With the first XC90, Volvo conjured through some strange alchemy, the acceptable incarnation of unacceptable, large SUV motoring and thus cornered a useful part of the market: people who wouldn’t otherwise be seen dead in an SUV. Urban(e) liberals who have an uneasy relationship with motoring full-stop, let alone motoring in large, expensive and fuel-hungry four-wheel drive vehicles, found in the XC90 a car which could just about square the circle of their ethics and their practical needs. Having children takes the edge off progressive socio-political stand-points anyway, whilst having five of them also drastically cuts down the options of how to go on holiday to Cornwall, so that you can read The Guardian in Padstow. The XC90 came along to solve all this north London angst. It could swallow a family of seven, their luggage and their dog, but what set the XC90 apart was its Swedish designer interior, Volvo’s reputation for safety and the car’s styling which was soft and friendly.
So, I was surprised when the new model was unveiled to see that Volvo had gone to the dark side with intimidating, battle-cruiser styling. ‘They’ll have trouble shifting this in Hampstead’, I thought. Then I thought ‘not least because they’d have trouble fitting it in Hampstead’. The new XC90 weighs two-and-half tons and is two-and-a-half meters long. You can see it from space. The styling changes are all part of Volvo’s assault on the top end of the luxury car market, but obviously vast and imperiously styled though the new XC90 may be, Volvo has no intention of losing that market segment its endearing forerunner captured.
Enter the T8 stage-right. This is Volvo’s showcase, a 407 bhp flagship that will propel its pampered occupants from 0 to 60 miles-an-hour in under 6 seconds. And while none of that sounds overly politically-correct, 135 miles to the gallon and CO2 output of 49g per kilometre very much is. How on earth? Well, a four-cylinder turbo and super-charged petrol engine delivers 320 of those horses to the front wheels, whilst an electric motor sends 87 odd to the rear. Hey presto! 4×4, ‘green’ hybrid technology and lots of horses.
Inside it’s still very much a Volvo: the Swedes build car interiors as welcoming as a firelit, log cabin on a foggy night in Lapland. The XC90s leather is especially sumptuous, the seats are generous and cosseting: the levers, dials and buttons are Apple Mac touchy-feely. There’s sooo much space. The sound system is unbelievable, you have Apple car-play, a wifi hot-spot and the crystal gear-stick is like something off a mantelpiece. If you live in a small house the XC90 would be a good place to spend the evening.
Plus this showcase Volvo wouldn’t be a Volvo without a few pioneering safety features: the XC90 will warn you and slow down when you’re too close to cars ahead, it will not let you ‘drift’ from one lane to the next, it will auto-brake at junctions. Any one of which might save your life. Or drive you nuts.
On the move The XC90 moves surprisingly well for a Swedish architect’s house: the air suspension keeps everything tidy while overall you have an effortless drive. Effortless that is until you try to get close to those fuel consumption and performance statistics. The car’s other worldly combination of speed and frugality is all technically possible, but day to day the XC90 morphs into another large SUV that likes its drink.
On battery alone the car will travel 27 miles. Fine for a short commute. Combine the battery with the engine in ‘hybrid’ drive and the batteries will eke out their charge for a few more miles during which the car will deliver 75 or so mpg. Soon enough however, the battery runs down, after which hybrid becomes a regime of energy recovery under braking, energy spend under acceleration. Under these circumstances you’ll get 34 mpg … if you’re light footed.
Unless you really, really need hybrid tech, you’d be better off, I feel, with a larger 6-cylinder diesel engine. And in more senses than one, because the four-cylinder engine in this T8 is too crude for an otherwise sumptuous, luxury car. For laudable eco reasons Volvo has elected to power every new XC90 variant with a 2-litre four-cylinder diesel or petrol engine, but four cylinders will always struggle to give the primary balance and effortless oomph a heavy, posh car requires. The T8 is a stunning motor in every respect but its engine. Which is how I felt about the last one. So what do I know?
Volvo XC90 T8
OTR from: £60,455
Annual road-tax: £0
Benefit-in-kind tax rate: 5%
Fuel Consumption: combined declared economy 134.5 mpg (real world is much less!)
Electric-only range: 27 miles (confirmed)
Combined power output: 407 bhp
0 – 60: 5.6 seconds