Smart, safe and eye-appealing, the XC90 T8 is Volvo’s first plug-in SUV to hit the USA

Nov 08, 2016

Swedish automaker Volvo has redesigned its XC90 line from scratch with a forward-thinking philosophy centered on using smaller, more powerful Drive-E motors which will eventually displace all the five and six-cylinder motors the brand uses in its other lines. It’s the first “all-new” model designed from the ground floor up by the automaker since the Chinese conglomerate Geely purchased the company in 2010. The Swedes use the term “Twin Engine Technology” to describe their new hybrid gasoline/electric drivetrain. The XC90 uses a powerful Generation 2 version of a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder 316 horsepower gas engine – with 295 pound-feet of torque – to drive the front wheels with an 8-speed automatic transmission. An 80-horsepower rear axle electric motor powered by a center-mounted lithium-ion battery pack drives the rear wheels. Together, these two engines produce (roughly) 400 horsepower and 472 pound feet of torque: that’s a lot of power to get from here to there!

The T8 has seven drive modes, including Hybrid (the default), which uses power from both the gas engine and electric motor as needed. Great fuel economy is one of Volvo’s mandated T8 missions – the manufacturer claims a combined US rating for gas/electric of 59 miles per gallon. Drivers can elect to send power to two wheels or four using one or both motors, or drive in the Pure mode (all electric) for between 20 and 25 miles. Plug-in recharge time is estimated at 3 hours. Zero to 60 time is 5.8 seconds – that’s considered fast – and the T8’s top speed is 143mph.

Volvo has indicated the T8 will probably be in showrooms in the summer or fall of 2016. Car reviewers have given the T8 excellent marks and are saying that when it hits the market, the T8 will have a strong attraction to green-leaners also looking at the BMW X5 xDrive50i and the Mercedes-Benz GL450. Competition with the Tesla Model X will be inevitable. With a base price experts think will be in the low- to mid-$60,000 range, (half the price of the Model X), the T8 will aggressively compete for luxury SUV market share.

It’s the first-ever seven-seat plug-in hybrid. Even with the battery pack added, T8’s cargo space and passenger room remain more than ample: an enormous selling point to SUV buyers looking for a new car that uses advanced hybrid technology and hasn’t sacrificed important passenger and cargo space to achieve its new form. Volvo’s designers put the battery pack in the tunnel between the front passenger seats instead of under the load bay. Which means there’s no cargo bay difference between the XC90 T6 (non-electric version) and the XC90 T8 (the electric hybrid version). German competitor vehicles have only five seats, while the Tesla Model X, a pure electric, has seven seats.

The 2016 XC90 is slightly longer, taller and wider than its previous model (194.8” L – 69.9” H – 84.3” W), though it’s actually 200 pounds lighter. The interior has been called “calmly luxurious” and “flowing and expansive” by reviewers. The top-of-the-line Inscription model has Nappa leather seats, leather surfaces for the dashboard, console and door panels, and a very unique illuminated shift lever made out of Orrefors crystal; it’s the first time an automobile manufacturer has used genuine crystal in a production car. Large windows and a two-panel sunroof make the cabin light and airy. Excellent vision – an important attribute of Volvo’s safety standards – occurs in all directions and is aided by a standard rear-view camera.

A tablet display called Sensus dominates the center stack next to the driver. Volvo’s proprietary infotainment system is a vast improvement over the XC90 system it replaced. Autoblog reviewer Seyth Miersma says of the new touchscreen-focused multimedia interface: “its smooth responses and fast action are almost Apple-good, and the system should help close the sale on a lot of XC90s.” One pricey option worth mentioning; for $2,650 you can add a Bowers & Wilkins audio system which Volvo claims was benchmarked for speaker placement by the acoustics in the Gothenberg Concert Hall in Sweden. Reviewers have called this audio system one of the best ever installed in an automobile.

The T8’s safety features are numerous, as you’d expect in a Volvo: adaptive cruise control, blind spot systems, predictive/active braking, lots of airbags and the large red Volvo taillights you can’t miss. Volvo has created some of the hardest rollover tests in the automotive industry for itself. The XC 90 T8 has passed them all with flying colors. The hybrid SUV received the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)’s Top Safety Pick Award, considered one of the best tests of a car’s crashworthiness.

Greater performance credentials than other hybrid SUVs, 400 horsepower, a combined US rating of 59 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent, Volvo’s renowned safety standards, 2+3+2 seating, a luxurious interior and beefed-up muscular exterior make the T8 a highly appealing option for those who can afford it’s price tag.