2020 Volvo XC90 T8 First Drive Review

It’s been five years since the second-generation Volvo XC90 began the wholesale reboot of the automaker’s range, and it’s fair to say that the 2020 XC90 arrives – refreshed and updated – on a high. The Swedes aren’t typically prone to either smugness or boasting. You can’t understate how important the XC90 is to that growth. Even now, with a revamped version of the full-sized SUV almost in dealerships, XC90 sales still outpace the rest of the automaker’s range this year.

Available on T6 and T8 models in Momentum or Inscription trim, and only with the charcoal or blonde interiors, the second-row captain’s chairs are something that customers requested, and changes the subjective impression immensely. They give the interior an airy, special feel – an extra layer of luxury. And in a cabin already slathered in quality materials, it’s a force multiplier. But don’t waste any effort looking for an armrest on the inboard side of the seat. In a decision that seemed jarring at first, Volvo didn’t put one in. The new seating arrangement helps the second row feel more spacious, but it’s also not without flaws. Second-row buckets lack center armrests (outboard armrests are on the door), and relocated cupholders mounted on the floor beneath the rear HVAC controls look like an afterthought, requiring some care to step around when using the pass-through.

Sweden-built XC90 range is available exclusively with 2.0-liter gas power and an eight-speed automatic. Base T5 engines are turbocharged to deliver 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque and are only available with front-wheel drive. T6 models come standard with all-wheel drive, plus they add a supercharger alongside the aforementioned turbo. This twin-charged engine is good for 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet, but it’s still only the mid-range powertrain. The top-shelf T8 is a plug-in hybrid model. The uniquely tuned Drive-E four puts out 313 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque by itself but is augmented by front-mounted 34-kilowatt starter motor/generator and an 87-horsepower electric motor acting on the rear axle. Total system output is quoted as 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet, a very healthy amount for a midsize SUV.

For 2020, the T8’s battery capacity has been nudged to 11.6 kilowatt hours, up from 10.4. Unfortunately, it isn’t yet clear if this has a positive effect on fuel efficiency, as EPA estimates for 2020 models have yet to be released. For guidance, the 2019 XC90 T8 PHEV yielded a Miles Per Gallon Equivalent (MPGe) rating of 58 combined city/highway, and a middling 25 miles per gallon on premium fuel. The most efficient gas-only 2019 XC90, the FWD T5 Momentum, registered 21 mpg city, 29 highway and 24 combined, class-competitive (if unremarkable) numbers.

XC90 has been around for a while and still looks remarkably fresh. The buttery leather, the open-pore wood, the clean and crisp design language all communicate that, at least in the top trims, there’s a refreshingly different alternative to the omnipresent German brands. But the luxury doesn’t come cheap — the XC90 T8 Inscription starts at $74,795 and quickly goes up from there. Lowly XC90 T5s start at a hair under $50,000, for comparison’s stake. The 2020 models carry interesting improvements, but nothing that buyers could live without — with the notable exception of the six-seater configuration, which we assume will quickly become the most popular arrangement for Momentum or Inscription trims.

 

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