2017 Volvo XC90 T8 PHEV AWD Review and Road Test

2017 Volvo XC90 T8 PHEV AWD

Volvo promises more power and greater efficiency for the achingly beautiful XC90, but has it worked?

Words By: Adam Allen



The XC90 continues to impress, doesn’t it?

It’s won the hearts of journalists and buyers alike- the former has bestowed many prestigious motoring awards on the XC90, the latter are snapping them up at a rate not seen since the days of the 850 models. It’s not difficult to see why; Volvo has knocked the styling and interior design out of the park, not to mention its standard non-conformist choice of four cylinder engines or the bevy of safety technology that comes as part of the package. This is the car that has put Volvo back into spotlight after a period of turning out so-so products thanks to a healthy infusion of cash from Chinese owner Geely.

We’ve already seen an XC90 spend time in the Carpages Garage. What gives?

That’s very true, although the version we sampled last time was the mid-range T6 model- this time we wanted to try the T8 model which now resides at the top of the heap. There is a T5 that comes without the third row of seats and a less powerful engine but the more luxurious trim levels seem to be more popular with buyers so we decided to flog the models you’ll most commonly see plying the roads where you live. The T8 you see here has the turbocharged and supercharged engine of the T6 but adds electric motors to both the front and rear axles plus a 9.2 kWh battery pack for electric only propulsion. In concert with the twin-charged four-cylinder engine, the T8 churns out 400 horsepower and a startling 472 pounds feet of torque. It’s hard to believe that these numbers are made by a small displacement four-cylinder power plant, even with the artificial aspiration and electrification.

So between the 4 pistons, supercharger and turbos plus the electric motors…there’s a lot going on here.

All these bits of hardware function the same you’d expect of many of the hybrids we have had in the Carpages Garage previously- you can motor along in near silence using the charge in the battery pack, the engine can be used to juice up the battery and you can use the electric motors alongside the gasoline engine for maximum thrust. It all works like you might expect, although there are times where you can sense a slight delay in progress as the myriad of computers talking to each other try to figure out the most seamless way to deliver the motivation the driver asks for. Don’t feel bad if your head starts to ache trying to comprehend the exquisitely complicated choreography between gasoline and electric power- with over 400 different combinations of drive modes, suspension settings and even stuff like steering and brake feel it can get overwhelming quickly.

With all this tech at work, is the XC90 T8 a combination of drag strip warrior and fuel sipper?

Volvo went through great lengths engineering this vehicle, and we really wanted to fall in love with as we did its T6 stablemate. The problem resides in the law of diminishing returns- there’s a herculean effort to deliver exceptional performance and frugality but the payoff in the real world isn’t quite what you would expect by looking at the spec sheet. With a truculent 472 pounds of twist available, we were expecting the T8 to strain our neck muscles when we gave it the beans. It is faster than the T6, but not by that much- the difference is around 7 tenths of a second in the sprint from 0-100km/h. Similarly, once you’re underway and you want to pass slower moving traffic, it responds nicely- just not how you’d expect close to 500 pounds feet to feel. It’s the same story with fuel economy. We did manage to achieve better fuel economy that we did in the T6 model, but the difference isn’t significant- 13.4L/100km for the T8 versus 14.2 for the T6. Our road test took place during a week of frigid temperatures and a few snowfalls which didn’t help, nor could we plug the T8 in overnight as much as we would have liked. Depending on your circumstances, it’s more than likely you’d be able to better that number by a good margin- we just weren’t able to do so. Also, all that hybrid trickery saddled to the T8 adds a little over 200 kilos- weight that doesn’t help performance or fuel economy.

What might wrong?

Some of the foibles we experienced in the T8 are a direct result of the model’s dizzying complexity, headed up by brake feel that is equal parts clumsy and squishy. We began to get used to it as the odometer continued to tick over, but it became bothersome concentrating on mundane activities like coming to a stop gracefully at a traffic light instead of sloshing coffee around. It’s a crime to spill any sort of beverage inside the beguiling interior, which now features a gorgeous gear level made of crystal. It is sensationally beautiful, but the way it operates is borderline maddening- You have to move it towards you multiple times to get moving from Park and feels wholly counterintuitive. Also, this is the first time we have tested anything that didn’t have AM radio. Most people don’t listen to AM anymore and won’t care a lick that they aren’t able to tune into that band, but we like news and talk radio so we missed it dearly. The reason for the AM omission is because the radio frequencies don’t play nice with the electrification in the drivetrain.

Should I buy an XC90 T8?

We wanted to answer this question with a resounding ‘yes’ because in concept the T8 is very impressive. As good as it is, it does fall short somewhat in the real world. The $16,550 premium it commands over the T6 model promises better performance and superior fuel economy, although it doesn’t deliver on either of those mandates as much as we would have hoped. If it’s performance you’re after, wait a little while longer for the Polestar-massaged version of the XC90. If fuel economy is priority one, by a T6 and drive it as economically as you can- use the money you’ve saved to put towards fuel. All in all, the XC90 T8 is a seriously intricate and inspiring effort – it just falls short of all that promise in the real world.


2017 Volvo XC90 T8 PHEV AWD – Specifications

  • Price as tested: $86,375
  • Body Type: 4-door, 5-passenger SUV
  • Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front and rear electric motors/all-wheel drive
  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged inline-4, DOHC, 16 valves
  • Horsepower: 316 @ 5,700 rpm
  • Torque (lbs.-ft.): 295 @ 2,200 rpm
  • Front electric motor: 46 horsepower/111lbs-ft of torque
  • Rear electric motor: 87 horsepower/177 lbs-ft of torque
  • Total system output: 400 horsepower/472 lbs-ft of torque
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic
  • Curb weight: 2,340 kg (5,159 lbs.)
  • Observed fuel economy: 13.4L/100 km (17.5 mpg)