2017 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine eAWD
To appreciate the new XC90’s impact alone, the mid-size luxury SUV’s sales jumped from 3,697 units over the first 10 months of 2014 (the current XC90 was introduced during the first half of 2015) to 26,612 units as of October 31, 2016. That latter number also tells another story, that the XC90 has comprised more than 41 percent of the entire brand’s year-to-date sales. Factor in that Volvo sells 11 models altogether and the weight of responsibility borne by the XC90 is beyond significant.
This scenario holds true for most premium brands. From Acura with its MDX and RDX to Porsche’s Cayenne and Macan, sport utilities are most popular within their respective brands. SUV newcomer Jaguar is experiencing the same reality with its new F-Pace, a model that sells against Volvo’s XC60, which until recently was the Swedish brand’s sales leader.
Not to be mixed up with calendar year interests, the new 2017 model year XC90 has just been introduced and as you might expect Volvo won’t be messing with its popular success recipe anytime soon. All trims continue unchanged, including the competitively priced $45,750 base T5 Momentum and that model’s sportier R-Design and AWD upgrades, to the more powerful T6 AWD and that version’s Momentum, R-Design and more luxurious Inscription upgrades, and finally the ultimately advanced T8 Twin Engine eAWD model with R-Design and optional Inscription package. It’s clearly steady as she goes on good ship XC90.
That is, excepting the new XC90 Excellence, which snubs its nose at its usual rivals such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, et al, and daringly takes on Range Rover’s top-line Autobiography and even the Bentley Bentayga for ultimate over-the-top SUV opulence. A unique 2+2 seating arrangement combines private jet style pop-out tables, Swedish-made Orrefors crystal glasses set within heatable/cooled cupholders (to appreciate, you’ll need to spend upwards of $119.80 on Ebay to get your hands on a set of these), a fridge housed between the seatbacks, multi-adjustable heated and cooled bucket-style seats, footrests, illuminated storage, ambient lighting, an ionic air cleaner, plus enough supple perforated leather, genuine woods and stunning metals to make any hedonist feel right at home. The headliner is even covered in Nubuck, while the revised passenger compartment incorporates a fixed divider and window between the rear seatbacks and cargo compartment, which helps to reduce noise. This is improved yet further via increased sound-deadening material, all the best to enjoy modified 20-speaker Bowers & Wilkins surround audio. That all this lavish luxury can be had for just $104,900 is the real shocker, so if you’re one who’d rather be driven than drive make sure to check with your dealer, as the XC90 Excellence will no doubt be in very limited supply.
The XC90 Excellence gets motivated by the same impressive T8 Twin Engine eAWD plug-in hybrid power unit as my most recent tester, albeit my ride for the week was designed more for family life than chauffeured trips to the office. Despite its mere 2.0-liter displacement, the direct-injected internal combustion engine (ICE) portion of this HEV is both turbocharged and supercharged for 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque in non-electrified trim, although when upgraded to T8 Twin Engine spec it produces a fully satisfying 400 horsepower and 472 lb-ft of torque, all combined with a specially designed eight-speed automatic transmission and unique eAWD.
Believe me when I say the hybridized XC90 T8 is quick. It moves this sizable SUV along with an instantaneous swiftness, the result just 5.4 seconds to 60 mph when “Power” mode is selected. The electrified portion adds gobs of immediate torque to both front and rear wheels as part of its eAWD drivetrain design that positions a 46 horsepower electric motor just aft of the ICE and an 87 horsepower motor in the rear, plus a 9.2-kWh battery pack, with full torque arriving at just 2,200 rpm when the rest of the powertrain is at full force. Alternatively you can choose 100-percent electric power by selecting “Pure” mode, resulting in response off the line that’s almost as quick as well as the capability to cruise at 75 mph, although most will resist such temptations as its relatively small battery (for a large PHEV SUV) won’t achieve anywhere near the vehicle’s potential 27-mile EV range.
Like a regular hybrid, when in “Hybrid” mode the battery continues to contribute power to the XC90’s drive system even when unable to offer full EV mode, but a relatively quick two and a half hour recharge via one of the many 220-volt charging stations available throughout most of the nation’s major metropolitan areas will top it right up. Providing commutes are short most owners will find their needs met by charging overnight, the process via 110-volt household circuit requiring around eight hours. Alternatively you can get a quick charger for your home.
The benefit to the XC90’s PHEV design compared to a full EV is its ability to act just like a regular hybrid, or for that matter a regular non-electrified SUV, when no power supply is available. After enjoying four weekdays behind the wheel, which included numerous stops to recharge at shopping malls, government buildings, and even actively green corporations like Ikea, my partner and I headed out of town, through the lush valleys of my Northwest Coast home, up some steep mountain grades, and eventually into wine country, and found the XC90 T8 ideal company. SUVs don’t get more comfortable, Volvo always producing some of the industry’s best seats, while our tester’s Inscription package took luxury, refinement, and features to new levels.
Really, you need to step up to a Mercedes-AMG GLE or BMW X5 M to get an interior anywhere near as finely crafted, the Inscription’s optional stitched leather dash top and door uppers, standard genuine metal detailing and gorgeous open-pore hardwood second to none. All XC90s are special, even the base model boasting soft-touch surfaces almost everywhere, plus impressive leathers, metals, and beautifully lacquered surfaces, not to mention some ultra-rich looking diamond-cut metalwork on the ignition switch and drive mode selector, superb electronic interfaces for the primary gauges and infotainment system, and the list goes on, but the Inscription takes things to a higher level of highbrow elevation.
For instance, the shift knob isn’t merely wood or leather, but instead polished metal and real Orrefors crystal, yes manufactured by the same renowned company that makes the Excellence model’s crystal glasses. Even the Inscription’s key fob is special, the proximity sensing device’s sides finished in the same diamond-cut metal as the aforementioned drive controls, yet with its main surfaces wrapped in identical soft Nappa leather to the seat and door insert upholstery, color and all; without perforations of course.
In the case of my loaner it was a nice Amber tan, which along with the rest of its Charcoal black interior made for a rich looking cabin as well. Volvo also offers Inscription buyers optional Blonde gray leather on black, or alternatively an all gray or all black experience. The exterior color palette is even more diverse, with two standard non-metallic hues as well as 10 metallic colors and shades to consider, my XC90’s $560 Magic Blue Metallic particularly elegant when combined with those tan hides and its standard matte-finish open-pore Linear Walnut inlays; a glossy Dark Flame Birch is also available at no charge.
As impressively finished as the XC90 T8 Inscription is, by no means is it fully equipped off the rack. Standard T8 Insignia features include 20-inch alloys on 274/45 all-seasons, full LED headlamps, proximity access, a configurable TFT LCD primary gauge cluster, rain-sensing wipers, four-zone auto climate control, a 9.3-inch color touchscreen with easy-to-use tablet-style gesture, pinch and swipe controls, navigation, a backup camera, Volvo On Call telematics, powered front seats with driver’s side memory, a panoramic sunroof, a third row that even fit my five-foot-eight frame comfortably, a powered liftgate that opens up 85.7 cubic feet of potential cargo capacity (identical to the conventionally powered XC90), and much more.
Additionally, my tester included a $1,800 Convenience package with full semi-autonomous adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, front and rear parking sensors, assisted self parking, a HomeLink universal garage door opener, and more; an $1,950 Vision package with power retractable auto-dimming side mirrors, visual park assist with a surround parking camera (that’s truly amazing) and Front “Fisheye” View, plus blindspot monitoring with cross traffic alert; and a $1,050 Climate Package with a heatable steering wheel, heated windshield and washer nozzles, plus heatable rear outboard seats.
Alternatively you can get the same Climate Package with a head-up display unit for $1,950; the head-up display separately for $900; a full leather package covering the dash and doors for $1,000, which also includes rear side window sunshades; a $2,900 Luxury Package that finishes off the A, B and C pillars plus the headliner in Nubuck, wraps the sunvisors and grab handles in leather, and adds massaging function to the front seats; sensational sounding 19-speaker 1,400-watt Bowers & Wilkins audio for $2,500; a child booster seat for $250; black headliner for $200; an adaptive air suspension for $1,800 (which also lowers the suspension when parked via a button on the cargo sidewall to make loading easier), and 21-inch alloys on 275/45 rubber for $750. A completely loaded XC90 T8 Inscription will set you back almost $84k before freight and dealer fees, which while a fairly weighty price is still great value for what you get.
With respect to what you get, along with one of the nicer cabins in the industry and what you’ll likely already appreciate (considering you’re reading this review) to be attractive exterior styling from front to back, the XC90 T8 is unlike its SUV peers with similar performance numbers. The big Volvo seven-seater is quick off the line and wonderfully responsive during passing maneuvers, but the specially tuned German SUVs mentioned earlier deliver more thrills. In comparison this Swede offers a less dramatic uninterrupted linear power curve, which goes almost unnoticed when driven in a relaxed fashion. Just let it go about its business in default Hybrid mode and the XC90 T8 runs around in near silent electric bliss half the time, and quiet luxury SUV tranquility the rest of the time. It’s more about delivering a premium luxury experience than wowing with super-SUV performance, and honestly that’s more what I’m about now that I’m well into my mid-’50s. Don’t get me wrong, I love a raw and raucous sports car every now and then, but I want my premium sport ute to be luxurious first, exciting second.
To that end the XC90 is one of the best in the industry. Its ride is very good around town, absorbing the nastiest pothole strewn back lanes with ease, while its highway composure is both comfortable and surefooted, even when at slightly (ahem) higher than posted speeds. Snake it down a twisting serpentine backcountry road and its certainly heavier feeling than the regular XC90, the hybrid’s battery and other components adding a considerable 450 lbs of mass to the conventionally powered SUV’s already substantive girth, but it’s still nimble enough. Again, it won’t provide the level of grip found with an AMG- or M-badged competitor, but the XC90’s obvious lack of paddle shifters make its comfort-first purpose very clear.
Incidentally, additional driving modes include Off-Road (which I didn’t attempt other than slowly walking it down a gravel road with said mode engaged), locked All-Wheel-Drive, and Individual, the latter allowing up to 400 possible combinations of powertrain (throttle and shift pattern), air suspension (firmness and steering weight), instrument display, brake response, and climate control settings.
Of note to my more environmentally conscious readers, Volvo claims their Drive-E engine design is the world’s cleanest combustion powertrain relative to power, with an emissions rating of 148 g/km of CO2, which means it delivers more than 2 horsepower per gram of CO2. When combined with the T8’s PHEV components, auto start/stop technology, its lightweight Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) body structure that was designed to incorporate the T8’s HEV drivetrain from onset, and more, the XC90 is good for an estimated 25 mpg combined, although when factoring in regular charging you could potentially drive it every day without ever needing to add premium unleaded to the tank, but its official MPGe (mpg-equivalent) rating is more accurately estimated at 54 combined.
Normally when considering the type of buyer who spends upwards of $70k for a luxury utility I’d say fuel economy probably doesn’t matter, and the significant investments expended to achieve such pump savings and cleaner emissions ratings are more about marketing kudos and appeasing regulatory bodies, but with respect to Volvo and its unique clientele I believe the incredible effort taken to become a world leader in efficient powertrain technologies will go far to bolster sales while building an even more positive brand image, not just focused on legendary safety (the XC90 is an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus recipient and an NHTSA 5-star earner) and respected quality (above average on the 2016 JD Power Vehicle Dependability Study and Consumer Reports’ latest annual report card on brand reliability and road-test performance), but also on environmental stewardship.
Volvo is certainly on the right track to once again becoming a serious force to be reckoned with in the luxury sector, and the XC90 is the right vehicle to lead them there. No matter the powertrain or trim level chosen I recommend it highly.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press