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.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The 2020 Toyota Yaris punches above its weight.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

Folks are always fascinated about what I do for a living. "Oh, you drive a different car every week? That's so exciting!"

What follows is a fairly predictable set of questions. "What's your favorite car?" (Rolls-Royce Wraith). "Have you ever driven on a race track?" (Numerous times.) "What's the fastest you've driven?" (180 MPH in a Porsche Panamera on the Autobahn in Germany.)

But then I'll start asking them questions, trying to learn about what they drive and why. What car do you have and why did you buy it? What other cars did you consider? What do you look for in an automobile?

2020 Toyota Yaris The Yaris has Toyota looks up front.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

It's my own form of market research. I can't review a car if I don't understand who my reader is and how to best guide them. It's part of why I don't dive too deep into horsepower and performance figures — I've found that, performance cars excepted, most vehicles perform adequately for the everyday tasks that people buy them for.

That brings us to this week's car, which is perhaps one of the least-interesting cars I've tested — but in a very good way. The sub-$20,000 2020 Toyota Yaris Hatchback is aimed solidly at folks who want an affordable, entry-level vehicle that's safe, practical, and with just a touch of luxury-ishness.

My tester was the (slightly) fancier XLE trim, pricing out at $19,680. It's equipped with an adequate if unexciting 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine churning out a whopping 106-horsepower. The engine might be tiny, but it comes with the added bonus of 32/40/35 mpg (city/highway/combined) fuel economy. It's paired to a six-speed automatic transmission (and a real transmission too, not a continuously variable unit that some folks love to hate).

2020 Toyota Yaris The hatchback is convenient but the car also comes in a sedan variant.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

It has 16-inch wheels, a bunch of airbags, LED headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a seven-inch color touch screen complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It has push-button start, keyless entry, and power windows, locks and mirrors. Oh, and there's automatic climate control too, which I've seen missing on cars that cost way more than this.

Here's where things get a bit confusing. Toyota sells the Yaris in other markets around the world, and it's their own in-house vehicle. But the Yaris sold in America is a rebadged Mazda2 that's assembled at Mazda's facility in Salamanca, Mexico. It's related to the Toyota Yaris sedan which used to be called the Scion iA, which is also built by Mazda, but also has the Toyota brand on it.

Whatever.

2020 Toyota Yaris The Yaris rides okay, about what you’d expect for a sub-$20,000 vehicle.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

I've driven a lot of Mazdas and a lot of Toyotas, and it's obvious to me that this is a Mazda. That's not a bad thing. Mazdas vehicles have punched above their weight for a long time (I had a 2011 Mazda3 for years, and I've praised them frequently in these pages), bringing both upscale materials and design to lower-priced segments. That's true here too. The Mazda2 — I mean, Toyota Yaris Hatchback — doesn't feel like a stripped down econobox. It's small and maneuverable and the engine, though a little noisy, gets you through traffic nicely.

It's a great new car for a teenager or for someone looking to spend as little money on a new car as possible. New cars, after all, come with new car warranties and can appeal to folks who don't want to imagine what came before when buying something used.

The Yaris competes with the Honda Fit, which is a perennial favorite in this class, and it seems a little nicer and a little more polished, though with less rear-seat legroom if you anticipate carrying adults back there.

2020 Toyota Yaris Even low-cost models have an infotainment screen these days.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

The front is comfortable and attractive enough, with solid buttons and knobs and dials that are all pleasing to touch and fiddle with (which isn't as common as you'd think). It seems to be a better car than it's bargain-basement price would indicate, with a solid ride, comfortable seats and two reliable names behind it.

I took it to Costco (as I have with all my COVID-era test drives) and, with the 60/40 seats folded down, was able to fill it with ease. It swallowed up toilet paper and paper towels and a case of Diet Dr. Pepper and all manner of other things. It's no Rolls-Royce Wraith, but I'd be happy to recommend the little Yaris to someone looking for a new car that won't break the bank.

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The 2022 Audi Q5 Sportback has debuted but Americans will have to wait around six months to get one.

Photo courtesy of Audi AG

The Audi Q5 Sportback takes the traditional dimensions of the Audi Q5 and shaves some off the back of the roof to creating a more sloping design. The result is a model that fits right into Audi's lineup.

At the front of the new all-wheel drive model is an octagonal Singleframe grille that is flanked by large air inlets. The car's headlights feature daytime running lights with the buyer's choice of LED or matrix-design LED technology. At the rear are taillights that feature OLED lighting technology split into three ties of six segments each.

2022 Audi Q5 Sportback

Photo courtesy of Audi AG

Like the roof, the car's windows taper as the design of the vehicle flows backward. Its rear bumper appears to be high-mounted.

Base Audi Q5 Sportback models are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that is paired with a 12-volt mild-hybrid system to to deliver 261 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Buyers can upgrade to the 3.0-liter V6 engine that produces 349 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque.

The SQ5 will come standard with adaptive dampers and has an available air suspension and dynamic steering capability.

Each model has Audi's new MIB 3 infotainment system, which can be optioned to include a 12.3-inch digital display in front of the driver as well as virtual cockpit and head-up display technologies. At the center of the dashboard is a 10.1-inch infotainment touch screen with navigation. The system allows for multiple user profiles.

The Audi phone box and a Bang and Olufsen sound system with 3D sound are available.

Inside the cabin, the car has a rear bench seat the can be shifted laterally as well as forward and aft. The seat also reclines.

Each Q5 Sportback comes with a standard hands-free power tailgate.

Buyers can option their model to include numerous driver assist systems including adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, standard Audi Side Assist and Audi Pre Sense Rear, lane departure warning, and Parking System Plus.

The 2020 Audi Q5 starts at $43,000. Expect the Sportback model to be slightly pricier when it arrives in the U.S. in the first half of 2021. It will be assembled at the San José Chiapa plant in Mexico.

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