Twin Engine or not Twin Engine ? That is the question.
When we drove the Volvo XC90 back in 2015, to say we liked it was an understatement. However, back then we tested the diesel version & as readers will know, diesels are currently at their lowest ever rating amongst car buyers. Step forward the Twin Engine XC90 T8, Volvo’s alternative to diesel. Twin Engine is the name given by Volvo to it’s hybrid range & it’s available across most of the current Volvo models. The XC90 is also the model that debuted the current Volvo technology, on a platform that underpin’s the current generation of Volvos, including the new XC40 & V60.
There are six specs in the XC90 range; Momentum, Momentum Pro, R-Design, R-Design Pro, Inscription & Inscription Pro, all of which are mirrored in the T8 range. All models offer 4WD, seven seats, special energy-absorbent seats, Volvo’s City Safety auto-braking tech, Queue Assist & a self-parking system, so there’s no compromising on practically or safety. Prices for the XC90 T8, range from £62,450 for the Momentum, up to £70,350 for the range topping Inscription Pro.
Despite being a large SUV, the XC90 offers a relatively sleek & aerodynamic look compared to much of it’s competition, namely the Range Rover Sport, Land Rover Discovery, Audi Q7 & BMW X5.
The interior looks & feels expensive with brushed metal inserts, strategically placed wood, matching soft leather & a fit & finish straight out of the Danish Design Museum. On trend, Volvo has completely decluttered the dashboard. The infotainment & climate levels are controlled by a central portrait 9” touchscreen which has been designed to replicate the feel of an iPad & allows you to scroll between Media, SatNav, Telephone & all number of car settings. It also offers Apple CarPlay & Android Auto.
Although the system is to the forefront of what people want in their vehicles, after all we spend an awful lot of time in our cars nowadays, the touchscreen can be a little distracting for the driver whilst on the move & is best practiced on. Indeed, Volvo know that users will take a while to grasp all of what this Sensus System can do & provide buyers with a Sensus handbook to allow users to grasp just how extensive the operating system is. To reassure readers, after a week in the XC90 & with more than a couple of looks at the handbook, I discovered that Sensus is actually quite straightforward to use & is much more logical in it’s menu choice, than much of the competition. It’s also I should add, brilliant & once mastered is a fantastic addition to the XC90 & XC60 range.
Standard equipment across all models is comprehensive, with SatNav, LED headlights, air-filtration, keyless entry, hands-free tailgate opening, a powered driver’s seat, auto-dimming mirrors and DAB radio. My entry-level Momentum D5 AWD also included cruise control, roof rails, Bluetooth, the 9” centre console touchscreen, three rows of seats, with individually folding second row seats with fore/aft adjustment, Sensus Navigation, City Safety, which includes pedestrian & cyclist detection & front collision warning with full auto brake, 19′ alloys & a 10 speaker 330W audio system. All XC90’s offer most of what customers want but the Inscription Pro comes with Volvo’s Air Suspension on top of a diamond cut starter button & cut glass gear lever, with a full length glass sunroof masterfully covered in a white protector. My test car had several options fitted, the most interesting being the Sensus Connect Premium Sound System by Bowers & Wilkins, an additional £3,000. This allows you to select amongst other’s, the Gothenburg Concert Hall, as a sound choice. Most awesome music lovers.
Unsurprisingly, the XC90 earned a five-star Euro NCAP crash-test score achieving 97% & 87% ratings for adult & child protection respectively. The XC90 also has lots of technology fitted as standard to help avoid crashes, including IntelliSafe, City Safety, Pilot Assist, Adaptive Cruse Contro & Run-off road protection. Also featured is an advanced blind-spot monitoring system that can steer the car back into it’s lane if you’re about to sideswipe another vehicle. The system will even brake & steer itself if it senses you’ve left the road & with Park Assist, it will also parallel & reverse park your Volvo for you.
The interior can best be described as cavernous.There’s lot’s of room for five adults, with seats 6 & 7 available in the rear if required. Even these two smaller seats, will allow a couple of early teens decent head & leg room. Both to these seats fold flat into the boot floor, which also comes with a clever pop-up boot divider, a great way to stop your shopping moving around. If you want to utilise the boot with say a mountain bike or a flat-pack from IKEA, the XC90 offers 451 litres of boot space when in seven-seat mode & 1,102 litres with the third row of seats folded flat into the boot floor. Stow all five of the rear seats away & there’s a whopping 1,951 litres on offer. As an added bonus, the boot also comes with a low loading lip, a shallow underfloor space & of course the powered tailgate as standard, so all in all it’s a very user-friendly space indeed.
We’ve talked about the XC90 in general terms, but the reason for choosing the T8 version over the diesel version, is partly about saving money & partly being more friendly to the environment. To this end, power comes from a 2.0-litre petrol engine plus an electric motor, which combine to produce just over 400bhp. The T8 quoted combined economy figure is 134.5mpg, which is both incredibly attractive & very misleading. Could this figure actually be achievable ? Perhaps, if you utilise the 25 mile range electric motor. This means that you need to charge it up & use it every day which is easier said than done. Despite the increase of UK charging points, you’ll need to charge at home & at work & not drive very far each day at a city commute kind of speed. Unfortunately, we spent most of our week in the T8 on the motorway dodging 75mph winds, the result being a 31mpg combined fuel economy, which is a much more likely figure than 100mpg+ that Volvo quotes.
When you set off fort a driver in your T8, you can select one of five driving options. AWD, Pure, Power, Hybrid & Off-Road. The T8 runs in Hybrid as standard, which automatically manages energy flow between the engine, battery & the road. I used this most of the time switching to Eco when moving very slowly. You can save the battery charge for later use, or recharge on the move using the petrol engine as a generator. This though has to be accessed through the Sensus touch screen. However, in common with for example the Golf GTE, actually doing this sees your fuel economy plummet, whilst adding just 30% charge to the battery. Better to avoid & charge at home or at the office if you can.
There is some good news with the T8 though. As it’s a hybrid with CO2 emissions of 59g/km, the XC90 T8 Twin Engine has a first-year tax bill of just £15 with a low Benefit-in-Kind company-car tax rating & is also exempt from the London Congestion Charge. Higher rate tax payers will save a fortune if they pick a T8, although the cost differential between a diesel XC90 & the T8 version does make up for this annual saving, which is around £4000 per annum, over a 3 year period.
For those of you wondering why the T8 doesn’t offer great fuel economy as just petrol car, it’s not just because of it’s limited electric range. It’s just too powerful, too heavy at 2.3 tonnes & too much fun to drive it slowly. With 401bhp from its combined petrol-electric motor, you will reach 62mph from a standstill in 5.6 seconds & it will go on to a top speed of 143mph. These are performance figures that will make you want to ‘drive’ this car, not dawdle.
When you’re on the road, you’ll notice that there’s lots of power low down from the engine, making overtaking slow moving traffic a joy on the motorway. The air suspension helps dampen the T8’s ride, making the T8 feel sportier in corners than it should, but in all honestly, it’s a car best enjoyed in a straight line, i.e. eating up the motorway miles. Talking of which, the 4-cylinder engine is a little gruff in the mid-range, but once up to 70mph +, it’s quiet enough to enjoy the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, in all of it’s glory. Or, to hold a noise-free hands-free phone conversation if required.
If you want to utilise the electric motor to the best of it’s ability, it’s worth noting how we found it faired in our 7 day test. The official all-electric range after a full charge is 27 miles. We drove it during early March & in the eye of the storm, aptly named ’The beast from the east.’ We typically managed 20 miles on electricity alone. Luckily, a friend who drives a hybrid X5, allowed me to charge the T8 on his drive & I found that it reaches full charge in around 2.5 – 3 hours, which is pretty good.
A bit like Brexit, the jury is still out on whether or not high powered hybrid petrol engines are good for the environment or just for the users tax code. On paper the T8 ticks all of the boxes. Low C02, high combined economy, low personal taxation, but, as with other cars of it’s ilk, only those who can utilise the electric motor by charging regularly & who avoid long journey’s on their regular commute, will really benefit. In simple pounds & pence terms it will also save a higher rate tax payer around £4000 per year over what they’d pay in BIK for an XC90 diesel Inscription Pro. And that is very appealing.
As a car to own or to drive, we cannot fault the XC90. Good looking, supremely comfortable, cavernous inside, well equipped, very safe & beautifully put together, it’s certainly a refreshing alternative to a Range Rover that’s for sure. Whether or not you’d want to pay more to own or lease a T8 over the XC90 diesel though, will depend on your circumstances. It’s also worth noting that Volvo has a range of smaller hybrid models in it’s range, all of which still offer the tax savings of the larger XC90 but will give you improved petrol or diesel-only fuel economy. And, to put the cat amongst the pigeons, Volvo’s latest model the XC40 has just been awarded the European Car of the Year award & in diesel guise, which is certainly food for thought.
An electric 4/5