According to the manufacturer, the Volvo T8 Twin Engine XC90 petrol/electric hybrid has an official combined fuel economy of 134.5 miles a gallon, and a CO2 rating of just 49g/km. These would be remarkable figures for a small hatchback but for a massive seven-seater SUV weighing two and a quarter tons unloaded they seem unbelievable.
And that’s more or less what they are. They are achieved in lab conditions with optimum “free” battery power for the electric motor. So, yes, if the batteries have been charged overnight from the mains you can go so far and at gentle speeds on pure, clean electric power. To be fair to Volvo, other makers of these plug-in rechargeable hybrids claim extraordinary readings. Volvo’s just go higher.
Real life driving means that the electric fizz doesn’t last long and the petrol engine kicks in thirstily if you need to move quickly, rather than drift along at a pace which sees HGVs stacking up behind. Still, it’s a step towards some kind of future, maybe. For the time being you get a better combination of high power and economy than with conventional petrol engines.
The XC90 per se is the big SUV of the moment. It’s not Volvo’s answer to the Range Rover but it’s a much cheaper alternative and has similar benefits such as all-wheel-drive and elegantly simple Swedish styling and some advanced dashboard computer technology which leaves the Range Rover wallowing in comparison. Not so the in-cabin techs of the Audi Q7, a convincing display of Audi’s communications systems and a sure-fire choice for the larger family or the smaller family wanting to carry lots of luggage in a sleek 4x4 MPV. For the moment, though, it’s the Volvo XC90 which is the head-turner.
That T8 badge is bewildering. Eight what? It has a four cylinder engine of just 1969cc. I think the suggestion is that it goes with the thrust of a V8 engine. Certainly, its 0-62mpg time of 5.6 seconds shakes off the HGVs, SUVs and most other vehicles when you cane it. Crikey, here I come all of a sudden.
Then some things happen. The front wheels twitch suddenly as the torque from the electric motor bangs home, giving you, well me, a worrying split second as the car jerks sideways. The second thing is that this rate of acceleration gets worryingly rapid and I never settled in to race mode with the T8. I don’t want or need to be going as quickly as a Porsche Boxster in a car this big and heavy. The “what if?” gets harder to correct in an SUV than a lithe saloon.
The XC90 entry price Momentum D5 diesel model costs £46,250, while you pay £60,455 for the T8 hybrid. However, the government allows a £5,000 grant because of its “green” plug-in charging technology, so you pay £55,455. It also is tax-efficient for business, with 100 per cent write-down in year one and 20 per cent corporation tax relief.
I am not in business and that’s the reason why, as a private motorist, I wouldn’t have the T8. I’d have the diesel, which is quick enough and in day-to-day driving matches the 25mpg to 30mpg I got from this “134.5mpg” super SUV in similar conditions. True, its CO2 rating is higher, which means you pay road tax and, in business, higher taxes.
The last XC90 tested, the D5, I slammed for excessive noise from its shallow tyres on 22 inch rims. The T8 was on more everyday, 19 inch wheels with a 235/55 ratio – which means deeper sidewalls and much less road hum. It was also on standard conventional suspension, which was fine but lacked the ability to soak up ripples like the more versatile air suspension – albeit a pricey £2,150 extra.
One quirk I did notice was an occasional minor steering interference when turning on a tight lock at low speed – as if a differential was binding.
Verdict: Commanding car from Volvo, once staid, now up with the best in advanced technology and smart looks.