Mountain Wheels: Volvo’s electrified XC90 emphasizes class over raw mileage |

Mountain Wheels: Volvo’s electrified XC90 emphasizes class over raw mileage

The dignified XC90 SUV adds a plug-in electric hybrid version with substantial overall power output but pretty mediocre mileage.
Photo from Volvo


After an exciting time in the V90 Wagon last fall, I had expected the real SUV version of Volvo’s full-size automobile category to seem impossibly huge, ponderous and disconnected — like a Swedish Chevy Tahoe. This was not the case with the XC90, except it also was.

The newish XC90 T8 Recharge, the 400-horsepower plug-in electric hybrid version of the SUV, belies its moderately grand scale when planted in the driver’s seat. The ride height is more equivalent to a small SUV from other brands, the cabin does feel broader and more open thanks to the extra head space, but other than consuming an entire lane on the highway, I did not get that American/German/Japanese sense of awe-struck ginormity. Despite the letters being close, it is nothing at all like the Infiniti QX80, whatsoever.

It is indeed a long and impressively styled and sculpted vehicle, with marvelous details and a very striking set of optional 21-inch glossy wheels to tie it all together. From the outside, it’s a little more obvious that it contains three comfortable rows of six or seven seats, a rare vehicle where the passengers at the very back get leg room, cargo bins and full amenities.

And with its adjustable air-lift system, it sits at a height where it’s more a step-into kind of vehicle, not an awkwardly clamber aboard situation. The connections to the 90-series Volvo sedans and crossover wagons remain more tangible.

As for that ultra-fancy hybrid system — my Inscription-level T8 started at $69,750 but was rounded up to a slightly gasp-inducing $81,690 with a gigantic list of options including a $3,200 Bowers and Wilkins premium sound system — I think you get what you pay for, for the most part, though Honda Accord Hybrid mileage you do not and will not get.

Volvo has emphasized pure power here, and the 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque are more Porsche-like than Toyota-esque, at least on paper, especially with just a 2.0-liter as the main gasoline power source — turbocharged and supercharged to make 313 horses on its own.

What I did notice more than anything, besides a pretty mediocre 24.2 overall mpg, was a lot of odd noises, gurgles, inconsistent power delivery and an operating experience that clearly was going to take some getting used to.

Often, I found myself wondering, “Is the car even on? Am I in neutral? Is there more power available? Is that the sound of the air compressor or the engine?” There were a lot of questions. Even the beautiful crystal gear shifter knob required multiple taps forward or backward to officially get into gear. The learning curve was a little steep.

Cruising along in the XC90 was no problem, though the gas/electric power handoffs were a little jagged, more like other hybrids of many years ago. Lacking a wall plug in a big apartment complex, I was not able to fully recharge the battery. On the final day, I figured out the settings which allow the XC90 to more efficiently recharge itself while driving, and I briefly gained six miles of all-electric range, which disappeared instantly with some “oh boy, I have 400 horsepower” driving. Properly charged, in warm weather, with the wind blowing the right direction, you are said to have a full … 18 miles of all-electric range? That’s disappointing, to say the least.

Especially since it’s such a classy and dignified vehicle, with razor-sharp suspension. It’s stunningly outfitted in leather seating, with slightly wooly panels on the door tops, that fantastic stereo and hand-stitched console, dash and door inserts that are even more beautiful than in the V90.

The vertically oriented Sensus navigation/touchscreen system used to seem enormous, but then Ram started putting full flatscreen TVs aboard their vehicles, and Volvo’s is easy to use, with a purist simplicity embodied by one knob.

Lane departure correction here is of the rumble-pack variety and is invasive enough to cause a police officer to pull you over. I will leave the litany of almost-self-driving technologies to people who don’t actually like driving.

Andy Stonehouse

Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Golden. Contact him at

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