Behind the Wheel

2020 Volvo XC90 T8 Review: Riding on a cushion of smugness never felt so good

The Volvo XC90 T8 is a plug-in hybrid SUV.

Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

I'll just come out and say it up front: I really like the Volvo XC90. I've written about a lot of Volvos, and liked all of them (and not just because Volvo's current lineup is sort of the same excellent car in a bunch of different sizes and shapes). I own a 2016 Volvo wagon.

Recently, I found myself in a rainstorm in Volvo's flagship SUV. My tester was an $86,990 XC90 Inscription T8. It's basically the nicest, largest Volvo you can buy.

2020 Volvo XC90 T8 The three-row SUV sits atop of the automaker's lineup.Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

The T8 grade is the interesting part here. It combines Volvo's 2.0-liter super- and turbocharged internal combustion engine with a 11.6 kWh battery to generate a combined 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque. It also creates a wonky but workable all-wheel drive system, with the engine turning the front wheels and the electric motor pushing the rear.

As an added bonus (or the main reason to buy it, contingent on your perspective), the big SUV can run for around twenty miles on electric power alone. Depending on where and how you drive, gas-only fuel economy is in the mid-20s because of the hybrid system's assistance.

And this is the beauty of a plug-in hybrid like this. If you want, you can religiously plug in when you pull into your garage at home via a 120-volt plug — Level 2 (240-volt) residential charging stations can be had for around $600 plus the cost of installation and permits, if required — and top up the battery so you always have 20 clean, emission-free miles ready to go. If you do most of your hauling around town, you might even do most of your driving on electricity. Though it sounds paltry compared to the range of a full tank of gas, twenty miles is actually quite a long way when you're going to the grocery store or dropping the kids at soccer practice.

But if you want, you can completely ignore the plug and drive it like a regular hybrid. When you brake, the electric motor regenerates power to charge the battery. When you set off from a red light, the electricity gets you going, helping to save gasoline during the most inefficient engine cycles. It also lets the car's engine shut off while coasting or at a red light, without the downsides of annoying auto-shut off features.

2020 Volvo XC90 T8 The car's engine automatically shuts down when coasting or idling to help save fuel.Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

Plug-in aside, the lightly-refreshed 2020 XC90 has a few new features that are worth noting. First up is the second-row captain's chairs, which are exquisitely comfortable and leave a spacious "walkway" in-between for smaller humans to climb into the third-row. It's actually serviceable in the back for adults, though I wouldn't want to go much further than a 15-minute ride to a restaurant or something like that.

Cargo space in the rear is quite limited with the third row up, so you won't be making any six-passenger airport runs unless folks pack extremely lightly. Put the third-row down and you have acres of space to fill with stuff.

There are some nitpicks too. The second-row seats are missing an inboard armrest, which is weird. Volvo says it's to keep access to the third row easy, but your passengers would use that armrest a lot more than you'll use the third-row.

2020 Volvo XC90 T8 The's SUV's shifter can take some getting used to.Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

The shifter is tricky to get used to, requiring double-taps forward and back to shift from park into reverse or drive. If you own it, it's fine, you'll get used to it. If you are borrowing it, expect to go into neutral by accident a lot.

The giant touch screen is gorgeous, but it's irritating to find some functions, and the space can seem pretty wasted. There are changes coming in the future on that though, so perhaps Volvo is aware of the shortcomings.

If you aren't going to plug in the car, it's probably not worth buying. Those picking up a $90,000 SUV probably aren't too worried about a few thousand dollars, but you can get most of the same experience with the XC90 T6 Inscription which is exactly the same car, but without the battery and electric motor. And it's $5,000 cheaper — (actually $10,000 at the dealership, but there's a $5,000 federal tax break on the hybrid).

Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

But, if you are willing to install the charger and plug it in, pick up the T8 and be a bit greener and enjoy riding on a cushion of smugness past your neighbors in their dirty, gas-guzzling SUVs.

Trending News

 
 

What was your best car-related experience this year?

Chris Teague

This year has been a lot of things, but it hasn't been boring. Even if we focus only on the car world, there's plenty to talk about, from microchip-related new vehicle shortages to the wave of new electric vehicles hitting the market. That leaves us with a question for all of you: What was the best or most memorable car moment for you in 2021? I'll get the conversation started.

Porsche Cayenne GTS My SoCal Cayenne śaw snow for the first time in its nearly 200k-mile life last week.Chris Teague

I'd spent a good portion of 2021 wanting a new-old car to drive when I wasn't testing a new vehicle. That's harder than you'd think for someone who thinks, talks, and writes about cars all day, because there are so many interesting, risky, and downright funky options out there in every price range. The added headache for me was that I'd chosen to shop for a "fun" car in one of the most volatile car markets ever seen. Even the extremely high-mileage "untouchable" European cars I wanted to buy were commanding ridiculous prices.

After a solid few months of waffling between various rattletrap Mercedes-AMG, BMW M, and Audi S/RS cars, I landed on an option that had escaped me before: The Porsche Cayenne. First-generation Cayennes are a real bargain now, but the 955/957 (Porsche's internal code for the SUVs) can experience major problems that occur with or without regular maintenance and care. I was determined to buy one, and wasn't overly concerned about mileage, as long as I could count the number of owners on one hand. There was a beautiful 2009 Cayenne GTS with 90,000 miles but nine owners, a gorgeous 2004 Cayenne Turbo with a concerning engine tick, and many more just like them. Finally, I decided to risky-click a 196,000-mile Cayenne GTS in Southern California. It had one owner and one dealer-owner for a month or two prior to sale, its condition looked decent in photos, and I was able to negotiate a reasonable enough price that shipping it from San Diego to Maine wasn't a huge problem.

Porsche Cayenne GTS The pics look great, but hands-on tells another story.Chris Teague

I had two traveling Euro mechanics check the car out, and both confirmed that it was well-worn but mechanically sound, so I jumped. Ten days later, on a snowy, icy, dark Maine afternoon, the Cayenne arrived. Cosmetically, there were a few things the dealer and mechanics failed to mention, but overall, it looked good. The SUV passed Maine safety and emissions testing without problem, got a new set of Michelins, and I was on my way.

Porsche Cayenne GTS I'm in danger, but thankfully this should be a reasonable fix.Chris Teague

A few days of driving revealed what I was really in for. A check engine light revealed a camshaft position sensor error and the Cayenne displayed a nasty vibration at idle. A new sensor and motor mounts, and I'm on my way. I'll update you as more things break or miraculously work, but I want to hear your memories from 2021.

Email me at chris@automotivemap.com, and I will compile the best and most interesting stories for a story on New Year's Day. May you all have a wonderful 2022.

Trending News

 
 

Electric vehicles

NHTSA looking into Tesla's in-car video games

Some owners have discovered that their car's video games work when the car is moving.

Tesla

Tesla's vehicles are among the most advanced and forward-thinking products of any kind, but serious innovation doesn't come with tradeoffs. The automaker has been in the news recently because of issues with how its advanced cruise control systems function, and now, Autoblog reports that the NHTSA is asking questions about Tesla giving drivers the ability to play video games and browse the internet while driving.

Tesla Arcade hands-on: the Model 3 is your video game console youtu.be

The feature is intended to be used while the car is parked, such as while charging, so the discovery that people can use them while driving is a serious one. Vince Patton, the person who filed the complaint with the NHTSA, tested his car and found that he could play Solitaire and a fairly involved action game while it was in motion. Internet browsing was also possible, meaning the driver could take their attention completely off the road ahead for extended periods of time.

Tesla Model 3 Tesla's screens offer advanced functions that many others do not. Tesla

Tesla was already under investigation over crashes involving its Autopilot feature. Several collisions have occurred between Teslas and emergency vehicles stopped on the side of the road. Following the initiation of that investigation, the NHTSA raised other questions with the automaker over a buggy software update that was pushed out, retracted, fixed, and reissued outside of the normal recall process. Despite their names, it's important to clarify that neither the Autopilot nor Full Self-Driving features are capable of driving the cars without driver awareness and input.

Trending News