Volvo V90 plug-in hybrid long-term test: report 5

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

Volvo V90 Recharge T6 side

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 3748 List price £58,300 Target Price £58,300 Price as tested £66,940 Test economy 50.1mpg Official economy 134.5mpg

9 November 2021 – A brilliant car, but do the maths stack up?

Let’s talk about the proverbial elephant in the room – chiefly, my Volvo V90 plug-in hybrid’s near-£60,000 price tag prior to me ticking a single option box.

In simplistic terms, and acknowledging that this is a big premium estate car that will always command a high-end price, it’s evident that the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) part of the equation is adding a lot of cost to the bill.

Some will say you can’t put a price on the environmental benefits of zero-emissions miles, especially because so many are in towns. I get that, but I also can’t ignore the fact that the electric range has so far been good enough to help me average a decent but not jaw-dropping 50.1mpg.

Volvo V90 charging port

In contrast, the only diesel V90 available – the B4 – costs from around £47,000. That's £13,000 less, albeit for a car of lesser performance in some regards. The B4's official fuel consumption is 49.6mpg, making the comparison close enough to be fair. 

Even compensating for the fact that the B4 diesel might fall short of its official rating, the economics will never stack up on fuel economy alone. Assuming a 5mpg shortfall from the plug-in hybrid figure (which is very much based on my personal use) my basic maths suggests you’d have to drive 860,000 miles to pay off the ticket price difference. That’s assuming the electricity is free, which it isn’t.

The calculation isn’t that simple, of course. The plug-in’s 47g/km of CO2 brings with it definite but relatively small VED savings, and potentially large company car tax ones. It's also predicted that the plug-in will hold its value better over three years, by as much as 6% of the original price, which goes some way to bridging the gap.

The flipside is that the PHEV is usually more expensive to insure than other V90s. Then there's the ultimate variable of how many miles you personally can do on electricity without the engine firing.

So much depends on personal circumstances and preferences, but one change that could make plug-in hybrids a more viable option for more people is to increase the electric range without increasing the cost.

Volvo V90 T6 PHEV Inscription interior

In recent months, it’s been noticeable that more manufacturers are talking about 50 to 80-mile electric ranges rather than 25 to 35-mile ones. At that point, the range of journeys on which the electric motors can contribute grows exponentially, and so the maths moves firmly in favour of the newer technology.

It will be interesting to watch how that trend develops, and whether it can actually be favourable enough to actually provide an advantage over the rapidly advancing capability of full electric vehicles.

None of that has a bearing on whether the V90 is a good car to drive, be in or use. It’s a truly great all-rounder. But if economics are a priority, you do have to be forensic in working out if it will work for you.

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