Volvo V90 plug-in hybrid long-term test: report 1

In theory, a plug-in hybrid estate like the V90 T6 should be ideal for someone living on the edge of a big city. Our editorial director is finding out if it also makes sense in reality...

LT Volvo V90 T6 PHEV outside rowing club

The car Volvo V90 Recharge T6 Inscription  Run by Jim Holder, editorial director

Why it’s here Can a large plug-in hybrid estate really deliver great fuel economy as well as carry-all practicality?

Needs to deliver A premium experience all round, from interior comfort and capability through to driving dynamics, while also hitting diesel-like efficiency

Mileage 1148 List price £56,800 Target Price £53,440 Price as tested £65,440 Test economy 37.9mpg Official economy 134.5mpg Options fitted Lounge Pack £1950 (premium sound system, panoramic roof, air cleaner); Active dampers and rear air-suspension £1500; Retractable towbar £1175; Lighting pack £875 (active headlights and headlight cleaning system); 20-inch multispoke wheels £800; metallic Denim Blue paint £715 Climate pack £500 (heated windscreen, steering wheel and rear seats); 360-degree parking camera £525; bike carrier £500; Rear bumper protection £100

23 August 2021 – How economical can a plug-in hybrid be?

Just 32mpg. It was something of a shock when, minutes after my Volvo V90 plug-in hybrid arrived, I delved into its data to find that it had averaged so few miles per gallon over the 616 miles it was run in prior to delivery. The promise of diesel-like fuel economy from a combination of petrol and electric power suddenly felt like a distant dream.

Thank goodness, then, that I’ve seen a big improvement since – whether I’ve been using the V90 for long motorway trips or just for bobbing around town, I’ve almost always plugged it in overnight beforehand to top up the batteries, which I suspect hadn’t been done before.

It was perhaps my longest drive to date, to Stratford-upon-Avon, that taught me the most, with electric propulsion getting me out of London and providing tickles of power away from the many traffic lights as I closed on the M25. Thereafter, the petrol engine did most of the work on a fast motorway run, and I arrived showing 48mpg. That was more like it. Returning home, with no electricity left to draw upon, the average fell to a still respectable 44mpg. Phew.

LT Volvo V90 T6 PHEV outside rowing club

Conversely, it was a short morning drive after I’d forgotten to plug in the night before that put the initial figure in context. Reliant only on a cold engine in the stop-start of city driving, I averaged 12mpg over the first two miles and just 15mpg by the time I pulled up after five.

That’s not a V90 shortcoming, but rather the reality of what most plug-in hybrid cars will achieve under the same circumstances. If I'd plugged in the car, it wouldn’t have used a drop of fuel, and would still have had enough electricity to do the same journey five more times.

You’ll understand, then, why I feel a plug-in hybrid could be so perfect for my use. My typical mileage is low enough that its official 28 miles of electric driving from a charge (in reality more like 24) is enough to get me to and from most of my destinations without ever firing up the engine, as long as my right foot remains delicate.

Volvo V90 T6 PHEV Inscription driving

Meanwhile, on longer journeys the electric motor still provides enough of a boost to record impressive economy in the round. Perfect though that sounds, there is another twist: the lowest spec T6 PHEV V90 costs north of £56,000, which is £10,000 more than the equally equipped – but less performant – B4 mild hybrid version.

If economics were the only motivator for buying a plug-in hybrid, you’d have to cover a lot of miles, or save a lot in tax or emissions charges, for that difference to be paid off over the course of owning the car. It’s a calculation that depends very much on your personal situation.

Fortunately, though, economics are not the only motivator because environmental considerations are also at play. Being able to do so many miles on electricity is a bonus for both local emissions levels and, with more renewable home energy now available, national ones too. Living in a town just outside central London, and with two kids, that matters to me.

LT Volvo V90 T6 PHEV - behind the wheel

Building on that vision, I’ve also opted for Volvo’s ‘vegan’ interior – a leather-free option that mixes wool blend seats with non-animal ‘leathers’ on the steering wheel and upper dashboard. It’s only available on high-end Inscription trim but, once that decision is made, adds no additional cost to the car. It will be interesting to find out whether the materials really are as comforting and durable as the bovine-derived alternative.

I’ve spent big on three options: the Lounge Pack (principally to enjoy an upgraded stereo and panoramic sunroof), suspension upgrades (notably to get the air suspension on the rear and preserve comfort whatever load I’m carrying), and the retractable rear tow hook and bike rack (to make the V90 as versatile as possible for my sports-mad family). Other extras, of which more another time, take the final sticker price to an eye-watering £65,440, which ramps up the pressure on this car to deliver everything.

Fortunately, that first, mpg-related shock aside, all the signs are positive so far. Life with this big Volvo has started well.

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