Volvo XC90 T8: How low can it go?

The hybrid version of Volvo’s large and luxurious XC90 SUV showcases some of the Swedish company’s latest technology. The innovative design features, technology and advanced safety equipment are impressive, but it’s the incredibly low official fuel consumption – just 2.1L/100km – of the T8 R-Design version’s sophisticated plug-in petrol/electric hybrid drivetrain that’s makes this top-of-the-range XC90 a real attention grabber. 

The XC90’s rivals are luxury German SUVs such as Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Mercedes’ GL models, along with the Lexus RX range and the British-built Range Rover, all of which are also being blessed with hybrid technology.

For Australia, Volvo has three engine configurations in the seven-seater all-wheel-drive XC90 range. There’s the D5, which is a 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel, and the twin-charged (supercharged and 
turbo) T6 2.0-litre petrol model. That petrol engine is also used in the T8 alongside a 65kW/240Nm electric motor driving the rear wheels. All models utilise an eight-speed Geartronic automatic.

Prices starts from $91,900 for the base-model D5 Momentum, while the T8 R-Design hybrid has a manufacturer’s list price of $122,950 plus on-road costs. Like its competitors, XC90 not only has an extensive range of standard features, but there’s also plenty of desirable extra-cost features available. For instance, our test vehicle sported the optional Technology Pack ($2000) which includes head-up display, a 360-degree surround-view camera, digital radio and smartphone integration, and it also sported the comfort-based Premium Pack ($8000), which provides among other items heated front and rear seats, a premium sound package, extra leather appointments and air suspension.

Sense of luxury

As expected, the Volvo build quality is first-class and the well-presented cabin creates a real sense of luxury, despite thick pillars giving it a slightly enclosed feel. Well-shaped, comfortable leather seats have a multitude of adjustments and set the scene, while a tablet-style touch-and-swipe screen provides a full suite of connectivity features. Space is plentiful in the first two rows of seats. The third row is better suited for children, and while two adults could squeeze in, that would only be possible by sliding the second-row seats forward, thus compromising legroom there.

Used normally, the T8 drives well. But to take advantage of all it has to offer, the driver needs some understanding of the vehicle’s technical complexity and its best application relative to the situation. This even extends to getting close enough to a 240-volt power outlet given the fairly limited length of the charging cord. Note: using an extension lead is not acceptable.

Real-world fuel economy

As impressive as the official fuel economy of 2.1L/100km may sound, achieving it consistently in real-world driving is another story. The T8 has five drive modes which regulate the performance and drive distribution between the engine and electric motor, as well as adjusting the steering, suspension and even climate-control instrumentation to suit the selected operating conditions. The Hybrid mode is the default intended for efficient everyday use, Power delivers a more sporting response, Pure is the eco-mode which focuses on low energy consumption and assists the driver to maximise driving on the high-voltage battery, AWD mode drives all four wheels for slippery conditions, and Off-Road is designed to take on rough tracks. 

Excellent fuel economy is achievable in Hybrid mode on short trips in stop/start traffic as the benefits of the electric motor really come into play, but there needs to be enough time to fully recharge the battery between journeys. At more than 2300kg, this is a relatively heavy vehicle, however, and even though the system has some on-board charging, the propulsion batteries’ state of charge drops rapidly and the computer allocates an increasing amount of the workload to the petrol engine. Thus fuel consumption climbs. Driven mainly in Hybrid mode and recharged via mains power each night, our test car averaged a quite respectable 8.4L/100km. According to Volvo, the electric-only range is 43 kilometres. 

XC90 feels well planted on the road and corners securely, but not surprisingly there is some body roll. Handling and ride are at their best cruising on the open road. Despite being a big wagon, light steering makes it a relatively easy drive around town. Suburban shopping centres, however, are where you really become aware of the vehicle’s size. We’re not totally convinced about the optional air suspension either. For the most part, it provides a plush ride, then occasionally you get a harsh bang, even at low pace over a speed hump or what appears to be a small, quite innocuous bump.  

THE VERDICT

For this price you expect and get a well-presented vehicle packed with technology. But that technology’s usefulness starts to diminish with the time and inconvenience of re-charging, and without approaching claimed fuel economy from the petrol engine.

PRICE
$122,900 + $9716 (est.) orc. Premium paint $1900. Model range $91,900-$122,900.

SAFETY
ESC. ABS. 7 airbags. Autonomous emergency braking. Adaptive cruise control. Reversing camera. Driver alert control. Blind-spot system. Lane departure warning. Cross-traffic alert. Rear collision warning. Tyre pressure monitor. ISOFIX.

CONNECTIVITY
Sat-nav with road-sign information. Smartphone integration. Bluetooth. USB/AUX connections. 

VEHICLE FEATURES
Four-zone climate-control. Leather upholstery. Powered front seats (memory for driver). Keyless entry/start. Powered tailgate. Roof rails.

DRIVER FEATURES
Auto wipers/lights. Adaptive headlights. Gearshift paddles. Park Assist Pilot. Retractable mirrors.

SPECIFICATIONS
Drivetrain:
1969cc 4cyl super-charged/turbo petrol engine (235kW, 400Nm) + electric motor (65kW, 240Nm).  8spd auto. AWD (petrol), RWD (electric). 95/98-RON petrol. 50L tank.  8.4L/100km (RACV test figure); 2.1L/100km (govt figure).
Wheels: 20” alloy, 275/45 R20 tyres. No spare wheel – repair kit.
Towing: 2400kg braked trailer.
Environment: 49g/km CO2.

SERVICE REPAIRS
12-month/15,000km services. 
3yr/unlimited km warranty.   

Written by Greg Hill
June 22, 2017