We’ve already driven the Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine at its launch event, but what’s it like to live with for a week in real-life?
We’ve driven the Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine at its launch event, so we already have an idea about what it’s like to drive, but you really need to live with plug-in hybrids for a week, especially to see what their real-life fuel economy is like. There’s also a host of other details that you can’t discover on a very short drive on a launch event. So here we have the results from a week in the life of an XC90 T8 Twin Engine…
We like the styling of the Volvo XC90. In a world of Range Rovers and Mercedes 4x4s, the XC90 exudes an air of uniqueness and it doesn’t send the same shouty messages as such other brash machinery. So it’s a vehicle that many people could live with on the drive outside their house if they didn’t feel comfortable couldn’t being associated with SUVs from some other brands.
The interior is even more of a success in terms of design. Again, there is genuine differentiation here from German rivals, with the Volvo dashboard conveying a feeling of calm and simplicity. An iPad-like central screen is used to control infotainment systems, along with other information, and as far as touchscreens go, this is one of the best in the business. It looks good and is mostly functional at the same time.
The rest of the interior is well executed, with carefully-considered details such as the start/stop switch and the drive mode controller.
One of the big selling points of this car is that it’s a seven-seater – at the moment, it’s the only plug-in hybrid SUV with seven seats.
So exactly what is the powertrain? It’s a 320hp 4-cylinder, 2-litre petrol engine combined with an electric motor, which is powered by a battery. The difference between the T8 and a regular hybrid is that you can plug the Volvo in to the mains, giving you an official electric range of 27 miles.
The Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine driving experience can be summed up in one word: refined. This is especially true when in pure electric mode, but is also the case (most of the time) when using the petrol engine.
There’s a range of drive modes to choose from: AWD, Pure, Hybrid, Power, and Off-Road (the latter can only used at very low speeds). These can be accessed via the drive mode switch and they’re displayed on the touch screen. If you’re familiar with plug-in hybrids you may notice that one important drive mode is missing: Save. The ability to save the battery charge – so you can drive down the motorway on petrol power and then enter the city on zero tailpipe emission electric propulsion – is essential for a plug-in hybrid. So why doesn’t this XC90 have the ability to save the battery charge? Well, in fact it does, it’s just that Volvo has moved the button from this screen to another menu in the touchscreen.
Pure mode is supposed to keep the XC90 in electric mode, although at certain times in this mode the petrol engine was definitely working. If you drive on the motorway in electric mode then you’ll see the battery charge dropping at a scary rate.
If the M6 motorway has caused you yet another hour’s delay due to a delivery van for a well-known online brand crashing in roadworks and you need to drive progressively to make up time, then the XC90 is prone to torque steer from the front wheels. This tendency can be reduced by selecting the AWD option.
It may not have escaped your attention that the XC90 is a big, heavy car. This is good for fitting in people and their stuff, and as expected with a vehicle of this size, it offers a very comfortable driving experience. But the laws of physics mean that you’re not going to experience sports car levels of dynamic handling agility. However for its size it’s actually beter than you might think if you need to hustle it down some country lanes. There are no steering wheel-mounted paddles for changing gear – these would be useful to give the driver a bit more control under such conditions.
For drivers used to BMW automatic ‘boxes – when you simply pull the gearlever down for Drive, and push it away for Reverse – the Volvo will be mildly confusing as you have to pull the lever down for Drive, but then pull it down again for a second time, and the same with reverse, as unlike a BMW it goes into neutral first.
If you’re looking for buttons – traditional or digital – to zoom in or out on the satnav map then you won’t find these, as you need to pinch the screen like an iPad to do this. And if you want to swap between radio and media, you have to swipe the screen to view a second display, where there’s whole load more information. This is not the easiest thing to do whilst driving, and having temperature controls on the touchscreen is never a good thing as it takes far too long to change settings compare to good old-fashioned dashboard-mounted buttons and dials.
The digital instrument panel can display satnav instructions between the dials when driving, but for most of our time with the XC90 this was obscured by a big read-out with a tyre pressure warning, as the car had a slow puncture, and it took four days to source a replacement tyre.
Eco-minded drivers won’t like the fact that it seems impossible to keep a permanent read-out of mpg on the dashboard; you can view such figures for a few seconds before they disappear.
The official combined NEDC economy figure for the Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine is 134.5mpg. This equates to emissions of 49 g/km CO2. So what did we achieve during our week with the car?
The real-life economy figure for a plug-in hybrid depends completely on your driving pattern. If you drive almost exclusively on electric power then you may enjoy over 100mpg. If you drive almost exclusively on motorways then you’ll be lucky to get 30mpg. Our week with the XC90 unfortunately involved the latter. Which resulted in an average fuel economy figure for a week – with 80% of driving on motorways and sometimes no ability to recharge at the end – of 27.8mpg. The fuel tank also drains quite quickly under such conditions.
Are we surprised? No. The XC90 T8 Twin Engine has, er, twin engines. It’s a heavy car anyway, but this in this guise it weighs in at 2.3 tonnes. It also has a huge frontal area meaning poor aerodynamics. If you spend most of your time on motorways, like we did, then you’ll be highly disappointed with the fuel consumption. But if that’s your typical driving pattern, then you shouldn’t be buying a 2.3 tonne petrol SUV – even if it is a plug-in hybrid. For this driving cycle, buy the diesel.
The XC90 T8 Twin Engine, like any similar plug-in hybrid SUV, will come into its own if it’s regularly used on electric power, with occasional longer journeys. If you can drive around with seven occupants in the car at all times, then the CO2 and NOx emissions per person will be highly impressive.
The official all-electric range after a full charge is 27 miles. We typically saw a read-out saying we had 25 miles of electric driving range, although this typically turned out to be around 21 miles in real-life driving. The T8 can be recharged using a home charger in two and half hours.
The Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine in Momentum trim costs £60,455, excluding the UK government plug-in car grant, which is £2,500 for a plug-in hybrid such as the XC90. The price rises to £63,655 for R-Design spec, and £64,555 for Inscription trim level. It has a BIK rate of 7%.
The XC90 is available with a petrol engine (T6), a diesel engine (D5), or the plug-in hybrid T8. The diesel D5 accounted for most sales in the UK.
All XC90s come with lots of technology and a wide range of safety systems.
If you’re looking for a way to drive two adults and five children around town during the week with zero tailpipe emissions (if you drive less than 25 miles between recharges), and then drive into the countryside for outdoor adventures at the weekends, then the Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine is the car for you. It will also do all this in a very luxurious, refined and stylish way. The trouble is that £60,455 is quite a lot of money to pay for a car with such a relatively limited driving cycle.
Many company car choosers will be attracted to the XC90 T8 Twin Engine because of its low BIK rate. If they then use the car as per the above driving cycle, great. However the danger is that the car will spend much of its time up and down the nation’s motorways, and due to its size and 2.3 tonne weight, sub-30mpg economy will be the result.
So if the driving cycle makes it work, then a plug-in petrol-electric hybrid such as the XC90 is a great solution. But it’s worth remembering that plug-in hybrids are only a stop-gap. In a few years’ time the plan is that we’ll all be driving fully electric cars with ranges of at least 300 miles – with only one powertrain rather than two, and zero tailpipe emissions all the time.
In the meantime the Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine is awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 8 out of 10. But we can’t help thinking that the Volvo V60 diesel plug-in hybrid is a better solution for many people than a large petrol plug-in hybrid SUV – even with the air quality concerns about diesels and even if it doesn’t offer 7 seats.