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Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine Inscription

Click to view picture gallery“PHEVs are trending. Sales virtually
  doubled last year and now halfway
  through 2016 they’re already up by
  another third. With impeccable timing
  to capitalise on the demand for plug-
  ins comes Volvo’s petrol-electric
  hybrid, the XC90 T8...”

THE ALL-NEW XC90 is a large seven-seater luxury SUV launched last year, since when it's been selling like hot-cakes: sales for the first six months of 2016 were 43,911, bringing the total sold since its launch in late-2015 to 84,532. The T8 petrol-electric hybrid now joins the rest of the highly-praised XC90 range — the turbodiesel D5 and the petrol-engined T6.

Part of the appeal of Petrol Hybrid Electric Vehicles is their tax-saving lower emissions (there's no road tax and company car driver's pay just 7% Benefit-in-Kind) and, of course, their exemption from that tax by another name, the so-called London Congestion Charge (not that a penny of it goes to relieving the capital's congestion).

And then there’s the
lure of ‘cheap’ motoring
— driven in a way that
favours their all-electric
abilities, a T8 owner’s
annual petrol bill could
be virtually nothing!
For drivers of a greener
hue, there’s the
added benefit of very low
CO2 emissions...”
And then there's the lure of 'cheap' motoring — driven in a way that favours their all-electric abilities, a T8 owner's annual petrol bill could be virtually nothing! For drivers of a greener hue, there's the added benefit of very low (a meagre 49g/km) emissions.

Once upon a time (well, until the 2016 Budget), PHEV's attracted a 5,000 Government grant but the goalposts have now been moved; cars costing more than 60,000 no longer qualify — and with T8 prices starting at 6OK+ you can kiss that goodbye. But let's be honest, if you can afford to spend that much on a car this isn't going to be a deal-breaker.

Twin Engine it says on the label, and twin engine it is. Beneath the T8's chest-high bonnet you'll find a 315bhp four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged petrol engine and there's an 85bhp electric motor bringing up the rear.

Working together as a finely-honed team, between them they generate a maximum 400bhp and an immensely muscular 472lb ft of torque. Throw in seven seats and it's more than enough to make the 16-feet-long T8 the 'Ma Baker' of family chariots.

With this much power on call the T8 can really pick up its skirts and fly: top speed is 140mph, but more relevant in real-life is the 0-62mph acceleration — which is done and dusted in 5.6 seconds. Neither of these figures is usually associated with an official Combined Cycle fuel consumption of 134.5mpg. Overindulge with the 'oomph' though and you certainly won't be seeing that.

More likely, once you've sampled it, you'll prefer wafting along silently in pure-electric mode without even a whiff of CO2, something the T8 excels at up to 75mph — but only for 27 miles.

Feeding the electric motor is a 400v lithium-ion battery pack occupying the space where a conventional car's prop shaft goes; in the transmission tunnel between the front seats. Apart from benefiting the XC90's dynamic balance, this has allowed the uncompromised retention of the third row of folding twin seats already found in the seven-seater petrol and diesel XC90 models.

Unlike its conventional
front-engined XC90
stablemates (the D5
turbodiesel and the
petrol-fuelled T6),
the Twin Engine T8’s
front wheels
are driven by the petrol
engine with the back
wheels powered by the
rear-mounted electric
Conveniently, you can charge your T8's battery pack by the petrol engine as you drive along or, more effectively, from the mains. Just connect up the appropriate lead and it's 'plug & play' (and so straightforward that a seven-year-old could do it). The quickest is a 'fast charge' that does zero-to-full in just 2.5 hours or, if you're using a domestic 13-amp three-pin power source, in a still pretty speedy 3.5 hours. Fully charged, the T8 is good for around 27 miles of clean, cheap, electric-propelled travel.

Unlike its conventional front-engined D5 and T6 stablemates, the T8's front wheels are driven by the petrol engine with the back wheels powered by the rear-mounted electric motor.

Sophisticated electronics let the T8 mix-and- match from both power feeds to run in either front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive depending on what's best for the driving conditions or what its driver commands — there are five driving modes to choose from: All-Wheel Drive, Pure Eco, Hybrid (best for everyday driving), Power (for when you're feeling 'sporty'), and Off Road (all terrain types from rough paved to genuine off-road). You can also choose to reserve the battery's electric charge for later use.

As you'd expect of a car costing north of 60K, equipment levels are luxurious and must-have kit can be taken for granted; items such as four-zone climate control (incorporating Volvo's ground-breaking CleanZone air-filtration system), voice control system, keyless locking (all doors and tailgate) and start, eight-inch TFT driver's information display, powered tailgate (both opening and closing), 'turning' LED headlights with active high beam, 19-inch alloy wheels, full-length glass roof (the front third slides back and there's an opaque sunblind), drive-away auto door locking, powerfold mirrors (on-demand and automatically when locking and leaving), one-shot windows and auto-dimming rearview mirror.

At the heart of the T8's delightful and roomy cabin are magnificent chairs upholstered in top quality, softly smooth, Blond Nappa leather that, thanks to their every-which-way power adjustment, are a superb fit for your body — along with extending under-knee and lumbar support, the side bolstering can be squeezed in or opened out plus there's not just seat heating but cooling and massage functions as well (each of them three-stage) and to make sure someone else doesn't spoil your perfectly personalised seating position, both the driver and front passenger chairs also have three memory settings.

Other reviewers are on
record as saying
that this side of a
Rolls-Royce Phantom,
the XC90’s cabin is the
nicest you’ll find
They’re not wrong.”
Providing extra panache is a comprehensively multifunction steering wheel with a heated two-tone rim (finished in fine cream and black leather). Along with a first class driving position that lets you see clearly over the bonnet, you're guaranteed to be as comfortable and at ease as is humanely possible every time you take the T8's helm.

Other reviewers are on record as saying that this side of a Rolls-Royce Phantom, the XC90's cabin is the nicest you'll find anywhere. They're not wrong. Luxury furnishings aside, the clean-looking, Scandi-signature interior owes much to the large tablet-style central touchscreen — this has allowed traditional switchgear to be minimised with just about everything controllable from the main display. Regularly used touch-controls for heating, ventilation, and climate are permanently displayed for easy access and adjustment.

More good news: the touchscreen has pinch and zoom and swipe functionality that makes usability a finger-walk in the park — you can even navigate the screen while wearing gloves! In fact, many of the car's convenience and entertainment functions can be controlled via the sophisticated voice control system. Sounds from the Bowers & Wilkins Hi-Fi are first rate and audiophiles won't think twice about ticking the appropriate options box for this 3K enhancement.

The infotainment system comes with Sensus Connect (which lets you access a range of cloud-based web apps such as Rdio, Stitcher, TuneIn, LocalSearch and Yelp and browse the Net) and Sensus Navigation (full European mapping with traffic information and lifetime map updates). Another feature enables the T8 to pre-book itself for a convenient service appointment at your chosen Volvo dealership, while Volvo On Call is another groundbreaking app, available for your smartphone, smartwatch or iPad, that enables you to remotely lock and unlock the car, check if the doors/windows are closed, and access trip computer data.

It even gives the location of your T8 on a map, as well as letting you sound the car's horn and flash the lights — a time-saver if you've forgotten where you left it in a crowded car park! Should your car ever be stolen, then using the car's own GPS it can track your T8; and it automatically alerts the emergency services should your XC90 be involved in an accident.

In most cars,
not getting to sit in the
front is often
a big disappointment;
not so in an XC90
because the rear cabin is
not only as impressively
furnished as the front
but is wonderfully light
and spacious...”
The major transmission controls are beautifully crafted and stylishly presented on the centre tunnel; the selector lever gives you R-N-D-B (with 'B' being for battery charging/engine braking while driving). A separate 'P' button locks the transmission in Park while the currently active gear is always clearly shown. The keyless entry system comes with an engine start/stop button and close by is a straightforward electric parking brake with a handy auto mode.

Roadside speed limit sign recognition is on hand to take much of the stress out of watching for often poorly marked or obscured signs, and warns you clearly of the posted limits (and if you exceed them) alongside your actual road speed, leaving you free to watch what's even more important: what's actually going on with the traffic.

Also helping to keep your eyes on the road is a head-up display that shows speed and graphic navigational prompts. Crystal clear, artfully digitised analogue-look dials provide all the information you might possibly want while driving along.

In most cars, not getting to sit in the front is often a big disappointment; not so in an XC90 because the rear cabin is not only as impressively furnished as the front but is wonderfully light and spacious. Split a versatile 40:20:40, each of the second row seats slides fore/aft plus there's loads of foot room, the backrests are very adjustable and even somebody sitting in the middle 'slot' can stretch their legs straight out.

Two adults riding in the outer seats and making good use of the large central armrest (with its built-in twin cupholders) can lounge with a capital 'L'. And if they're anti-paparazzi or even anti-ultraviolet, no problem; they can simply raise the black mesh rear side window blinds. Other nice middle row features include height-adjustable seat belts, dedicated temperature and airflow controls and panoramic views out in all directions.

Row three offers a pair of individually folding seats as comfortable as those in row two that can be reached from either side thanks to tilt-and-slide outer middle row chairs. And while they're absolutely 'Kids R Us', they really are usable for shorter adults too. Like the centre row, they get their own air vents, cupholders, storage bins, and armrests. And when not in use they fold flat into the boot floor.

These XC90 are
physically imposing.
Get behind the wheel
though and you
ll be
pleasantly surprised to
find that, dawdling or
driving hard,
and in spite of its near
five-metre length,
the T8 is a doddle to
pilot both on the
blacktop and off-road
Use the T8 as a five-seater and there's 314 litres for luggage; fold down the second and third rows and you'll have a huge, totally level, load-swallowing 1,868 litres for cargo. Even opening and closing the tailgate requires no more effort than plipping the remote key or waggling your foot beneath the bumper — brilliant when it's tipping down with rain and your arms are brimming with shopping. If towing is something you do, the T8 will make light work of hauling a braked 2,400kg.

Safety is, of course, comprehensively addressed, with genuinely useful driver aids such as the radar system that sweeps the road ahead to reduce the chance of any impact with another vehicle. City Safety includes pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection, and front collision warning with fully automatic emergency braking, including at junctions (a Volvo 'world-first').

Should the XC90 ever inadvertently leave the road there's another system watching out for you — Run-Off Road Protection automatically tightens the front seatbelts if the T8 unintentionally leaves the road and, if the very worst happens, the front seat frames have a collapsible section (yet another Volvo world-first) designed to help prevent spinal injuries in a crash.

Even without all the brand's trademark safety you feel protected in these physically imposing SUVs. Up close and personal they're reassuringly big — and while they benefit from all-wheel drive-enhanced handling, to compensate for the T8's additional hybrid weight the suspension, steering and brakes have all been upgraded to keep the roadholding assured.

Get behind the wheel though and you'll be pleasantly surprised to find that, dawdling or driving hard, and in spite of its near five-metre length, the T8 is a doddle to pilot both on the blacktop and off-road.

On test last week our T8 generally managed 24-26 miles in pure electric mode starting out with a full charge. While more would be nice, that's still enough for a clean commute for many drivers; and once you've reached your destination a 2.5-hour fast recharge would provide the same again for your return trip.

On longer journeys in its combined hybrid mode, the trip readout regularly showed 50+mpg; and in petrol mode (after the battery charge was all spent), the average consumption still hovered around the 35mpg mark.

The Electronic Air
Suspension serves up both a better town
as well as an
improved high-speed
ride over the standard
steel/composite spring
set-up: thus equipped,
our T8 rode fluently
over all surfaces — even
rolling on 20-inch
Which underscores the fact that for all these PHEVs (not just Volvo's) the best 'mpg' results are down to making the most of the electric power, ideally for sub-27-mile trips. Doing so means no petrol used, which is what makes PHEVs so appropriate, and appealing, for city use where short A-to-Bs are the rule and where, particularly in London, there is a substantial saving to be made by not having to pay the daily Congestion Charge.

Travelling in the T8, whether you're the one doing the steering or just chilaxing as a passenger, you won't be able to detect the hybrid powerplant switching in and out of its different modes: changes are seamless, as too are the changes made by the eight-speed automatic transmission.

Pull-aways, too, are intriguingly effortless and unbelievably silent (even when you get used to them) as the XC90 just gathers pace and speed-glides away using the default electric power-only mode before the petrol engine seamlessly joins the party.

Our test T8 was fitted with the optional Four Corner Electronic Air Suspension (2,150) which serves up both a better town as well as an improved high-speed ride over the standard set-up: thus equipped, the T8 rides fluently over all surfaces — even rolling on 20-inch alloys with 275/45 tyres.

Although the T8 is not expressly intended for the seriously mucky stuff, its four-wheel drive is more than happy (and able) to 'step off' the road and 'step up' when faced with an all-terrain route.

The XC90 has surprised — and very pleasantly! — a lot of motoring pundits. As it turns out, despite its 'XL' size and sheer presence, it's quick off the line, alert and responsive to your right foot.

Handling-wise it's an impressively reassuring machine whether you're tanking it down an autobahn, cruising through Chelsea, or roughing it up off-road. The brakes, with hefty vented discs at each corner, are first rate — whatever your speed, the XC90 always, in all conditions, pulls up resolutely and, equally important, straight and true and with not a hint of drama. The steering is fine too; if you've moved up from a prestige saloon or estate, you'll feel perfectly at home behind the T8's quick wheel. Just point its wide-grilled nose — and that's exactly where you'll keep heading.

Body control is well managed and pressing on, apart from the excellent high-riding views, you could be in a well-fettled saloon rather than a big SUV: even when not hanging around it changes direction confidently, bumps are cushioned and there's not a hint of those two bugbears — 'float' and 'wallow' — usually experienced in 'jacked-up' vehicles over quickly-crossed undulating tarmac.

The XC90 is deservedly one of MotorBar's top picks. Overall this high-tech T8 makes life electronically easier while still offering a fine driving experience; quiet, refined, relaxed and poised, and in its Sport mode, satisfyingly slingable. A cosseting, agreeably imperious way to travel. ~ MotorBar

Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine Inscription | 64,555
Maximum speed: 140mph | 0-62mph: 5.6 seconds | Test Average: 34.6mpg
Power: 400bhp | Torque: 472lb ft | CO2: 49g/km