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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The Hyundai Santa Cruz will debut next week but ahead of that, the design department is giving a closer look at the truck in a new video.

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

We'll see the Hyundai Santa Cruz in full for the first time when it debuts on April 15 but ahead of time, Hyundai is setting the stage for expectations with the model. To help with that, the company released a video today featuring the truck's design manager discussing the inspiration for the utility vehicle.

The quick one-minute video is hosted by Brad Arnold, design manager at Hyundai North America. The Southern California native is the leader of the team that created the Santa Cruz, a project that began years ago. He's joined in the video by Senon Franco, the lead designer at Hyundai North America.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America
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As Arnold explains in the video, the design of the Santa Cruz started with a simple premise: "this is not a typical truck". Based on how Arnold describes the capabilities of the truck, that sounds true. It is meant to "thrive in dense urban environments and the open outdoors". One could argue that no full-size truck on the market today does that. Neither do most of the midsize models, though their sizing is better for that landscape.

Arnold says that the Santa Cruz is "small in size", a call that serves to remind viewers that the Santa Cruz isn't a big truck. It's more similar in size to the forthcoming Ford Maverick, a small truck that slots below the Ranger in Ford's lineup.

However, the company isn't even calling it a truck. The new model is being referred to as the Santa Cruz Sport Adventure Vehicle. This sounds a lot like how Kia is referring to the new generation of its Carnival minivan as a multi-purpose vehicle (MPV).

Arnold says that the design is meant to make the Santa Cruz not look like a truck. Rather, it's supposed to look "like a Santa Cruz". Part of that includes the front end, which looks like a carryover from the fascia of the 2022 Hyundai Tucson.

Among the other secrets Hyundai is giving away ahead of the product's reveal is that there will be more than one "efficient" powertrain, a flexible bed, "cutting-edge" connectivity, and all-wheel drive.

Watch the video for yourself below.

Design Inspiration | 2022 Santa Cruz | Hyundai www.youtube.com

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The 2021 Ford Explorer Enthusiast ST gives buyers more performance at a lower price.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The Explorer lineup is getting a three-model enhancement for the 2021 model year. The Explorer Enthusiast ST, Platinum, and Platinum Hybrid will be making their way to dealership lots later this year in a targeted attempt to identify customer desires.

The new models join the just-announced 2021 Ford Explorer King Ranch, also a new addition.

2021 Ford Explorer Enthusiast ST

The Enthusiast ST grade takes a lot of what customers like about the existing Explorer ST and delivers it at a far cheaper price. The Enthusiast ST has a starting MSRP of $48,750 as opposed to the ST, which starts at $52,830.

Setting it apart from there Explorers is the Enthusiast ST's quad chrome exhaust tips, 20-inch machined aluminum wheels with painted pockets, and sideview mirrors with ST projection lamps.

The new model comes equipped with the same 3.0-liter EcoBoost engine that's in the Explorer ST that churns out 400 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque. A 10-speed automatic transmission completes the powertrain.

Ford has given the model a sport-tuned suspension and a top track speed of 143 mph. A standard Class III Trailer Tow Package provides towing capability of up to 5,600 pounds.

The cabin of the Enthusiast ST is complete with leather seating surfaces, unique Miko micro-perforated inserts, and City Silver accent stitching with the ST logo. There's a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, heated sport-style steering wheel with the ST logo, and paddle shifters.

The Explorer Enthusiast ST also features standard Ford Co-Pilot360 technology.

2021 Ford Explorer Platinum

2021 Ford Explorer Plat Ford has two new Platinum models coming to a dealership near you.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

2021 Ford Explorer Plat

The new Explorer Platinum is powered by a 3.0-liter engine and comes standard with rear-wheel drive. Four-when drive is available.

To make the Platinum version worthy of its upscale price tag, its packaging includes door handles with satin aluminum insert, liftgate appliqué, lower bodyside cladding insert, roof-rack side rails, a twin-panel moonroof, and a unique grille with satin aluminum finish. Its cabin is fitted with leather seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dashboard, door rollovers, and door and front console armrests.

The 2021 Ford Explorer Platinum has a starting MSRP of $52,480. The hybrid version of that model starts at $53,085.

All the models are currently available for order via Ford dealerships. Deliveries are expected to begin this summer.

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