2016 Volvo XC90 T8 review

The XC90 T8 combines a supercharged, turbocharged 2.0 petrol engine with electric drive and plug-in technology for CO2 emissions of just 49g/km. So, is it our new range-favourite?...

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Rory White
1 Feb 2016 17:36 | Last updated: 14 Jun 2018 00:03

With the demand for large SUVs as strong as ever, but the willingness of their owners to shell out huge sums of money to keep them on the road dwindling, you may have noticed manufacturers introducing plug-in hybrid technology to their models in a bid to drive down running costs.

Volvo has joined in with its T8 XC90, which gets a combined supercharged, turbocharged 2.0 petrol engine and an electric motor on its rear axle to give an official CO2 emissions figure of just 49g/km and claimed fuel economy of 134.5mpg. This wasn't a snap decision, though; Volvo had designed its XC90 to run hybrid tech from the very beginning.

That means the T8 retains its party-piece seven-seat layout, whereas natural rivals such as the plug-in hybrid BMW X5 xDrive40e has had to forfeit the option of sixth and seventh seats in order to cram in its added technology. Audi is also in on the game with its Q7 e-tron, but once again, adding its hybrid kit removes its third row of seats.

For now, we've only driven those German rivals abroad, but this is our first time behind the wheel of the T8 XC90 on UK roads. 

What is the 2016 Volvo XC90 T8 like to drive?

The XC90 T8 is clever because it can run in front-, rear- or all-wheel drive depending on which of its five possible driving modes it's switched to. Essentially, the electric motor drives the rear wheels only, and the petrol engine the front, and it can be plugged into the mains and charged up in around 3.5 hours using a domestic plug. 

Running in its Pure electric-only mode, the T8 can travel a claimed 27 miles on rear-wheel drive electric power up to 78mph. Performance in this mode is much like any other pure EV vehicle; that's to say there's instant torque and a snappy but near-silent getaway, which tails off at around 40mph, at which point progress is more leisurely.

Around half-throttle is possible before the engine automatically kicks in, but it's possible to see how close you are to petrol power using a guide on the standard 12.3in digital instrument cluster. Save mode allows you to use petrol power only and hold back your charge for later, while pulling the gear lever from D to B brings additional regenerative braking when off the throttle. 

Press and scroll the drive mode selector to Hybrid and the T8 automatically chooses the type of power that is most appropriate. At low speeds, such as in town, where you're constantly off the throttle, its electric power is keen to take over, but our hilly countryside route called for plenty of combustion engine intervention. AWD mode gives constant combined power for permanent all-wheel drive, while Power mode offers the same, except with better throttle response.

Planting the throttle in anything other than Power mode causes some hesitation as the engine, electric motor and gearbox all work to decide how to best deal with the request for maximum acceleration, but in Power this is largely removed. In fact, the T8 will sprint from 0-60mph in just 5.3 seconds, and pulls extremely well through its mid-range when it's needed. Generally, gear changes are quick and go unnoticed.

Even under hard acceleration the T8 stays refined, too. There's a distant whine from the electric motor (which is more prominent in Pure mode) and a tight thrum with a touch of supercharger wail from its four-cylinder engine, but nothing off-putting. The main irritation is some tyre roar over coarse surfaces and wind flutter around the large door mirrors. 

The T8's Hybrid running gear adds some 280kg of extra weight compared with the D5 diesel, but because its batteries are mainly located low down in its central tunnel, it disguises the extra bulk well. The steering is light in town for easy manoeuvrability, but weights up nicely at higher speeds in any driving mode. It's never truly engaging like a BMW X5, but it is least precise and confidence-inspiring, and so is the T8's decent body control in tight bends. 

We tried a T8 with standard steel springs and one with optional (£2150) air suspension. Neither set-up is class leading - an Audi Q7 is more comfortable - but if you can stretch to it, we'd recommend going for the latter. There's a little more wallow at speed over rolling country roads, but it ultimately does a better job of blunting broken Tarmac and sharp-edged potholes at all speeds.  

What is the 2016 Volvo XC90 T8 like inside?

Crucially, pretty much exactly like any other XC90, which is a good thing. Five adults will sit comfortably in the front two rows while two more will be OK for head room if a little tight on leg room in the six and seventh seats. Remember, though, that the plug-in versions of the X5 and Q7 only seat five. 

Also retained is the middle row's ability to split into three individual seats and be folded flat, as well as be slid fore and aft individually. Boot space, though, is slightly compromised by the hybrid tech; it drops from 775 litres to 640 litres measured in five-seat mode up to its window line. That's still a healthy amount, though, and it remains just as easily accessible and usefully square in shape.

The driver gets the all-important elevated driving position with a very good range of electric adjustability on the driver's seat and manual adjustment on the steering wheel. Thin pillars and tall, wide windows all-round make for very good visibility both forwards and backwards, too.

Our Momentum test car might've been the entry-level trim, but the metallic trim and chrome accents combined with large areas of leather covering and solid switchgear still feel suitably premium. Volvo's high-resolution, responsive 9.0in-screened Sensus infotainment system with sat-nav is standard, but now gets the option of Apple CarPlay for £250 (£300 on D5 and T6 XC90s). It's one of the best CarPlay integrations we've tried, taking over only half the screen, leaving the system's other functions easily accessible.

Should I buy one?

Momentum trim comes with everything you needs including 19in alloy wheels, climate control, LED headlights, a power tailgate, cruise control, sat-nav, Bluetooth and DAB. As the range-topping model, T8 Momentums add an auxiliary heater, panoramic sunroof, that 12.3in digital instrument cluster and a crystal glass gear lever that looks and feels the part.

So, the Momentum is the T8 to buy, but is the T8 the best XC90? Well, if you plan to run one through work, then absolutely. The Momentum will cost a 40% taxpayer around £101 a month in company car tax this year, compared with £414 for the equivalent D5. Over the next three years, that adds up to more than £10,000 in company car tax savings alone. 

However, you still need to assess whether a plug-in hybrid works for you. If you install a home charger (£395 through Volvo) and commute less than 27 miles a day on pure electric then there are real benefits. Yet, if you're buying privately via finance or cash, or have a long, largely motorway commute, then the T8's list price premium and thirsty petrol engine mean it makes a lot less financial sense.

What Car? says...

Rivals

Audi Q7 e-tron

BMW X5 xDrive40e

Volvo XC90 T8 MomentumEngine size 2.0-litre petrol, plus electric motorsPrice from £60,455 (excluding £2.5k Gov grant)Power 314bhp + 81bhp electric motorsTorque 295lb ft0-62mph 5.6 secondsTop speed 140mphFuel economy 134.5mpgCO2 49g/km