We’ve been waiting a while for the 2020 Volvo XC90 T8 E-AWD to arrive here in the U.S. It’s the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) of Volvo’s flagship three-row SUV, combining the very best of Volvo’s design and engineering prowess in one vehicle. XC90 comes in three models: T5, which uses a direct gasoline-injected turbocharged 2.0-liter engine (250 hp/258 lb-ft of torque); T6, which uses a direct gasoline-injected turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter engine (316 hp/295 lb-ft of torque); and T8, which adds an 87-hp electric motor to the turbo/supercharged gas engine to produce a combined 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque.
The electrified part is what we’ve been waiting for. Like almost all automakers, Volvo has committed to electrifying its lineup over the next decade, adding hybrid and pure EV powertrains into the mix.
XC90 T8 is a PHEV, which means you can plug it in to power to charge up its onboard 10.4-kWh battery, and (in theory) drive for up to 17 miles without ever starting the gasoline engine. In practice, I discovered that the T8 charged up just fine when connected to my standard household 120-volt outlet with the vehicle’s included charging cable. I plugged in every time I parked at home, and kept the battery topped off. I could have gone to a commercial public charging station for quicker power-ups, but I didn’t need to. There’s no range anxiety with a PHEV like the T8. If you should happen to drain the battery, you might not every notice, because you’ve still got a powerful gasoline engine onboard. In normal operation, the SUV does all the work of selecting the most efficient mode of operation – gas only, electric only, or a combination of both. You can see what’s happening, if you wish, on an info screen in the Sensus system, or on a gauge on the instrument panel. But you don’t never need to worry about it.
EV mode, on the other hand, was a little more of a challenge to engage and sustain. In order to run the SUV on battery power alone, you first select EV mode, then gently, very gently, depress the throttle pedal. Stomp too assertively, and EV mode is cancelled. Exceed 37 mph, and EV mode is cancelled. And it doesn’t automatically re-engage if you slip below 37 mph again or let off the throttle – you have to re-select EV mode. In a week of testing, I never really mastered the fine art of EV mode.
Full disclosure: On my very last drive in the XC90 T8, the dashboard alerted me to “Hybrid System Failure” upon startup. It also displayed an icon of a turtle, and said “Service Necessary.” I was only three miles from my house, so I drove home at 30 mph or slower, and parked in my driveway. I alerted to car delivery company about the issue, and they drove the car away the next day as usual. I’m not sure what the problem was, but it got me thinking about modern cars in general, and in complicated hybrid systems in specific.
Not to sound too much like an old guy (which I am, or will be soon), a few years ago if I got a “Check Engine” light or similar message, my first impulse would have been to open the hood and see if I could figure out what was wrong. I’d look for a loose wire, a leaking hose connection, or some other visual clue, and eight times out of ten, I could figure out what was wrong – and fix it quickly. Most car engine compartments are now shrouded with ABS plastic covers, nominally to help manage heat, airflow and noise. So, when you open the hood, there’s nothing to see. Add in the complex circuitry and electronic controls involved in a powertrain like the T8 – direct injection, turbocharged, supercharged, battery-powered and gasoline-powered – and the idea of looking under the hood is laughable. So is the idea of pulling into your trusty corner service station. If you’re considering an XC90 T8, you’d be wise to check out the service department of your closest Volvo dealership before closing the deal. I wouldn’t extrapolate about Volvo’s reliability from my isolated experience – that would be unfair, and meaningless. But awareness is important.
As a flagship SUV, the 2020 Volvo XC90 T8 E-AWD Inscription is something special. It is beautiful inside and out, extremely capable, fun-to-drive and luxurious. It benefits from Volvo’s traditional commitment to occupant safety, and can be fitted with the latest and greatest technology for driver assistance. It comes with a base price of $67,500. My test SUV had a long list of optional features that drove the as-tested price up to $86,990, which has the XC90 competing with luxury SUVs like the Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class, BMW X7, Audi Q8, Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Lexus RX L Hybrid, Acura MDX Hybrid and a few others.
XC90 would be on my list for a luxury family SUV because of its many merits, and in spite of its potential weaknesses. Your situation may vary – do some serious research and homework before buying.
Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.
Photos (c) Volvo