What is it? The XC90 T8 Twin Engine is a plug-in hybrid version of Volvo’s well-received new SUV.
Key features: Seven driving modes, 27-mile electric range.
Our View: The plug-in powertrain of the Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine is effective, and will be very tempting to company car buyers.
Type of review: First UK drive
The Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine is perhaps the version of the Swedish brand’s range-topping SUV that many have been waiting for.
The Car Expert tested the second-generation XC90 on its UK launch in July 2015 and along with almost all of our media colleagues we were very impressed with the all-new model. Sales have since proven the car’s qualities, with 2,800-plus ordered.
The new XC90’s SPA (Scaleable Product Architecture) platform and Drive-E engine were specifically designed, however, to accept a plug-in hybrid system, and in the T8 that technology arrives on the market – with much to attract particularly the business user.
The packaging is neatly achieved. The 16-cell 400-volt lithium-ion battery pack is housed in the central transmission tunnel, where on a normal XC90 the prop-shaft would run. There are in fact two electrical systems, the 12-volt one separated out for general car functions such as lights, but not in this case the starter motor or alternator – these use a clever extra motor dubbed the Crankshaft Integrated Starter Generator.
Despite the lack of a prop-shaft the T8 retains its all-wheel-drive capacity, because while the four-cylinder 315bhp petrol unit drives the front wheels, the 87bhp electric motor, know as ERAD (Electric Rear Axle Drive) powers the rears.
All of which means that this XC90 can be a front, rear or all-wheel-drive vehicle, depending on which one of the seven driving modes is selected – these are chosen by a large knurled wheel between the front seats, just behind the gear selector.
Seven? Most will be familiar to the growing number of motorists who have driven a plug-in hybrid. Pure is an all-electric mode, the car in RWD and able to travel up to 27 miles at speeds up to 78mph. The reviewer can think of several colleagues who using an XC90 T8 for their daily commute to and from work, and plugging it in to recharge at home each evening, would never see a filling station.
Hybrid is the traditional mode which combines the electric and petrol components of the powertrain for the best balance between performance and efficiency – the electric motor’s input offered at speeds up to 40mph. Power also combines them but with the accent on pace, and the electric motor doesn’t bow out until 109mph.
The AWD mode focuses both engine and motor on achieving the best traction, so for example in a mild off-road situation, while there is also an off-road function for further off the beaten track.
Finally Save turns the XC90 into a front-wheel-drive machine, disconnecting the electric motor and saving the battery charge until it is most needed, such as in city surroundings with emissions restrictions, and the choices are completed by a setting offering a degree of personal preference.
Charging is achieved by means of simply plugging in to a standard 230V power socket. With a 6A fuse a full charge takes six hours, a 10A (as in most domestic sockets) takes 3.5 hours and a 16A 2.5 hours.
It all sounds impressive, but does it work? Yes, very well indeed – in fact generally so well that one simply doesn’t notice the electric motor switching in and out. The T8 is every bit as refined as the standard XC90 was back in our original test – as it needs to be, as this will be pitched as the range-topping model of the XC90 line-up.
We spent an enjoyable morning rotating through the various propulsion options, and it’s hard to tell the difference – while appreciating, for example, the 5.6-second 0-62mph time on offer in power mode, when the immediate plentiful torque of the electric motor really makes itself felt.
There are other notables too – the drive selector of the automatic gearbox itself boasts an extra letter, B – this stands for engine braking and turns the full resources of that motor towards stopping, offering twice the engine braking resistance as is typical and particularly useful when for example towing a heavy trailer downhill.
In all other aspects the XC90 T8 is no different to the standard car, with all the many plusses that car earned in our July 2015 test – and of those, the vertical format, so easy to use central touchscreen still stands out as the best of a good job.
UK-market T8s do get a host of features their European cousins do not, such as navigation, LED bending headlamps, DAB radio, Bluetooth, keyless entry, leather and such like, all of which serves to enhance an already impressive package.
Summing up, the plug-in powertrain is effective, and thus this XC90 will immediately become very tempting to company car buyers. The official combined cycle fuel economy is quoted at 134.5mpg, and while this is never likely to be achieved in real world running, fuel stops will be significantly less frequent. The accompanying CO2 emissions figure of a mere 49g/km, meanwhile, means a benefit-in-kind tax penalty of just five per cent, no congestion charge payments, and such temptations for the employer as a 100 per cent first year allowance and minuscule national insurance contributions.
As for the Government’s much-vaunted plug-in car grant, however, only the entry-level Momentum version of the XC90 T8 qualifies, and at this year’s new levels available from March the contribution will be £2,500, cutting the purchase price to £57,350. R-Design variants start from £62,750, the range-topping Inscription from £63,600.
Meanwhile, Volvo is firmly committed to the ‘Twin Engine’ concept, and we can expect to see many more plug-ins; “We want a plug-in car in every model line where it is viable for the market,” Lars Lagstrom of the T8 project team tells The Car Expert. So we had better get used to the concept of efficient, and virtually silent, Volvos…
Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine – key specifications
Model tested: Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine
On Sale: February 2016.
Range price: £60,455*-£64,205.
Insurance groups: TBA.
Engines: 1969cc petrol plus electric motor.
Power (bhp): 315 plus 86.
Torque (lb/ft): 295 plus 177
0-62mph (sec): 5.6.
Top speed (mph): 140.
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 134.5.
CO2 emissions (g/km): 49.
Key rivals: BMW X5, Audi Q7, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Test Date: February 2016.
* Without Government grant – T8 Momentum trim (only)as of 2016 qualifies for plug-in grant of £2,500.
Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine on video;