If the original Volvo XC90 was the first caring, sharing family 4x4, the second generation, plug-in hybrid model wears a halo over its head.
Volvo would have you believe that it is positively saintly, a luxury car for high rollers with a conscience.
Yet to the casual observer, this seven seat, four-wheel drive SUV probably appears to be just another large, lumbering lux-roader that comes with monthly fuel bills to dwarf some mortgage repayments. Thanks to some clever technology, however, it is anything but inefficient.
The XC90 T8 has the potential to be one of the most economical cars on Britain’s roads. It means drivers who hanker after a seriously spacious family car that’s as beautifully appointed as the penthouse suite at the Burj Al Arab hotel have the option of running something that’s not a gas-guzzler.
It has a petrol engine that is complemented by an electric motor, and can be plugged in to the mains electricity supply to recharge the battery. But before discovering how well it drives, take a moment to run through some numbers. Driven in a suitably sensible fashion, it is claimed to be capable of travelling 108 miles on every gallon of fuel. A diesel XC90 only manages 47mpg at best, and a petrol just 35mpg.
As significant are the emissions. With a CO2 figure of just 59g/km, this car has a road tax bill of only £15 its first year, and then costs £440 a year because – like every XC90 - it’s over the £40,000 threshold.
By comparison, the diesel D5 model emits from 158g/km of CO2, and the T6 petrol pumps out 184g/km, so road tax is from £830 in the first year, depending which version you choose, and from then on it’s £450 a year.
And then there’s company car tax, or benefit-in-kind. At best, the diesel attracts 36%, or £22,044 over three years, the petrol 37%. Pick the plug-in hybrid model and that falls to 16%, which is £12,750 over three years.
So you can see why company car drivers warm to plug-in hybrids. Private buyers, however, will need to bear in mind that the most affordable D5 diesel is more than £11,000 cheaper than the T8 plug-in hybrid.
So far, so many numbers. How does it compare on the road?
It should be stressed that everything that is enjoyable about the XC90 T8 depends on one thing: maintaining a healthy battery charge. The process takes around four hours to charge from a regular home socket, or as little as two hours if drivers have a wall charger installed at home or the office.
In principle, that battery is good for a maximum of 27 miles when used in isolation, something you can do by switching the car’s drive mode to Pure. But in practice, we found it would travel for no more than 20 miles before the petrol engine would have to step in and lend a hand.
In other words, it’s probably sufficient for a school run or office commute for many motorists.
It’s the chilled vibe it gives drivers that is the real eye-opener. In hybrid mode, the Volvo is surprisingly keen to use only the battery, so like a dutiful valet in the Royal household, it goes about its business in silence. Anyone coming from a diesel SUV will be delighted that they’ve left behind the uncouth sound of diesel being burned.
There’s impressively punchy performance on battery power alone, with the ability to travel at motorway speeds (up to 78mph) without any local emissions. But when the 2-litre, four-cylinder supercharged and turbocharged engine joins the party, things get pretty wild. Put your foot down and the XC90 T8 will wake up any sleeping children with a fright. This is a fast car, especially given its size, capable of powering from standstill to 60mph in just 5.3 seconds.
And when you want to take the Volvo SUV to the ski resort, the petrol engine comes into its own and you can conveniently forget about the battery part until you reach your destination. (Although, it should be noted, the battery charge is managed so that it never goes actually goes flat.)
You can adjust the driving mode – there’s even an Off-Road setting - or pull back on the gearlever to increase the amount of energy regenerated by the electric motors when slowing, something that’s satisfying to perfect. But to be honest, the default Hybrid setting is all you ever need.
Our Inscription test car didn’t come with adaptive air suspension, which meant the ride comfort was on the lumpy side. The body is well controlled but with large, 20 inch wheels, the tyres are always reminding you that our roads are falling to bits.
This isn’t just one of the best family cars money can buy, it is one of the most lavishly appointed, too. This side of a Rolls-Royce, few cars feels as special and luxurious as the XC90.
The Volvo successfully envelops passengers in Scandinavian chic that creates one of the most soothing environments on wheels.
It is positively blissful, a place where drivers will find themselves unconsciously stroking the Orrefors crystal glass gear lever, breathing in the scent of the soft Nappa leather and enjoying the commanding view of the world outside.
Our test car’s seats even offered the driver and front seat passenger a Swedish massage – a £1,100 option – and came with a 19-speaker, Bowers & Wilkins audio system that played with such clarity that it felt as though you were sat in the orchestra pit at the Royal Opera House.
The touchscreen system is distracting and attracts dirty fingerprints, but you soon learn your way around it. And it allows for the minimal feel to the interior layout.
All seven seats can accommodate adults – so long as those in the middle slide their chairs forward – and with all occupied, there’s still a meaningful 397 litres of boot space, and 775 litres for luggage in the five seat set-up. Not many cars can compete with that.
It is hard to pick faults in the XC90 T8. It needs the optional air suspension, for a smoother ride comfort. The touchscreen ends up covered in fingerprints. But that’s about all there is to single out.
The plug-in hybrid system is seamless to drive, refinement is outstanding and the interior is so nice that sometimes you don’t want to leave the car when you reach your destination. Little wonder so many former Range Rover owners have embraced the Swedish way of life.
|Engine/power unit||2-litre four-cylinder petrol, supercharged and turbocharged, with rear 65kW electric motor|
|Top speed||78 mph in electric mode/140mph in hybrid mode|
|Electric range||27 miles|