Road tests

New Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge 2023 review

Time is ticking for the XC90, but it's still a top choice thanks to Volvo's latest updates

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A bigger battery and an improved, Google Android-based infotainment system mean the plug-in hybrid XC90 remains a strong choice even with its EX90 replacement looming. It’s a handsome, spacious and comfortable SUV that’s nicely distinct from German rivals. It’d be better still in the lower-powered T6 guise, though, while buyers regularly taking longer trips may find the diesel of more use.

The Volvo XC90 won’t be around much longer. Late in 2022, the Swedish company pulled the wraps off its all-new, all-electric EX90, which will become its new and rather expensive flagship. But Volvo hasn’t left the XC90 to fade away in its twilight years.

What we’re driving here is the latest version of the XC90 T8, which gives us two new attributes to test that we haven’t yet examined. There’s the 18.8kWh battery pack, which replaced the 11.6kWh unit last year, and a more recent addition; a Google Android-based infotainment system. 

As for the former, the additional cells see the official electric-only range increase from 27 miles to an impressive-sounding 40. In reality, the best you can hope for is a low-thirties figure on a full charge, although that’s not a specific complaint about the XC90 T8 - you generally won’t get anywhere near any plug-in hybrid’s official range away from the lab. 

In any case, that’s enough plug-in juice to cover a reasonable-length commute (and an even longer one for those able to charge at work), so some will be able to use their T8s in the week without using a drop of fuel. Just bear in mind that unless your electricity tariff gives a cheap per kWh rate overnight, the cost savings associated with a PHEV won’t be as significant as before the energy crisis. 

On the subject of plugging in, T8 owners no longer have to make do with a below-average 3.7kW recharging rate. The updated model now accepts 6.4kW, meaning you can fully charge the larger battery from empty in around five hours using a powerful enough wallbox or public charge point.

If you’re on a longer journey blending both the electric gubbins and the XC90’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, the fuel economy will vary greatly depending on how far you’re going, the kind of roads and the level of traffic. 

On one 90-mile stint taking in dual carriageways and country roads, for instance, we achieved about 43mpg, having started the drive with a fully-charged battery, which was depleted upon arrival. That’s no coincidence - the car’s hybrid system uses navigation data to work out how best to deploy the available charge over the duration of the journey. 

Going about double the distance mostly on motorways and with more like 80 per cent in the battery pack, we managed a less impressive 34mpg, while with no charge at all, you’ll be in the low thirties at best. This isn’t surprising - with the battery depleted, the XC90 becomes a 2.3-tonne SUV almost exclusively powered by a twin-charged petrol engine. That said, it works reasonably well on a flat battery at lower speeds, where the regenerative braking system puts enough back into the pack to allow for limited electric-only running. 

Unlike a lot of plug-in hybrids, there are no fancy graphics to show the flow of power. Instead, you merely get a line on the power gauge (replaced with a traditional rev counter in ‘Power’ mode) to show at which point the car will turn the engine on. This point moves depending on various parameters including the battery charge and the vehicle’s speed. You also get a predicted fuel range which can never seem to make its mind up - numerous times we had the total figure instantly go up or down by as much as 40 miles. 

Deployed in unison, the rear-mounted electric motor and the supercharged/turbocharged engine provide 449bhp, which is enough to whisk the XC90 from 0-62mph in just 5.4 seconds. It feels brisk rather than outright fast, though. Plus, when you put your foot down, although the motor responds quickly, it takes a moment for the engine to join the party, and it does so in a rather clunky fashion. 

This can be countered by changing the drive mode from ‘Hybrid’ to ‘Power’ (a fiddly process involving a dive into the settings menu, because the physical selector wheel is no longer present), which ditches electric-only running. You also get some fake but inoffensive noise piped through the speakers.

Otherwise, the driving experience is much the same. And while the XC90 feels competent enough when hustled along a bendy road, this clearly isn’t its forte. There’s a reasonable amount of body roll, and thanks to its hefty weight figure and front-biased power output, understeer arises if you press on a little too much. 

The XC90 has never been about sporty driving, however. It’s much better at the wafty stuff. Although you can be jostled around a touch at lower speeds, particularly on those nasty square-edged speed bumps (the big, wide wheels don’t help), the XC90 is a smooth-riding car overall. 

Refinement is great, with wind, road and engine noise kept to a minimum on the move. On the latter front, when the internal combustion side of the equation kicks in, if your throttle inputs are gentle enough, it’s barely audible. Plus, during smoother driving, the transitions between power sources are far more subtle. Because the XC90 doesn’t seem overly interested in being quicker, though, the T8 doesn’t seem like the best powertrain choice in the range. The lower-powered T6 Recharge is a better bet, and the XC90 is the only Volvo model still available with a diesel option, which would be good for those regularly going on longer trips. 

Whichever version chosen, you’ll be able to enjoy one of the XC90’s strongest suits - its cabin, which features a welcoming design that’s a pleasant change from the often aggressively styled German competition. It still looks great all this time on from the SUV’s launch, and the quality is first rate. 

The Google Android-based infotainment system is a welcome addition, too, helping keep the XC90’s tech offering fresh. No OEM navigation setup works as well as Google Maps, so it’s pleasing to see a manufacturer as good as admit this in the way Volvo has. Plus, those with Google accounts (which is probably most of us these days) can log in, meaning you’ll get the same previous destinations stored in your other devices. There’s also a Google Play Store for downloading car-friendly Android apps like Spotify. 

The responsiveness of the screen is great, and it’s very easy to navigate. It’s shame it must be relied upon for the climate controls, though. While simpler to use than some screen-based climate set-ups, it’s still fiddlier and more distracting to use than physical knobs or buttons, so it seems somewhat at odds with Volvo’s focus on safety to go down this route. 

Despite the bigger battery, interior space remains unchanged. The XC90 has always been impressive in this regard - you get a roomy middle row of seats, and a third row that can easily accommodate children and smaller teenagers/adults. Folding the latter down is easily done electronically via a button on the boot, an operation which (rather neatly) automatically tilts the headrests to get them out of the way. Once this is done, there’s a vast 1,007-litre load space on offer, expanding to 1,856 litres with the second row stowed too.

Model:Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge
Engine:2.0-litre 4cyl plug-in hybrid petrol
Transmission:eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
0-62mph:5.4 seconds
Top speed:112mph
Fuel economy:188.1mpg
On sale:Now

Now read more about the upcoming Volvo EX90...

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