Electric vehicles are gaining momentum and becoming more desirable as their driving ranges lengthen and public charging stations become more common. A wider array of body styles has emerged in the EV space and at a variety of price tags too. Is it time to start wondering if the plug-in hybrid still has a place in this world? Several automakers, including Volvo, have detailed plans for a gasoline-free future, so the PHEV’s days appear to be numbered. At the moment, only Volvo’s C40 Recharge and XC40 Recharge SUVs offer fully battery-electric motoring, while the rest of the lineup, which includes this flagship XC90 SUV, still relies on gasoline-powered engines.
The XC90 Recharge T8’s plug-in-hybrid powertrain serves as more of a stepping stone to electrification for Volvo, and it’s one the company has revamped for 2022. The combined output is up 55 horsepower to 455 and 51 pound-feet of torque to 523, and instead of the complicated supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, the engine now makes do with only the turbo. The electric motor, which powers the rear wheels, gets credit for the horsepower increase as it now makes 143 horsepower versus only 87 previously. With the extra oomph, the 2022 model proved quicker by our measurement, hitting 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, 0.4 second ahead of a 2020 model we previously tested.
But the real appeal of the T8 powertrain is the greater electric-only driving range, thanks to a larger, 14.9-kWh battery pack. At an estimated 36 miles, it’s likely to be enough for many drivers to complete their commute without dipping into that costly gasoline reserve, and the XC90 can run at highway speeds in its EV mode.
On our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test, the XC90 managed to go 29 miles on electric power before switching to gas, and its final result was 58 MPGe. Without the electric miles factored in, we recorded 28 mpg, which beats the EPA’s highway estimate by 1 mpg.
The trouble comes when it’s time to charge back up. Unlike many fully electric vehicles including the two aforementioned Volvos, the XC90 Recharge doesn’t allow for DC fast-charging. Instead, like many plug-in hybrids, it utilizes a J1772 connection and has a slower 3.7-kW on-board charger. While this setup is fine for those who plan to primarily charge at home, it’s not a quick-charging arrangement. That makes using the public infrastructure a chore unless you can leave the SUV sit for about five hours.
The XC90’s exterior design has aged more gracefully than SUVs of a similar vintage. It looks elegant and upscale but not ostentatious. The cabin is quiet and richly appointed, especially in our Inscription-level test car, which wore light-gray leather upholstery with a matching open-pore wood veneer dividing the upper and lower dash panels. Seating for seven makes the XC90 fairly spacious for a family, but the third row won’t feel luxurious to adults.
The driver’s seat is the place to be anyway, as the XC90’s road manners are keen for a SUV, with nicely weighted steering and handling that’s nimbler than expected considering the Volvo’s size. Highway cruising is fatigue-free, especially with our $84,090 tester’s optional massaging seats, air suspension, Bowers & Wilkins stereo, and air-ionizing climate-control system. Volvo’s next-generation Google-based infotainment system hasn’t made its appearance in the XC90 yet, but that’s just fine. We’ve complained in the past that the now-old Sensus Connect interface was laggy, and it still is, but we much prefer it to the new setup, which is less attractive and features on-screen icons that are too small to easily use while driving.
Despite the stately appearance and inviting cabin, the XC90 Recharge T8’s appeal is growing more niche in the face of the expanding number of competent, long-range EVs. Those emissions-free options charge faster on public infrastructure, offer higher levels of performance, and come with their own unique prestige. But for those buyers still wary of going fully electric, the XC90 T8 Recharge remains a strong option among partially battery-powered SUVs.
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