The Volvo V90 T8 Twin Engine is a large Volvo estate with a plug-in petrol-electric hybrid powertrain; if you can drive mainly on its 30 or so miles of electric power for most journeys, then this could provide a spacious, economical and extremely refined form of transport.
Model/Engine size: Volvo V90 T8 Twin Engine Inscription Pro
Fuel: Petrol-electric plug-in hybrid
Fuel economy combined: 141.2 mpg
Green Car Guide rating: 8/10
By Paul Clarke
Volvo grabbed the headlines in July 2017 when the company announced that, from 2019, all Volvo cars would have some form of electrification. We’re only just into 2018, but we’ve already tested the V60 D5 Twin Engine, the XC90 T8 Twin Engine, the XC60 T8 Twin Engine, all of which are plug-in hybrids, and now we have the V90 T8 Twin Engine. So should you consider this plug-in petrol-electric hybrid powertrain rather than the diesel?
The Volvo V90 T8 Twin Engine has a 320hp 4-cylinder 2-litre petrol engine along with a battery and 87hp electric motor, and an 8-speed automatic transmission.
It has the new Volvo design language, which we think looks good (although in our subjective opinion the rear end has too many angular lines compared to the rest of the car), and the interior is a very pleasant environment. Because it’s a V90, there’s lots of space for driver and passengers, and there’s a huge boot.
When you start the V90 T8 Twin Engine it defaults to hybrid mode, so if you want to drive in electric mode you have to press the drive mode switch and scroll to ‘Pure’. The drive mode switch is one of the design detail highlights of the interior, however it’s not the most precise way to flick between drive modes, as you have to press it down, then scroll between the different options of AWD, Pure, Hybrid and Power on the large vertical touchscreen. If, like us, you’re trying to achieve maximum economy and so preventing the engine starting by selecting Pure, it’s quite easy to inadvertently scroll from Hybrid, past Pure, and onto AWD – with the result that the engine starts, so damaging your chances of achieving a journey without fossil fuel.
Driving the V90 on electric power is a very quiet, refined and comfortable experience. However driving the V90 on petrol power at motorway speeds is also a very quiet, refined and comfortable experience. In fact, our next car on test after the Volvo was a £100,000 pure EV, and the Volvo insulated its occupants from road noise much more effectively.
The V90’s ride quality is excellent – on smooth tarmac roads as well as on potholed surfaces; the engineers have prioritised a comfortable ride over sporty, agile handling, which is likely to be just fine for most people interested in this car. Overall, as with most current Volvos, the V90 creates an atmosphere of calm for the driver – a very useful feature at a time when most motorway journeys result in delays due to lots of people either sitting in the middle lane or somehow managing to crash when driving in a straight line.
With a 0-62mph of 4.8 seconds, performance is good if you need it to be. However there’s not always an instant response from standstill, and one significant omission is the complete inability to change gear – there are no steering wheel-mounted paddles, and you can’t even change gear using the gear selector. And people used to driving BMWs may find the gear selector drives them crazy; with a BMW automatic you just pull the lever back once for Drive, and push the lever forward once for Reverse. In the Volvo you have to pull the lever twice to select Drive or Reverse. If you pull it down more than twice, then you’ll engage the transmission’s ‘B’-setting.
For one 30-mile journey we selected Hybrid drive mode. Even though the first 20 miles were at 70mph on the motorway, the car appeared to choose electric power rather than petrol power for this element of the journey – suggesting that it doesn’t exert much intelligent control over choosing the most appropriate drive mode for the type of driving. You can choose to lock the car in petrol mode to save battery charge, however you can’t access this ‘Hold’ mode via the Drive Mode rotary dial, instead you have to swipe the touchscreen to the right which brings up another screen with lots of settings, one of which is ‘Hold’.
During a week when it literally never stopped raining, and we even had a journey on a motorway comprised of slushy snow, the V90’s AWD mode proved extremely useful, delivering more grip than possible from the default front-wheel drive chassis.
If you buy a V90 and if the Traffic Announcement setting is on, make sure you get Volvo to show you how to switch this off, as it could take you hours/days/weeks to find out how to do this by yourself (we’ve had a number of Volvos on test so we know to press the very small lines at the top of the touchscreen and then navigate through a number of sub-menus to get rid of various local radio traffic announcers).
And we have to mention one issue again – lots of thought appears to have gone into the design of this Volvo, but this evidently didn’t extend to the design of the key fob; in the dark it’s impossible to know which of the three small, identical buttons opens the car/locks the car/opens the tailgate.
The official combined NEDC economy figure for the Volvo V90 T8 Twin Engine is 141.2mpg, equating to 46g/km CO2 emissions. As regular readers of Green Car Guide will be aware, this is a useless figure, as real-life economy will completely depend on how much driving is carried out on electric propulsion. At one end of the spectrum, as this is a two-tonne petrol-engined car, you can expect 30mpg on a long motorway journey. At the other extreme, you could complete every journey on electric power.
The V90 does have an advantage over plug-in hybrids from BMW and Mercedes in this area, as it has a much longer real-world all-electric driving range – averaging around 25-28 miles, which is double that of the BMW 530e or Mercedes E 350 e.
Overall after a week of mixed driving with the V90 we averaged 40.7mpg. This is better than a petrol-engined model, but isn’t as economical as a diesel.
To achieve decent miles per gallon figures, you’ll need to charge the V90 at your home overnight.
The Volvo V90 T8 Twin Engine Inscription Pro is available from £59,705. Our test car had options of Xenium pack (£1,750), Intellisafe Surround (£600), Smartphone Integration with 2 x USB /1 x Aux. Input (£300), Sensus Connect with Premium Sound by Bowers & Wilkins (£3,000), 4.5m Type 2/Mode 3 Charge Cable (£50), and Premium Metallic paint (£1000), taking the total price of the model as tested to £66,405.
The one big benefit of the V90 T8 Twin Engine for company car drivers is the BIK rate of just 9% – compared to 30% for the T4 petrol, or 27% for the D5 diesel.
The Volvo V90 range is available from £36,435 (for the D4 Momentum).
There’s also the V90 Cross Country, with raised ride height and all-wheel drive.
The Volvo V90 T8 Twin Engine Inscription Pro is a very desirable car. It’s extremely quiet, refined and comfortable – either driving around town on electric power, or at 70mph on the motorway. It offers huge amounts of space for people and luggage. It also looks great, and the interior is a relaxing, upmarket environment.
At £59,705 before options, it’s not cheap, but the purchase price may be offset for company car drivers by the low Benefit in Kind tax rate of just 9%.
The V90 T8 Twin Engine offers the potential for lower levels of emissions that impact on local air quality than its diesel counterpart when driving locally on electric power. However if you drive lots of motorway miles, the diesel model will deliver higher miles per gallon and lower CO2 emissions. This comparison is likely to become clearer with the new WLTP fuel economy test.
The one element that we would struggle to live with is the complete inability to change gear manually. Overall the Volvo V90 T8 Twin Engine Inscription Pro is awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 8 out of 10.
Fuel economy extra urban: N/A mpg
Fuel economy urban: N/A mpg
Test economy: 40.7 mpg
CO2 emissions: 46 g/km
Green rating: VED band A
Weight: 2011 kg
Company car tax liability (2017/18): 9%
Insurance group: tbc
Power: 320 hp + 87 hp electric motor
Max speed: 155 mph
0-62 mph: 4.8 seconds
Torque: 400 Nm