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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Updated EV

2023 Nissan Leaf pricing announced

The Leaf got a mild facelift for 2023.

Nissan

Nissan is nearing the release of the Ariya, its first new EV in several years. Even so, the brand hasn't forgotten about its first mass-market EV, the Leaf. It was an early entrant in the space, and has been an efficient, affordable, commuter car for over a decade. The car got a mild facelift for 2023, with updated wheels and exterior styling accents. Today, Nissan announced pricing for the Leaf, which starts at just under $29,000.

2023 Nissan LeafThe Leaf feels lively, despite middling power numbers.Nissan

The base Leaf comes with a 40-kWh battery capable of delivering a 149-mile range. Its 110-kW electric motor produces 147 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. The Leaf SV Plus features a 60-kWh battery for a range of 212 miles. It comes with a 160-kW motor that makes 214 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque. Nissan backs all Leaf models with an eight-year/100,000-mile battery warranty.

ProPilot Assist comes standard for the Leaf SV Plus, and brings a full suite of advanced driver aids that include adaptive cruise control, driver alertness features, and a surround-view monitor. All Leaf models get Nissan Safety Shield 360, which includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warnings, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alerts, automatic high beams, and rear automatic braking.

2023 Nissan LeafThe Leaf SV Plus offers up to 212 miles of range.Nissan

The new Leaf starts at $28,895, which includes a $1,095 destination charge. The Leaf SV Plus starts at $36,895. The 2023 Nissan Leaf is on sale now, and may be eligible for federal tax credits of up to $7,500. Depending on where you live, you may also be able to receive a state tax credit or other incentives.

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The 2023 Crosstrek starts at $23,645.

Subaru

Subaru is one of the best at listening to its customers' needs, and the Crosstrek is a great example of that mindset. It's a useful vehicle with plenty of interior space and enough ground clearance to take its passengers well of the beaten path. Today, Subaru announced pricing for the 2023 Crosstrek and Crosstrek Hybrid. The duo will go on sale this summer.

Subaru CrosstrekThe Crosstrek's cabin is adventure-ready and packed with great tech. Subaru

The standard Crosstrek starts at $23,645 before destination and the Crosstrek Hybrid starts at $36,845. Five trims are available for the standard model, including Base, Premium, a new Special Edition, Sport, and Limited. The Hybrid comes in a single trim level. All Crosstrek variants get all-wheel drive with active torque vectoring and 8.7 inches of ground clearance.

The Base, Premium, and Special Edition trims come with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 152 horsepower. The Sport and Limited trims get a 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 182 horsepower. Most models come with a continuously variable transmission, but the Base and Premium trims come standard with a six-speed manual gearbox. The Crosstrek Hybrid comes with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder paired with two electric motors. The plug-in system can deliver 17 miles of electric range.

Subaru CrosstrekThe Crosstrek delivers 8.7 inches of ground clearance.Subaru

True to Subaru form, the Crosstrek comes with a full suite of advanced driver aids, including automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, lane departure alerts, adaptive cruise, and more. These features are only available for CVT-equipped models. The Limited trim and the Crosstrek Hybrid add automatic high beams, reverse automatic braking, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alerts.

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