Gareth Butterfield spends a week in Volvo’s twin-engined XC90 T8 and wonders whether it might be all the car anyone could ever need…
IT has two engines. It has nearly 400bhp. It has seven seats and weighs two and-a-half tonnes, yet it can sprint from 0-60mph in 5.6 seconds. It can cross rivers and traverse muddy fields, but it can also take over and drive itself on the road.
The Volvo XC90 is a technical masterpiece, Volvo’s finest hour. And this, its new T8 moves the game on even further.
It’s powered by a combination of a petrol engine with an electric motor and a big bank of batteries. That’s what gives it so much grunt – and that’s what helps it return a theoretical mpg figure of 134.5.
So, yes, this a big, brash, luxurious, quick, capable, practical and oh-so-clever SUV that spits out just 59g/km. Let’s not beat about the bush, this is one of the most accomplished and versatile cars in the world right now, it’s hard to imagine ever needing something else.
But what’s it like to spend a week with? Well, let’s start by discussing the interior. You might have heard a motoring journalist describing a car’s cabin as “exquisite” before. Well, I’m here to tell you that, unless they were describing the interior of a Rolls Royce, they were lying. The XC90’s interior is definitely exquisite.
It oozes Scandinavian class and feels elegant and expensive. The attention to detail is fabulous, but it’s also comfortable, practical and very user-friendly. Your eyes are drawn to the huge iPad-like screen in the centre of the dash – that’s where pretty much all the controls are found and it’s very intuitive.
It also drives better than you’d imagine, too. It handles very well and, although its size can be a problem in town, it is a doddle to manoeuvre.
If I’m being critical, the four-cylinder petrol engine sounds a bit too harsh and the ride’s a bit firm if you don’t choose the air suspension package, but it is, in just about every other way, phenomenal.
Of course, this being a Volvo, it is incredibly good at keeping you and your passengers safe. There’s airbags everywhere and it’s littered with sensors which keep an eye on you, the road and your surroundings.
Volvo’s current lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control setup is so clever you can turn it all on at low speeds and the car will drive itself. Hate stop-start traffic? Me too, but as long as it can see the lines on the road either side of you, the car will take over.
It’ll park itself, it has a glass roof, it has cameras pointing out of every angle and it has one of the best stereos I’ve ever heard in any car ever.
It is incredibly hard to pick any faults with it, but there is a fairly big issue to address. On a full charge the electric motor should give you around 20 miles of silent motoring. It never quite managed that for me.
And then, once using the petrol engine, the MPG figure plummets. Once I’d emptied the battery on a long motorway run I found myself cringing as the fuel economy dipped into the high 20s.
It’s possible to use the two motors together intelligently and coax it back up to the 40s – and that’s still impressive – but don’t be swayed by the claim it’ll do more than 100mpg because it simply won’t, in the real world.
That said, you’ve got to bear in mind what this thing is and what it compares to. There are a few other SUVs that will achieve similar fuel economy but they’re either rubbish, or diesel-powered.
This is a fast, fun, effortless, massive and luxurious petrol-engined off-roader. You try and find anything like that which returns more than 40mpg in the real world without you having to think about it.
And I know what you’re thinking, why would you buy a Volvo when the same money will buy you a Range Rover? Well, you’d choose an XC90 because it’s better than a Range Rover. There, I said it. Bold claim I know, but I honestly think it’s true.
The Range Rover has nicer engines and a sense of opulence and superiority that the Volvo will never muster, but this is the smart choice. And not just because of the impressive numbers.
The XC90 better than the Range Rover for the simple reason that it’s a better car. It’s cleverer, more practical, better looking and nicer to drive.
And now it’s kicking Land Rover’s iconic flagship while it’s down. Because it’s just become significantly more economical.
Bravo Volvo, bravo.