The Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine is the latest plug-in hybrid to hit the market – it’s a 2.3 tonne petrol 4×4 promising 134.5mpg – can that really be possible?
The previous generation XC90 had one of the longest production lifespans of any car in recent years, but the new model is finally here. You can choose between diesel or petrol, and now the T8 Twin Engine, a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid.
Thanks to support from Volvo’s Chinese owner Geely, the XC90 gets an all-new platform, as well as new body, interior and powertrains. We think the exterior design looks good, and the stylish and uncluttered interior – with a large 9-inch central touchscreen – also has many nice touches, such as the start/stop switch, and the rotary dial to change between drive modes. The XC90 is also a seven-seater as standard. If you only use five seats, then you get a large boot.
Under the bonnet is a 2-litre turbocharged and supercharged petrol engine, mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission, plus the plug-in powertrain – there’s an electric motor and a 400V lithium-ion battery which is housed in the central transmission tunnel. In total all this develops 407hp and 640Nm of torque, which helps to deliver a 0-62mph time of 5.6 seconds – not bad for a 2.3 tonne SUV.
The petrol engine powers the front wheels, the electric motor powers the rear wheels, and all-wheel drive results from a combination of both. So the T8 can operate in front, rear or all-wheel drive.
The premium experience starts with the highly tactile engine start/stop switch. Next to this sits the equally stylish drive mode selector. Things get even better when you use the infomedia system. Anyone who has driven a Volvo over recent years will be well aware that the infomedia buttons are best described as random and fiddly, but all that has changed with the XC90. The new ‘Sensus’ system operates through a large touchscreen and many controls are activated by iPad-like swiping gestures. This is a huge leap forward over other Volvo models (which are due to get this new system over the coming years).
There are six drive modes: Pure, Hybrid, Power, AWD, Save and Off-Road. The car starts up in hybrid mode, and when you drive off, the XC90 is very refined, even more so when in pure electric mode, when you experience all the smooth and quiet torque of an electric powertrain. If you want more engine braking then you can select ‘B’ mode on the transmission.
Overall the XC90 is very comfortable, even with the huge alloys of our R-Design test car, there’s sufficient performance, and it doesn’t feel as large or as heavy on the road as it actually is. More detail on the driving experience will be reported after a longer test than was possible on the launch event.
The Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine has an official economy figure of 134.5mpg, which equates to 49g/km CO2 emissions. It can be driven up to 27 miles on electric power. The NEDC test is unanimously viewed as flawed for petrol and diesel cars, as well as for electric cars (in terms of their resulting range), but it’s even more inaccurate for plug-in hybrids compared to most people’s real-life driving. So, if you drive the XC90 T8 Twin Engine very carefully, you may experience over 20 miles on pure electric power. If you drive between 20 and 30 miles between charges, then you may enjoy over 100mpg. However many people will be motivated to buy this car because of company car tax incentives: it has a Benefit in Kind rating of just 5%. And the danger is that many of these people, because they’re company car drivers, will do company car miles – ie. well over 20 or 30 per day – in which case the fuel economy is likely to drop to around 30mpg – when the diesel engine would be the more economical option.
Even on our reasonably short test route on the launch event, the XC90 T8 only averaged 26.1mpg. To people who are aware of the impact that weight and aerodynamics have on fuel economy in real-life driving, this fuel consumption will come as no surprise when the hefty kerb weight of 2296kg and the large frontal area is taken into account. The XC90 D5 has an official fuel consumption figure of 49.6mpg, which is impressive for this size of car – but a BIK rating of 23%.
The T8 can be recharged using a home charger in two and half hours.
The Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine costs £63,355, excluding the UK government plug-in car grant, which is £2,500 after 1 March 2016 for a plug-in hybrid such as the XC90.
The T8 has a BIK rate of 5% and this translates to around £100 per month, compared to around £493 for the petrol T6 – so the plug-in hybrid could save you almost £5,000 per year in company car tax.
You can also get a contribution towards a home charge point after 1 March, meaning you would end up paying only around £395 for such a unit.
The XC90 is available with a petrol engine (T6), a diesel engine (D5), or the plug-in hybrid T8. Perhaps not surprisingly, the diesel D5 has accounted for around 80% of sales so far in the UK.
There are three trim levels: Momentum, R-Design, and Inscription. All XC90s come with lots of technology and a wide range of safety systems.
The new Volvo XC90 is an excellent car overall. It looks good on the outside, and the interior is a very nice environment, with some creative design details. It drives well and it has seven seats as standard. Then we come to its party trick – the official fuel economy of 134.5mpg, along with 49g/km CO2 emissions. This means low (5%) Benefit in Kind for company car drivers.
However most company car drivers are company car drivers because they cover substantial mileages each year. If they drive the Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine many miles without being able to recharge then they’re likely to experience around 30mpg from the petrol engine in real life. In which case the X90 Diesel is a much better choice.
However there may be a niche customer base out there that needs a large seven-seater 4×4 and does drive less than 30 miles each day. If most of these 30 miles can be driven on electric power – with the local air quality benefits – then the XC90 does make sense.
So overall the Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine is a likeable car and a welcome addition to the marketplace, but careful thought needs to be given to driving patterns to achieve the potentially impressive real-world economy and emissions figures.
The Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine has a petrol rather than a diesel engine because of global markets such as North America. From an economy point of view in the UK, it gains a Green Car Guide rating of 8 out of 10; if it had a diesel plug-in hybrid powertrain it might have gained a 9 out of 10.