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By Charl Bosch

Motoring Journalist


Volvo XC90 T8’s potent system shock one worth having

More powerful electric motor an uptake not only welcomed, but one that transforms the XC90 in an impressive way.


Seeing it up close, it might come as a, pardon the pun, shock to discover that the Volvo XC90 is already in its seventh year of production.

What about age?

In truth, that shouldn’t come as a surprise actually at its predecessor only departed in 2014, 12 years after debuting as Volvo’s first ever SUV.

The stand-out though is how well the second generation XC90 has aged. It still looks modern on the outside despite comparatively little having changed. The same goes for the interior.

ALSO READ: Recharge switch shocks more power into Volvo XC90

Touched-up with a redesigned gear lever, integration of Google’s latest Android software into the Sensus Connect infotainment system aside, the cabin is otherwise unaltered from 2015.

The electric heart

A lot has, however, changed on the motivation front. As per Volvo’s transition towards electric only vehicles by 2030, the XC90 is now solely offered with electrification and in two forms; mild-hybrid and plug-in hybrid (PHEV).

Gone is the availability of a diesel engine, replaced by the long-serving 2.0-litre Drive-E petrol that is still turbocharged or turbo-and-supercharged in the case of the B6 that replaces the T6.

Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge South Africa road test
Crystal White Pearl Metallic paint option does a good job of hiding the T8’s performance credentials.

Arguably, the electrification switch in-sync with the petrol engine is to the benefit of the XC90, as the 2.0-litre Drive-E oil-burner copped extensive flak for not only its small displacement, but also for sounding unrefined and struggling to haul the XC90’s mass with sufficient go regardless of its turbo count.

This is no longer the case as the newly applied shock treatment has been to the XC90’s advantage and none more so than in the range-topping, newly named T8 Recharge.

Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge South Africa road test
Thor’s Hammer LED headlights still looks imposing and impressive.

Indistinguishable from its lesser siblings it might be, the T8 does have a significant advantage that becomes massively apparent on the move.

And move it did a lot of as literally on the same day of its arrival for the weeklong stay, with only 995 km on the clock, it headed down to the Eastern Cape over the Easter weekend to deduce whether the long hauling capability of a PHEV is able to better or come close to that matching that of a diesel.

Still techy and comfortable

Despite the initial uncertainty as to how the almost 1 000 km trek, which included several altercations with the infamous brown locust plague, would impact the XC90’s consumption, what didn’t worry was the trip down to the coast descending into an uncomfortable one.

Aside from the heated and cooled front seats with the must-have optional massaging function (R10 600), plus the heated steering wheel (R2 850), our T8 Inscription also sported the R27 750 air suspension with adaptive dampers that made the ride feel wafty and plush, but also compliant and unfazed by sudden surface changes.

Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge South Africa road test
Not much has changed here.

Another must is the R30 000 Lounge package, which not only includes Volvo’s PM2.5 filtration system, but also the panoramic sunroof and the sublime 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system with its evocative Gothenburg Concert Hall setting.

Together with the surround-view camera system (R15 500), smartphone integration (R4 500) wireless smartphone charger (R3 500) and the minimalistic but also dated Heads-Up Display (R15 750), little was ever in doubt as to whether the XC90 would lag behind its rivals on the tech front.

Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge South Africa road test
Front seats are heated and cooled, as well as optionally fitted with a massaging function.

The same goes for the Sensus Connect system which, while appearing dated now, is relatively easy to fathom. That being said, the nine-inch display’s icons are small and no longer as crisp as seven years ago.

Less of a worry is space, head-and-legroom, as well as the boot that can swallow 262-litres with all seven seats up, 1 005-litres with the third row down and 1 816-litres with the second row folded flat as well.

Shockingly worth it

In fact, the main centre of attention is the XC90’s source of power. As with the previous T8, the combination of the super-and-turbocharged engine remains, but dramatically heightened by an 18.8-kWh battery that replaces the old 11.6-kWh unit.

Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge South Africa road test
The Sensus Connect infotainment system still looks clean, but is starting to show its age.

Outputting 107 kW instead of 65 kW, the setup, intertwined with the internal combustion engine’s 233 kW, translates to 340 kW of power and a diesel questioning 709 Nm of torque.

Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge South Africa road test
No complaints likely from those seated at the back.

As meagre sounding as the 40kW/69Nm gain over the old T8 is on paper, in reality, it has made a massive difference. So much so that the XC90 Recharge officially rates as the most powerful production Volvo ever made, and the second fastest from 0-100 km/h behind the XC60 T6 Recharge.

Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge South Africa road test
Surround-view camera a option worth having.

From the off, the eagerness, thanks to the electric motor, is evident as it accelerates like no other XC90 this writer as ever driven. Seamless and fast, it feels capable of matching Volvo’s 5.3 second 0-100 km/h claim with in spite of tipping the scales at 2 323 kg.

Brakes, what brakes?

Unlike lesser models, the XC90 T8 Recharge doesn’t come with a manual override for the eight-speed Geartronic transmission. Instead, a brake regeneration function takes its place in the from of a B setting indicated on the instrument cluster.

Altering the severity is done by tapping the stubby gear lever to the right or left when in B mode. It is something most buyers are unlikely to do though, but certainly worthwhile and even mesmerising as the recouped energy brings the XC90 to a complete stop without the brake pedal being touched in its most powerful setting.

This, together with the engine’s brute force and smooth transmission is however the side show to the fuel consumption recorded after the 2 805 km that included a stretch along the Garden Route.

At the pumps and the plug

In tandem with the electric motor, the indicated consumption at, one point, registered an astonishing 1.5 L/100 km.

Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge South Africa road test
Seven-seats still one of the XC90’s centre pieces.

As the Johannesburg disappeared in the rear-view mirror and the battery charge fell to zero percent, the consumption rose to 7.8 L/100 km. Town driving saw that figure increase to 8.2 L/100 km, only to retreat to 7.9 L/100 km by the time its tenure finished.

Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge South Africa road test
Boot can take 1 006-litres with the third row down.

Not to be outdone, charging the XC90 was equally simple and involved an overnight wait of exactly 10 hours using a conventional household socket, plus the on-board 22 kW charger. For now, the charging system is not a dual setup, meaning it cannot be charged using GridCars’ 60 kW fast charging network.

Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge South Africa road test
With the second and third rows down, the XC90 can lug 1 816-litres.

Keeping the XC90 in its default Hybrid mode instead of the completely electric Pure – the others being Sporty, Off-Road, Constant AWD and Individual – the eerie silence of electric only propulsion lasted 61 km as opposed to Volvo claimed 77 km.

Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge South Africa road test
Charging from empty to full takes around 10 hours.

It will nonetheless prove sufficient for buyers on the daily commute, all with impeccable refinement thanks to both engine and road noise being roundly deadened.

Conclusion

In what represents the “leaving-the-best-till-last” adage, the subtlest but also most prominent tweak has been to the benefit of the Volvo XC90 in the biggest way possible way.

Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge South Africa road test
Tiny badge on the bootlid a clue of what resides up front.

As commendable as the move away from diesel has been though, the T8 Recharge will still face a tough battle to convince buyers, even in the face of ongoing fuel price hikes seemingly intent on putting diesel at more of a premium than petrol.

Still, at R1 670 750, which included R110 650 worth of options, it prevails as not only a true luxury seven-seater, but also a left-field option that charms and appeals, Volvo-style.  

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