30.3.2018Volvo V90 T8 TwinEngine review
The Volvo V90 is an excellent example of an executive estate - spacious, stylish, and well appointed. As with all recent Volvo products, the V90 has had plug-in option added to the line-up, so here the V90 T8 TwinEngine PHEV model is tested - a rare example of an electrified exec load-lugger.
Review by Chris Lilly
The stock PHEV powertrain for Volvo models - for the meantime at least - is a 2.0 litre petrol engine, combined with an electric motor. This combination makes the T8 TwinEngine model the flagship powertrain in each range, with a combination of high fuel economy and punchy performance. The T8 option is the most powerful model in the V90 line-up, and as such drivers have 407 hp and 640 Nm of torque at their disposal - a far from insignificant amount. The power is put to the road via an all-wheel drive system that sees the petrol engine power the front axle, and the electric motor drive the rear. As such, the V90 can be front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive, depending on what section of hybrid powertrain is being used at any one time. The change in driven axles is never noticeable such is the smoothness of the system. With plenty of grip and the T8 TwinEngine's electric motor comes some significant performance figures. The 0-62mph time is completed in just 4.7 seconds, which is far faster than a comfortable estate has any right to be really. Pick-up is almost instant thanks to the natural torque of the electric motor, and the blend between petrol-power, electric, or both is always refined. The use of Volvo's eight-speed automatic gearbox helps there, having been designed to work with electric motors from the off. It also allows the V90 T8 to be a very easy car to drive. It's refined at motorway speeds and relaxing around town, radiating relaxing Swedish-style motoring in just about every situation. A down-change can take a fraction longer than you might want if in a drive mode other than Sport - and not using the paddles to manually select ratios - but that's about the only negative comment to make on what is a very well sorted set-up.
The V90 is an easy-going estate, one that cossets and comforts rather than provides handling thrills. Don't get me wrong, the V90 isn't a wallowy old barge, it's just there are sportier estates on the market. Volvo doesn't market the V90 T8 as a sports estate though, so that's to be expected really. It also means that the V90 rides more comfortably when not being pushed hard - for the majority of the time that a car is driven. While there are sportier estates around, there are more comfortable ones too - well, at least one that springs to mind. The Mercedes Benz E-Class offers greater wafting potential, but that's about it. Volvo has therefore pitched the V90 as well balanced option, offering a middle-ground between supple and dynamic suspension. It's a good compromise that will suit a number of buyers that want a Jack-of-all-trades model. The V90 handles more sweetly than the Mercedes, but is more comfortable than rival offerings from the likes of Audi. In such a touch market, there is no perfect choice since every brand brings something a little different to the mix. I like what Volvo does though, with a broad skill set that excels nowhere apart from being good at everything. The handling is fairly sharp but not too much so, and it's light at low speeds, to make easy work of town driving. It is precise though so you always know where you are piloting what is a very large car. The suspension will shrug off broken surfaces and bumps in the road too, cossetting passengers from the worst of the UK's road system. Thanks to Volvo's Active Four-C Chassis control system, you can tailor the V90's suspension springiness depending on what you want too.
The V90 is a very well designed machine - handsome in an understated manner. Fitted out with R-Design trim there is a hint of menace to it too that I personally like, and overall I would say the Volvo is the best looking car in its class - though it's admittedly a tough call. With classic Volvo estate proportions, you can expect there to be ample load space in the rear, and plenty of passenger space in the cabin. You would be right too, but there are larger interiors available from rivals. Only just though, and it would take someone with inexcusable pickiness to complain about any lack of boot space. You can easily throw in a family's load of kit for a holiday away, or fold the seats down and put a bike in the back, with no need to calculate angles or carefully weigh up what you 'really' need to take. The all important estate boot is a good size and shape, with a low load level and wide access. Further forward, passengers have more than enough head, leg, and shoulder room in the rear to deal with long journeys without complaint, and you can seat two adults in the back with ease - even behind tall front-seat occupants. The large transmission tunnel in the rear means that adults are unlikely to appreciate leg space in the central rear seat, but three children in the rear fit fine. Those in the front have almost luxurious levels of space to relax in.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
A Volvo interior is a thing of excellence, and the V90 T8 TwinEngine is no different. It's stylish, easy to use, and extremely comfortable - like the rest of the models launched from the XC90 onwards. Seats all-round are comfortable and supportive, particularly those in the front, and the dashboard is beautifully designed. The large touchscreen system replaces many of the centre console's dials, but key controls are placed low down for ease of access and cleanliness of design. The portrait system makes great sense from a navigation point of view, and the set-up is as easy to use as an iPad. The driver's controls are similarly well thought out, with a roller to select driving mode, a rocker switch to turn the car off and on, and the option of a Swedish crystal gear selector. The digital dials are easy to read and able to show navigation commands between the speedo and rev-counter. Materials used are both of a high quality and of interest. Unvarnished wood for example is available as a fascia for the dashboard, and the feeling of build quality is good throughout. The V90 is an example of why Volvo's interiors are some of the best in the market at the moment; and elements like small Swedish flags stitched to the seats, or 'Since 1959' stamped into the seatbelt buckle - the date that Volvo became the first manufacturer to fit three-point seatbelts as standard - only add to the sense of quality.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
A big reason for the T8 TwinEngine's existence is its running costs. The frugal nature of the plug-in powertrain means that a Volvo V90 can cost very little to run - compared to any conventionally powered car, not just its rivals. Official figures from Volvo are quoted at 141.2 MPG, with CO2 emissions of 46 g/km on the NEDC test. These statistics are almost redundant for any purpose save comparison against other PHEVs though, since the actual fuel economy figure seen by drivers depends greatly on driving routes and styles. My average after almost 700 miles in it was 58.2 MPG according to the trip computer - a very respectable score. Particularly since there were some long motorway trips included in that time, when the effect of the electric motor on fuel economy is reduced. Before a particularly long trip, the average was showing 68.4 MPG, after a mix of driving routes and distances, weighted slightly towards dual carriageway driving. There were of course runs into town or to see friends - short trips well within the V90 T8's official electric range of 27 miles - that saw no petrol used at all. The electric range in reality proved to be between 22 and 25 miles during my time with it, depending on terrain and driving style. Tax costs will see drivers pay nothing for the first year rate, thanks to the Â£10 Alternative Fuel Discount (AFV). Standard rates will all include the Premium Rate, since the T8 range starts above the Â£40,000 threshold. This will see drivers pay Â£440 each year for the years two to six.
Lots to talk about here; the main one being the PHEV powertrain. It's a good system, even for PHEVs, considering the size of the V90. A 10.4 kWh battery powers the electric motor, and this is installed in what would be the transmission tunnel to save interior space and improve the centre of gravity. The engine and gearbox come from Volvo's DriveE development, and have been designed from the off with electrification in mind. Volvo has a drive mode select system, and there are plenty of graphs and statistics available to see how economically you are driving. The battery can be charged via a Type 2 inlet on the car's nearside front flank, with an on-board charger allowing for up to 3.7 kW. Powertrain settings can also be selected, with Pure and Hybrid modes complementing Power and Off-Road. Pure holds the car in electric-mode as long as possible, while Hybrid lets the car decide how best to make use of the various powertrain elements for most economical effect. You can also set the car to hold the battery's charge, or top-up while on the go. This could be useful if heading into a built up area further than the electric range allows. As per usual for plug-in cars, brake energy recuperation is used to top up the battery under deceleration, and the gear selector can be knocked into B for stronger regeneration. Engine stop/start is used when the electric motor is not available in traffic, and the car will default to electric mode when the battery has any charge. According to our calculations, the model tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 43.
There are just two specifications available for V90 T8 TwinEngine buyers - Inscription Pro and R-Design Pro. These are the top two trim levels of the Volvo range as a whole, with the former designed for a more premium feel, and the latter a sportier one. As you would expect then, standard equipment for either trim is extremely good. Standard kit for both includes a 9-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation, DAB, Bluetooth, and USB connectivity, LED headlights, climate control, Sensus audio system, leather trim, heated front seats, 19-inch alloys, crystal gear selector, heated window washer nozzles, pre-conditioning, and a powered tailgate. Volvo's comprehensive suite of safety systems is also fitted, alongside Pilot Assist. This uses lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control mainly to provide semi-autonomous driving at up to 80mph. It helps reduce fatigue at motorway speeds, but is of greatest use in slow traffic. The R-Design Pro model tested has R-Design styling, 20-inch alloys, active headlights, and sports seats. Options fitted include the superb Bowers and Wilkins audio system, smartphone integration, Active Four - C Chassis (variable dampers), 360-degree parking camera with Park Assist Pilot, Nappa leather trim, panoramic glass roof with sun roof, and keyless entry and start.
Think 'estate' and some will still think 'Volvo'. While the Swedish firm's range has broadened considerably, the executive estate is still a very strong product in its line-up - particularly in T8 TwinEngine specification. The inclusion of the PHEV model means that running costs are extremely low, and even on long trips, fuel economy is on a par or better than that of diesel rivals. The styling, practicality and space, powertrain, and refinement make for an extremely accomplished product and, despite costing a fair amount, the V90 T8 feels very good value for money.
Model tested: Volvo V90 T8 TwinEngine R-Design Pro
Body-style: Executive estate
Engine / CO2: 2.0 litre petrol with electric motor / 46 g/km
Trim grades: Inscription Pro, R-Design Pro
On-road price: V90 T8 Range from £58,455. Price as tested £68,280.
Warranty: Three years / unlimited mileage
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4 Stars