Gareth’s Favourite Article of 2020. Gareth Butterfield tests the twin-engined Volvo V90 T8
THEY don’t seem to come around all that often, but I do have a soft spot for a properly fast Volvo. So imagine my delight when they said I could borrow their new “twin-engined” V90 T8 estate.
Something about having “two engines” conjure up images of inappropriately powerful speed boats, or one-off track-ready hot-hatch monsters made up by a cash-rich tuning firm who have resolved the intricacies of fitting two engines into a Vauxhall Corsa.
But, in the context of the V90, it doesn’t really work like that. “Twin engine”, in Volvo speak, simply means petrol-electric hybrid. And, technically, the Toyota Prius is a “twin engine” if you put it like that.
But all is not lost. The latest plug-in hybrid Volvo to get the twin engine treatment steps into the fray with a healthy 401bhp, once you’ve combined the electric motor’s 85bhp with the engine’s 316bhp. And that’s good enough to take this two-tonne barge to 60mph in 4.8 seconds.
So it is fast. Significantly more brisk, in fact, than the other twin engine hybrid Volvo I’ve driven, the XC90 T8.
Not that you’d really tell by looking at it, of course. Even in the stylish R-Design trim it certainly doesn’t look overtly sporty. In its range-topping Inscription guise, it simply oozes Scandinavian elegance. It’s not exactly a pretty car, but it’s very handsome. Classic Volvo lines with some lovely modern touches.
So it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing then? Well, not exactly. While it is obviously very quick, you quickly get the feeling its impressive power isn’t really the whole story. This car is more about what it saves, rather than what it gives.
Although a plug-in hybrid Volvo is nothing new these days, this is the first one I’ve driven that actually impresses. You’ll get a little more range from the battery on its own, and the engine is now a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit which is about as economical as you can get from a powerful petrol unit.
So, in theory at least, you’re good for 141mpg and 41g/km, which will please the tax-savvy and delight the penny-pinchers. And, let’s not forget, this is currently the only car capable of these figures that boasts a large estate boot.
Putting all this into practice, you can pootle along silently, on electric-only mode, for a claimed 31 miles (it’s probably just over 20 in real terms) and you can charge it up at home or on a public electric-car charging station.
While that might not give enough range for some commutes, there’s always the petrol engine to fall back on, and this on its own should offer MPG in the high 30s, so its overall range could be close to 380 miles. And that’s impressive for a quick car that weighs this much.
Lurking above all this clever technology is Volvo’s now familiar but still magnificent cabin, which is honestly one of the best in the industry. The ergonomics are perfect, the ride is exquisite and everything works just as you’d like it to. And, obviously, it’s not short on space. This is, after all, a Volvo estate.
Having said that, its extra weight, thanks to central spine of batteries, does make itself known in the bends and with a price tag of £60,000 onwards you’ll be hit with a high VED tax bill.
So you’re left with a 400bhp luxo-barge that’ll quickly hit 155mph but, as agile as it is, won’t set your trousers on fire in the twisty bits the way a BMW might. And if you do start to enjoy a bit of frivolity you’ll pay for it in the MPG stakes. It is still a heavy car with a relatively small engine.
So it’s better to see the T8 as a comfortable mile-muncher with a welcome dose of power that’s there whenever it’s needed. Think of it as an all-wheel-drive grand tourer with acres of room inside, as comfortable as they come, with class-leading safety kit and the ability to silently prowl around a city without using a mililitre of petrol. Then the V90 T8 makes a lot of sense.