21.1.2020Volvo S90 T8 Twin Engine R-Design review
Volvo is going big on its plug-in hybrid models, now offering at least one in every model in its range. It's also starting to offer greater plug-in choice, with some models set to have a couple of different Twin Engine PHEVs on offer, plus the introduction of Polestar Engineered versions. It's this latter factor that we test here, with the Volvo S90 T8 Twin Engine Polestar Engineered. Increased power and improved handling from Volvo's electrified performance brand have been applied to the company's large executive saloon, and we get the chance to put it to a thorough test.
Review by Chris Lilly
The standard S90 T8 Twin Engine PHEV is a potent enough car as it is, boasting 392 hp from its combined petrol and electric powertrain. It sees a 2.0 litre petrol engine produce 303 hp backed up by a 65 kW electric motor for a 0-62 mph time of just 5.1 seconds. With a bit of fettling by Polestar engineers, the petrol engine is tuned to produce 3176 hp - the electric motor retains its output - which shaves a whole tenth of a second off the sprint time. A small boost in power might not sound like much, but what Polestar has done is make that power more accessible. There's a smoother delivery, and it feels more usable in the real world. The engine improvements are small but certainly noticeable, and the S90 T8 becomes a better car to drive because of it. That's all in the Polestar Engineered setting, with everything on tap. The Volvo proves a mightily flexible car, with the engine, motor, or combination of both able to propel the car forward. Stick in electric-only mode and the S90 will happily potter around. Response is quick but there isn't a full-on EV's power to access, so the pace is more gentile and well suited to urban driving. You can easily keep the car in EV mode without fear the engine will kick in every time you so much as cough near the throttle, but push your foot hard down and the engine responds quickly. On faster roads, the electric motor will allow the S90 to keep pace, but a hybrid or petrol-only set-up will see greater response from the system. Overall, the S90 T8 really impressed with its capabilities in just about every situation.
Fitted to the model tested is Volvo's lowered sports chassis, which is applied on top of the standard dynamic chassis fitted to all S90 models. It's a good set-up in my book, speaking as someone that enjoys a slightly stiffer set of springs, and helps give the Volvo well balanced handling. It's by no means an uncomfortable car, and the feedback through the steering wheel and seat is kept muted - this is no high-performance model after all. Instead, it's a bit sporty, which allows the driver to have an enjoyable drive when the mood takes. The rest f the time the S90 is docile, flexible, and well suited to day to day life. It's a relaxed motorway cruiser, and deals with town work well. Having spent a large number of miles behind the wheel, I could easily see myself living with the S90 in this trim over a number of other rivals. It's not a sharp a drive as a BMW 5 Series or as comfortable as a Mercedes E Class, but I prefer the middle-ground set-up offered by the Volvo over the Audi A6 for example. Steering is sharp and precise, even if it's not too engaging, and the S90 is easy to pilot confidently round a series of bends - or even a multi-storey car park.
The S90 is a model that I reckon looks good, but it never endeared itself to me as the rest of the Volvo range has. In this specification however, I have had to reassess that opinion. Tested n R-Design Plus trim with white paint and black gloss details, the S90 looked great - if quickly rather grubby over the Christmas break. It's got a stance and style that looks slightly aggressive, but only as far as Volvo will allow. The lines remain clean, the shape classic three-box saloon, and the details few but working well. The rear is the worst view to take in, but even there it's still a more coherent look than many of its overly fussy rivals. The shape allows for a traditionally practical executive saloon inside. Volvo has fitted the battery in what would normally be the transmission tunnel, so the PHEV powertrain's impact on interior space is minimised. Those requiring more can opt for the identically powered V90 estate, which I would suit me better than the saloon considering my circumstances. That said, the S90 comfortably coped with a young family's worth of kit as we travelled away to see family over Christmas, taking and returning with presents on top of the usual pushchair, luggage et al. It coped admirably, and wil be more than practical enough for most. Boot space is good, and the same can be said of rear occupant room. Leg and shoulder space is as you would expect for a car in this class, with comfort available for four adults even on long trips.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
The interior - like the exterior - benefits from the slightly sporty edge given by the R-design Plus trim. R-Design details are applied to the sports seats and steering wheel, and the black leather of the test car contrasted nicely with the white exterior. The cabin is what you would expect from a Volvo - extremely comfortable. The driver can get into a great position, and the seats are supportive but plush for longer distances. Physical controls are light on the ground, but feel solid and upmarket on the whole where they are found. Most controls are within the portrait touchscreen system which is a good set-up, but not as new as rival efforts. The driver gets a digital instrument cluster, and there's a head-up display on this trim as standard, while the drive mode select roller can be found behind the gear selector. Overall, it's a great cabin and one that is very Volvo.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
I managed to give the fuel economy a thorough test with almost 1,000 miles covered during my time with the S90. It must be said that many of thr trips carried out were longer distance work - heading off to see family and friends over the festive season. As such, it wasn't the T8 Twin Engine's ideal set of conditions, but it still did a very good job. The trip computer was showing an average of 45.3 MPG after more than 975 miles of driving, which isn't too far behind the 53.4 MPG I averaged in the S90 D4 in similar circumstances. This is clearly well down on the 117.7 MPG quoted on the official tests, but of all the fuel economy figures around, PHEV statistics are the most variable. For example, after 200 miles with charging after every 45 miles or so, the trip average was showing 64 MPG, and after almost 400 miles with charging separated by around 60 mile trips, the average was 54 MPG. Sticking to shorter routes within 22 miles or so saw no fuel used at all, so it all depends on how you use the S90 T8 Twin Engine. Normally I'd expect more than 60 MPG come the end of a working week, with that figure likely to increase over the weekend with some pottering into town or when out and about. The powertrain works well even when charged irregularly. Keep the S90's battery topped up more often and the costs will drop further.
Volvo's Twin Engine system is the core green element to the S90 - and makes up the greenest cars in its line-up until the XC40 pure-EV comes along. Here, the 11.6 kWh battery supports the electric motor, and provides an official electric driving range of 31 mile on a charge. In reality, a range of about 20 miles is reasonable when driving on faster roads, or 25 miles in urban driving conditions. It's more than enough for many trips, and helps with the S90's CO2 emissions figure of 49 g/km. Brake energy recuperation helps top of the battery when slowing down, and there's an Eco setting within the drive mode selector which lessens throttle response and alters the gear changes within the auto box. The S90 T8 can be put into electric driving mode, battery save, or battery charge settings, depending on what's required, or just left to its own devices as a hybrid. Charging the battery is carried out via the Type 2 inlet on the nearside front wing, with the 3.6 kW on-board charger allowing a full top-up in around three hours. Owners can pre-condition their Volvo before driving off and while plugged-in to save battery charge on the trip. According to our calculations, the model tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 36.
The S90 range has three core trim levels - Momentum Plus, R-Design Plus, and Inscription Plus - though the T8 Twin Engine model isn't available in the former. Instead it either comes with a sportier set-up as tested, or a more luxurious ethos in Inscription Plus trim. All PHEV models get 19-inch alloys, leather trim, head-up display, active headlights, leather remote key, dynamic chassis, charging cable, 9-inch Sensus infotainment system with navigation, DAB, USB, and Bluetooth connectivity. They also get a huge number of active and passive safety features, electric and heated front seats, 12.3-inch digital driver's display, automatic wipers and lights, and keyless entry and start. R-Design Plus adds R-Design styling details, sports seats, lowered sports chassis, integrated rear sun blinds, and rear privacy glass. t's well equipped, but there are options to add, such as the three packs and other options added to the test car. The Xenium pack added an electric sunroof, 360-degree parking camera, and park assist. A Winter pack adds a heated steering wheel & washer nozzles, and headlight cleaning system, while the Harman Kardon pack includes smartphone integration and a premium sound system of the same name. Individual options included the Polestar Performance software optimisation, a Type 2 charging cable, metallic paint, and added safety kit - adding around £5,500 to the cost all told.
The S90 T8 Twin Engine in R-Design Plus trim with Polestar optimisation really won me over. The name is a mouthful, but its qualities struck a chord and proved supremely flexible in just about every situation. I could enjoy driving the Volvo when the chance was there, or just let the car take the strain and lean on the car's easy to drive characteristics. It looks good, drives well, is quick but relaxing, and practical enough for most buyers. It's a sweet spot in the S90 range.
Model tested: Volvo S90 T8 TwinEngine R-Design Plus Polestar Engineered
Body-style: Executive saloon
Engine / CO2: 2.0 litre petrol with electric motor / 49 g/km
Trim grades: R-Design Plus, and Inscription Plus
On-road price: T8 Range from £57,655. Price as tested £63,000.
Warranty: Three years / unlimited mileage
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4 Stars