, allowing you to moderate your driving to keep it in EV mode. It will also stick in EV mode at high speeds, meaning it’s entirely possible to complete town-to-town drives without using any petrol.
Using petrol and electric and a heavy right foot, it’s possible to get the XC90 to 62mph in just 5.8 seconds, with obvious implications for economy and range. It is mildly entertaining to feel a 2.3-tonne SUV spear towards the horizon faster than a hot hatch but the moment you reach a corner you’re reminded that this is indeed a 2.3-tonne SUV, not a Fiesta ST.
Better, then, to waft along smoothly and quietly and revel in the beautiful fit and finish of the cabin. Up against rivals including the Lexus RX, BMW X5, Range Rover PHEV and Audi Q7, the Volvo can hold its own. It’s not as controlled as the X5 or quiet as the RX but it offers the comfort and refinement you’d expect from any premium SUV costing almost £80,000.
The white leather and grey ash wood inlays are a bright, simple alternative to the often fussy, dark and austere interiors of its rivals, helped by a full-length glass roof (part of a £1,600 option pack), and, as ever, the ergonomics make even long journeys a breeze.
Volvo markets the XC90 as a full seven-seater and while that’s pushing it, it’s definitely a comfortable option for up to six adults, with the middle seat in row two the only cramped spot. The 40:20:40 rear seat split means the seats can tilt, slide and fold with great flexibility and offer easy access to row three. Even the rearmost seats are a decent sized for average adults and the presence of ventilation, cup holder and storage mean they’re not just for short hops.
Plug-in hybrids have faced a tough time recently, with the removal of the government grant and claims many drivers buy them for the tax benefits then never use them as intended. However, used properly and charged regularly, there is a place for cars like the XC90 T8. Its 20-ish miles of electric range allowed me to make numerous short runs to school and sports clubs using only a tiny amount of fuel and with tiny emissions, then commute to work without any range anxiety. The relatively small battery can be recharged quickly and adding to the Volvo’s appeal is its spaciousness and practicality plus a comfortable and classy interior and striking external looks.
Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine AWD Inscription Pro
Price: £73,970 (£78,945 as tested); Engine: Four-cylinder, turbo, petrol with single electric motor and 11.8kWh battery; Power: 390bhp; Torque: 472lb ft; Transmission: Eight-speed automatic; Top speed: 140mph; 0-62mph: 5.8 seconds; Economy: 83.1-100.9mpg; CO2 emissions: 63-76g/km