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Volvo XC90 Recharge T8: a 3-row plug-in hybrid SUV

At the 2002 Detroit Auto Show, Volvo launched its first (and largest) crossover SUV, the 3-row midsize XC90. After a 13-year run, its 2nd-generation successor went on sale for the 2015 model year.

A modular powertrain strategy

The first Volvo XC90 offered a quirky array of transversely-mounted inline 5 and 6-cylinder turbocharged engines, plus a V8 co-developed and built by Yamaha in Japan. Its successor, in contrast, uses a modular, “building-block” approach based on the 2-liter, 4-cylinder Drive-E engine.

Base T5 models employ a turbocharger, producing 250 hp and 258 lb/ft of torque. A “twincharged” (supercharger + turbocharger) T6 upgrade boosts those numbers to 316 hp and 295 lb/ft of torque. An 11.6 kWh battery pack and 2 electric motors added to the T6 twin-charged engine create the T8 Recharge plug-in hybrid. This produces 400 hp and 472 lb/ft of torque, and roughly 18 miles of all-electric range.

The transmission is an 8-speed automatic by Japan’s Aisin. T5 models offer a choice of front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive, while T6 and T8 models are exclusively AWD.

Combined city/highway EPA fuel economy numbers range between 22 MPG for T6 models and 27 MPG for the T8 Recharge. With battery-only range, the latter climbs to 55 MPGe.

Federal Tax Credit for Plug-In Hybrids

The $7500 Federal Tax Credit is often cited as a selling point for battery-electric (BEV) and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) vehicles. But we should clarify that, in the case of PHEVs, the full amount only applies to vehicles with battery packs of 16 kWh or greater capacity. Given the Volvo XC90 T8’s 11.6 kWh battery pack, the applicable Federal Tax Credit is actually $5419.

The competition

There are numerous 3-row crossover SUVs on the market. For those who favor electrification, there are several 2-row premium options, including PHEV variants of the Audi Q5, BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne, and Range Rover Sport. But the Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge’s combination of 3-row seating and PHEV powertrain has only 2 direct rivals: the Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring and the Chrysler Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid minivan.

Safety ratings

Typically for Volvo, the XC90 achieves the highest safety ratings: Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS and 5 stars from the NHTSA.

Trim Levels

Volvo’s XC90 is available in 3 trim levels: base Momentum (available as T5 and T6), sporty R-Design (available with all powertrains) and luxurious Inscription (T6 or T8). Momentum T5 FWD starts at $49,000. Our test unit (a Recharge T8 Inscription) with numerous options is priced at $81,690.

Our impressions

A 4-cylinder engine with a supercharger, a turbocharger, 2 electric motors, and a battery pack has all the makings of a mechanically complex nightmare. In reality, though, the powertrain is fairly seamless in its transitions and accelerates responsively. It isn’t the smoothest four out there, though, and it can’t touch the silkiness of most of its V6 rivals.

The Volvo XC90 T8 features several drive modes, including a default Hybrid Mode, Pure (prioritizing electric operation), Power (for strongest performance), and Off-Road, plus Hold (to save battery power for urban stop-and-go situations) and Charge (via the gas engine) functions.

Handling displays noticeable body roll, but the smooth, comfortable ride is aided by the 4-Corner Air Suspension (an $1800 option), and steering feel is among the class leaders.

Where the XC90 Inscription really shines is in its interior. Exquisite Swedish design and abundant luxury touches, from an illuminated Orrefors crystal gearshift to supremely comfortable front seats with heated, ventilated, and massage functions make it a standout among its rivals.

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