Volvo promises to become a fully electrified automaker, though the journey is certainly taking time. Volvo, folks, is not Tesla. It is a Swedish brand owned by a Chinese car company that is beavering away at the very difficult transition to EVs across the lineup, exclusively.
And boy is the clock ticking.
Way back in late 2015, Volvo introduced a plug-in version of its then-newest XC90. The T8 plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, or PHEV, was a 2016 model with a powerful petrol engine at the front and an electric motor at the rear. It was a screamer, producing 400 horsepower 472 lb⋅ft of torque.
In 2019, the XC90 received a modest facelift, and then for this year, the T8 plug-in hybrid has been replaced by the XC90 Recharge.
Late last year, Volvo showed us the eventual successor to the XC90 Recharge. It is a sleek, all-electric, seven-passenger SUV (sport-utility vehicle) called the EX90. It’s gorgeous.
Some time in the future, the EX90 will replace the XC90, but not for a while, yet. Volvo argues that there is demand for both full battery-electric SUVs like the EX90 and hybrids like the XC90 Recharge, a plug-in with an electric motor that adds 143 hp, which then combined with the 2.0-litre, turbocharged gas engine gives this XC90 Recharge a whopping of 455 hp and 523 lb-ft of torque.
Range in electric-only mode? About 50 km or so. The 14.9 kWh battery pack has a claimed 58 km of gasoline-free motoring, but that is an excessively optimistic number.
Where does that leave us?
Well, this latest XC90 may be the spiritual successor to the old 240 Volvo wagon, and it is the actual successor to the T8. Regardless, it’s shockingly fast for a 2,300 kg family hauler.
Do not mistake the seven-passenger XC90 Recharge for an aggressive BMW X5, however. It’s not a showy Mercedes, either.
And it’s not exactly a sporty SUV, though the on-demand jolt that comes with burying your foot into the throttle is startling. For some of us, it’s all quite satisfying.
The design is equally pleasing, even though the basics here are nearly a decade old, the 2019 facelift notwithstanding. This Volvo looks contemporary and stylish on the outside, and the cabin remains a gem, though slightly aged by auto industry standards.
The lonely 9.0” central screen looks small where it once was an industry leader in size and clarity. The infotainment software functions like a Google tablet. Which is to say it’s almost intuitive, though not the equal of an iPad. You slide and tap to access functions, but the setup feels just the tiniest bit clunky compared to Apple’s best.
The materials in the cabin are extraordinary. All of what you see and touch is of a standard you’d expect in a $100,000 SUV. The only nod to ostentation is a crystal shifter. If you keep this rig for a decade, it won’t look ancient. That seats are best-in-class.
Second-row seats are also comfy, but the third row is a tight fit for anyone over five-feet. Think of this as an SUV for a family of four, perhaps five, with the occasional option of a small seating area for one or two small children. Short hops only, of course.
Plug-in hybrids have a mixed following. On the one hand, there is a group who argue that a small battery pack capable of handling 90 per cent of the typical family’s commuting needs is an ideal compromise in terms of price and environmental efficiency. And for long trip, or when you don’t have time or the ability to charge the battery pack, there is a combustion engine ready and able to kick in and finish the trip at hand. No range anxiety.
Others argue that a plug-in hybrid is the automotive equivalent of filtered cigarettes, that cutting back or even eliminating the use of the gas motor for daily errands is like slashing a pack-a-day habit to half a pack. If you’re going to quite gas or smokes, they argue you should go all the way — no smokes, no gas engine. Moreover, you can’t fast-charge the XC90’s battery, period. Charg
ing times are in the hours, not minutes.
Everyone surely agrees that this is a lovely SUV, one that would suit certain buyers very, very well for many, many year. But I’d be tempted to wait for the EX90 — to pre-order later this year and take delivery sometime in 2024.
That is, go all-electric and be done with it.