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By Charl Bosch

Motoring Journalist

Flagship plug-in hybrid Volvo XC90 still shocks without range worry

Ageing seven-seater presents a better package than ever before, yet will continue to appease a select few.

The Volvo XC90 has been around, in its current second generation guise since 2015 and somewhat surprisingly, hasn’t received any massive external changes since then.

Long-living Volvo XC90

In truth, this doesn’t come as a surprise as the original lasted for 12 years with only minor changes, plus an additional two if you include China where it was sold briefly alongside its successor as the XC90 Classic.

The initiator of what Gothenburg called the Iron Mask-styling language, the incremental changes outside are in stark contrast to what now lies beneath the XC90’s bonnet.

ALSO READ: Volvo XC90 T8’s potent system shock one worth having

No more diesel for Volvo

No longer offering the option of a diesel engine or a non-electrically assisted petrol as per Volvo moving towards complete electrification by 2030, the XC90 has also had small changes taken place inside, which, like the exterior, requires careful scrutinising.

Hybrid Volvo SUV driven
Recharge badge will soon be dropped from the XC90’s badge following a range restructuring in Europe in February.

As such, it makes for a rather difficult topic to write about as, bar the change in powertrains over the year, both the mild-hybrid B6 and flagship plug-in hybrid T8 have passed through members of The Citizen’s hands post pandemic.

Has anything actually changed?

Since being last sampled in any guise two years ago though, Volvo has made yet more subtle changes which, apart from the diesel deletion, involves a change from the old Sensus Connect infotainment system to the new Google Android operating system already resplendent in every other model in South Africa.

Volvo XC90 road test South Africa
Model rationale in 2022 means new trim level denominators and as depicted, a new colour called Vapour Grey.

At the same time, the range has been slimmed-down, the trim level denominators changed and the previous six-seat option dropped in favour of the three-row, seven-seat arrangement.

As for the EV poke, the opportunity to get re-acquainted with the XC90 after almost 24 months came in the shape of the flagship plug-in hybrid XC90 T8 Recharge, which in spite of the electric versions of the XC40 and C40, continues to co-exist with the XC60 T8 Recharge as the most powerful production Volvo in production today.

Hybrid vs V8

Besides the infotainment software, a change in name from Inscription to Ultimate with black accents to create the Ultimate Dark, plus using it in town rather than taking it out of the concreate jungle, the other significance of the T8’s return involved a visit to Gerotek.

The logic? Not only finding out how the heavier XC90 compares to the XC60, but also how it stacks-up against the previous generation’s flagship powered by a Yamaha co-developed normally aspirated 4.4-litre V8.

Decked-out in a new colour called Vapour Grey Metallic, the XC90 T8 Recharge Ultimate Dark’s arrival couldn’t have been more highly awaited, especially since it will eventually be replaced in some market from next year by the all-new, all-electric EX90.

Thor’s drawing power

As subjective as styling is, the XC90’s Iron Mask aesthetic and T-shaped Thor’s Hammer LED headlights remains a visual standout that belies its almost decade old age.

Hybrid Volvo SUV driven
Diamond-cut 20-inch alloy wheels are standard on the Ultimate trim level, though 21-inches are available as an option.

While admittedly still on the bulky side with the T8 in particular tipping the scales at 2 227 kg, the XC90, for lack of a better description, has aged well given the lack of changes.

With the exception of the black elements, which can be swapped for chrome highlights as part of the Bright package that knocks R25 000 off the Dark’s R1 808 800 sticker price, the standard 20-inch alloy wheels and colour adds a surprising visual extra to the XC90 you wouldn’t ordinarily expect.

When old is better

Stepping inside, the opposite reflects on a cabin which at the time of its introduction, broke new grounds for adopting a minimalist design by having all of the major functions relocated to the tablet-shaped nine-inch infotainment system.

Inside Volvo's hybrid XC90 T8
Little has changed to the XC90’s interior since its introduction nine years ago.

Still a spacious environment that feels premium in spite of the metal effect trim looking cheap but feeling the opposite, the “winged” infotainment display looks small by modern standards, while the 12-inch digital instrument cluster has had a number of its previously offered customisable options removed.

Whether the result of the new operating or not, the result is that the new software’s integration and layout rates as a step-down on the old Sensus Connect.

Inside Volvo's hybrid XC90 T8
Newly incorporated Google Android operating system not as easy to master as the previous Sensus Connect setup.

While no longer saddled with an individual icons for each function, the regrouping process of combining all the various settings into a series of sub-menus has made the system more frustrating than intuitive, and nowhere near as easy to fathom as before.

Fortunately, the irksome setup, which will become familiar over time, doesn’t extend to the rest of the XC90’s interior, which gains the beautifully crafted Orrefors glass crystal gear knob as standard on the Ultimate.

More spec and still enough space

Inside Volvo's hybrid XC90 T8
Digital instrument cluster offers limited customisable options.

Comfortable and refined, small spec has made more items standard, which on the Ultimate comprises the ventilated and heated front seats, all around parking sensors, heated steering wheel, panoramic sunroof, Head-Up Display, hands-free electric tailgate and the 360-degree surround-view camera system.

Plug-in hybrid SUV road test
Now a standard fitting is the 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system.

In addition to the Lane Keep Assist, City Safety Braking and the impressive semi-autonomous Pilot Assist systems, the sublime 19-speaker, 1 410-watt Bowers & Wilkins surround-sound audio also comes included, complete with the concert hall setting based on the Gothenburg Concert Hall.

Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge road test
With all seven seats up, boot space is rated at 262-litres.

As before, the Volvo XC90 continues to a be space success with no qualms likely to emerge about a lack of movement in the second row from a leg-and-headroom perspective.

Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge road test
In five-seat guise, 1 005-litres can be loaded into the boot.

While gaining access to the third row is a relatively easy process, a tumbling seat design would’ve aided entry more than the sliding arrangement.

Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge road test
With the second and third rows fully lowered, the XC90’s boot offers a total capacity of 1 816-litres.

That being said, the outer row remains exclusive to small children and when not in use, results in boot space increasing from 262-litres to 1 005-litres.

With the middle row also lowered, the XC90 transforms into a plush van capable of accommodating 1 816-litres.

The challenge of Gerotek

What prevails as the centre point of the XC90 T8 Recharge though, is its plug-in hybrid powertrain comprising the turbo-and-supercharged 2.0-litre Drive-E petrol engine working in combination with an 18.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that powers a 107 kW electric power.

While the combustion set-up produces 233kW/400Nm, the electric hardware’s added instant shock amounts to a total system out of 340kW/709Nm, which Volvo claims will result in the T8 get from 0-100 km/h in 5.3 seconds before hitting its top speed limiter of 180 km/h.

Inside Volvo's hybrid XC90 T8
Surround-view camera system still a standard fixature and with good resolution.

As it turned-out, the visit to Gerotek not only saw the T8 come close to matching its maker’s claim, but annihilate the time set by the bigger displacement V8 Road Test Editor Mark Jones let rip in 2007.

While unsurprisingly slower than the lighter XC60 T8 that completed the 0-100 km/h dash in 4.7 seconds, the XC90’s 5.4 seconds bettered the time of the 232kW/440Nm bent-eight by 3.3 seconds using Power mode that utilises both the electrical system and combustion engine.

Plug-in hybrid SUV road test
Orrefors crystal glass gear knob comes standard on the Ultimate trim grade.

Part of a drive mode selector comprising four other modes – the default Hybrid, EV-only Pure, Off-Road and Constant AWD – the T8 Recharge also sports three separate settings for the battery;

  • Auto: default setting that varies between the combustion engine and electric motor;
  • Hold: any remaining charge is put on freeze with power coming solely from the petrol engine;
  • Charge: petrol engine charges the battery and as such, is the only propulsion method.
Plug-in hybrid SUV road test
Space in the rear won’t lead to any complaints soon.

While use of the Hybrid and Hold settings occurred throughout the latter stages of the XC90’s stay, a fair chunk also involved the Pure most buyers will opt for.

Hybrid charging

Being a plug-in hybrid means the XC90 doesn’t support rapid DC charging and as such, can only be topped-up using a household socket, or by an AC charger using the provided 22 kW outlet.

As it turned-out, a faulty or inoperable AC connection at a charging station left no choice but use the former method, which required a waiting time of eight hours from 0-100%.

Volvo XC90 road test South Africa
Being a plug-in hybrid means the Recharge either support a household socket charger, or an AC outlet.

A process that proved little hinderance as it can be conducted either overnight or during the day at work, the displayed range of 59km was less impressive.

While extendable via brake regeneration, will require a lot to make it a more viable “long-distance” commuter before the petrol engine cuts in.

Over a shorter distance, the range is, admittedly, more respectable, but given the eventual distance, will at best, last between two to three days before requiring a visit to the plug.

Volvo XC90 road test South Africa
Charging process took exactly eight hours from a household socket. Indicated range came to 57km.

Away from Gerotek, the XC90 failed to disappoint as apart from the combustion engine being a touch on the noisy side, it settles down with very little being audible inside.

On the flip side, it becomes livelier when both propulsion methods are in use, accelerating the Volvo XC90 forward no other derivative will come close to matching as Mark’s times showed.

Plug-in hybrid SUV road test
Electric and heated seats sports a wraparound feel and in typical Volvo fashion, are plush and supportive.

Paired to the still smooth shifting eight-speed Geartronic gearbox, which loses the manual override in favour of the brake regenerative B setting, the T8’s ride also left little to be desired, most likely as a result of the previously optional air suspension now being standard.

As for fuel consumption, a best indicated 6.2 L/100 km flashed-up once the battery had been depleted, although with more driving in town and on the highway, it eventually increased to 7.6 L/100 km by the time end of the 400 km, seven-day tenure.

Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge: Conclusion

With more spec as standard, seven-seats still included and the worry of range negated by the petrol engine, the Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge, arguably, stakes it claim better than ever before as a more seriously considered large SUV candidate in spite of its age.

Hybrid Volvo SUV driven
Until the local market arrival of the all-electric EX90, the XC90’s remains Volvo’s flagship SUV.

However, the drivetrain will remain a point of content regardless of its promised frugality, never mind the allure of the German opposition it has to go up against.

As such, it will remain a left-field option only a small band of buyers or brand die-hards will opt for, yet one that will impress in a way only a Volvo can.

Road Test Data

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