by Jay Traugott
The 2019 Volvo S90 T8 is the hybrid variant in the S90 range and is available in two trims: Momentum and Inscription. Both models are fitted with a 313 horsepower 2.0-liter twin-charged four-pot and an 87-hp electric motor, culminating in a combined output of 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque. The gasoline engine sends power to the front wheels while the electric motor handles rear propulsion, creating an unconventional all-wheel-drive system. The midsize sedan doesn't have a lot of competitors in the segment, but can be compared to the BMW 530e, a similarly premium hybrid sedan. The S90's elegant design is considerably less aggressive than that of the Bimmer, but some drivers may find fault with the Volvo's untidy handling.
The S90 T8's available features have been updated slightly, with heated front seats now a standard feature, along with a universal garage door opener, a 12-volt power outlet in the trunk, and heated windscreen washer nozzles, with the windshield itself also heated. The Inscription trim also gets a Harman Kardon audio upgrade, while both models now feature the 12-inch digital driver info display as standard. The design and powertrain have not received any notable changes for the new model year.
Both variants of the T8 come standard with 19-inch wheels and LED headlights, the latter featuring Volvo's trademark "Hammer of Thor" wraparound signature accenting. The rear features the brand's distinctive C-shaped taillights that, at first, seem too big for the car, but after a second look, fit in perfectly. Despite the addition of chrome to certain exterior elements, Volvo's design remains free of gaudiness and kitsch add-ons, instead personifying poise and class.
The S90 measures 200.1 inches in length from nose to tail, with a wheelbase of 120.5 inches. Its height is 57.1 inches, with maximum width coming in at 74 inches with the mirrors folded. Curb weight for the battery-hauling hybrid is 4,579 lbs - a regular T5 Volvo S90 weighs considerably less, at around 3,800 lbs, but is otherwise identical in terms of dimensions to non-hybrid derivatives.
The S90 T8 is available with one hybrid powertrain option mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox that sends power to all four wheels. The front wheels are driven by a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder internal combustion engine, with the rear wheels being powered by an 87 hp 177 lb-ft electric motor for a combined output of 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque. The traditional engine is impressive enough, but with the addition of electrification, off the line acceleration is phenomenal, offering 0-60 times below five seconds. Overtaking is also a breeze, and when you want to cruise, the electric-only range is up to 21 miles, offering an exceptionally quiet and smooth ride.
The S90 in all guises handles a bit like a Nordic boat, and despite the tunnel-mounted battery lowering the T8's center of gravity and improving weight-distribution to near perfect, a considerable amount of body-roll plagues the sedan. However, the Volvo needs to be considered as a cosseting and luxurious way to whisk oneself from one place to another, not a rollercoaster tuned for Nurburgring assaults. The S90 does a brilliant job of insulating occupants from the harshness of road imperfections and undulations, providing a smooth and comfortable ride. However, thanks to its regenerative braking which harvests kinetic and heat energy, braking smoothly is near impossible. One second you're slowing down at an acceptable rate, and the next Thor's hammer is dropped in front of the wheels, sending any loose drinks flying through the cabin quicker than you can say Odinson. It's so intrusively jarring that it makes the T8 difficult to enjoy driving.
The S90's electric-only mode returns an EPA rated 71 MPGe on the city/highway/combined cycles, just a fraction less than the BMW 530e's 72 MPGe. Without the aid of the internal-combustion engine, Volvo claims a real-world range of 21 miles using only the electric motor. With the 10 kWh 80Ah battery charging in less than three hours from a 240V socket, top-ups are quick, although the regenerative braking system can help you go a little longer if an outlet is not readily available. Running on conventional gas only, the S90 T8 returns 29 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles, offering a range of 382.8 miles from its 13.2-gallon tank with the electric motor's battery fully depleted.
The well-appointed S90's interior is typically Volvo, emanating an air of high quality, and - with a vertically-oriented nine-inch infotainment system - it's different from the norm, too. The Sensus system features all the usual premium refinements and the S90 comes standard with a decent ten speaker sound system too. The smartphone-like inputs are intuitive and simple, but some buttons are poorly labeled and will take a little getting used to. Leather seating is firm but supple, with sufficient space for five tall individuals in the cabin, although the rear may require six-footers to duck on their way in. Visibility all-round is great, and with power-adjustment for both front occupants, a good driving position is easy to find.
Thanks to a floor-mounted battery pack, the hybrid S90's trunk is not encroached on in any way and offers the same 13.5 cubic feet as traditionally-powered versions. The 60/40 rear seats fold at the press of a button, and a hands-free power trunk opening makes loading easy, allowing the large trunk to easily swallow two full-size suitcases with additional carry-on bags squeezing in too. A ski-pass-through allows storage of longer items.
Small item storage includes door pockets, an ample center console with cup holders, a cooled glovebox, and seatback map pockets behind both front seats.
The S90 T8 hybrid features IntelliSafe, which includes semi-autonomous driving with adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, a drowsy driver alert system and oncoming-lane mitigation. The system can also decipher road signs. Other standard equipment includes a rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, heated front seating, keyless entry with push-button start, a 12.3-inch driver info display, a panoramic sunroof, heated power mirrors, park assist and dual-zone climate control. Self-leveling air suspension in the rear helps to compensate when the trunk or rear seats are filled, increasing comfort and stability. A universal garage-door opener and a heated windshield with heated washer nozzles are also available. Additional optional features include ventilated front seats, heated rear perches, a heated steering wheel and four-zone climate control.
The S90 T8's infotainment system is dubbed Sensus Connect and is operated by a vertically-mounted nine-inch touchscreen. The system incorporates SiriusXM satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity, and voice commands, but only features one USB port. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard though, and can stream your media through ten-speakers. Pandora, Spotify, and TuneIn internet radio are among the standard apps. A Harman Kardon upgrade is added to the Inscription trim, but a 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins system can be added to this trim for an even more immersive audio experience, while navigation is standard whichever model you decide on.
The 2019 S90 T8 was subject to two recalls, one of which was issued in late 2018 for a faulty GPS locator that failed to broadcast the location of the vehicle in the event of a crash. March 2019 saw a second and, thus far, final recall for the model, for front seats that may have moved in the event of a crash.
Volvo offers a four-year/50,000-mile basic and drivetrain warranty, with hybrid and electric components covered for eight years or 100,000-miles. Four years of roadside assistance are also included, while three years/36,000-miles of complimentary maintenance are thrown in.
The NHTSA has not yet rated the S90 T8 but the IIHS gave it their best overall rating of Good, and also awarded the Momentum trim variant with their Top Safety Pick award for 2019. Standard safety features include Pilot Assist, a semi-autonomous drive system with adaptive cruise control. Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a driver-alert monitor, lane-keep assist, post-crash automatic braking, automatic emergency braking and seatbelt pretensioners are all standard. Front, side, and curtain airbags, as well as a driver's knee airbag, are also included.
The sum of the parts does not add up to a complete package, unfortunately. Despite good weight management and a chassis designed with hybridization in mind, the S90 T8's handling is nonchalant at best, wallowing about like the red cape of your favorite Nordic legend. Regenerative braking sounds like an excellent idea too, maximizing the range of a beautiful and well-designed hybrid sedan, but it brings the car to a stop more aggressively than an over-achieving trainee state trooper. The boot space is also average for the segment, wowing no one. It's not all bad though: acceleration is smooth and strong, and the interior materials feel great. A number of standard features help the S90 stand out as a great car for the safety-conscious, too. However, a regular, non-hybrid Volvo S90 Inscription does all that the T8 can with less of a punch in the face when you're slowing down. If your heart is set on a usable midsize hybrid sedan from Europe, take the S90 T8 for a test drive, but if you can't live with the unnatural stopping power, have a look at BMW rather. Their 530e is a far less compromised vehicle.
The S90 T8 starts at an MSRP of $63,650 for the Momentum trim. Stepping up to the Inscription will cost at least $68,750. Volvo's $995 destination charge is added to the price of all new cars sold and excludes other fees and taxes. Government incentives are also not included in these starting prices. Fully loaded with packages and other options, the S90 T8 will easily exceed $70,000.
The S90 T8 gets a lot of standard equipment from the factory, with both trims getting the same drivetrain too, thus negating the need to upgrade from the "base" model. We'd have our T8 in Momentum flavor, featuring LED headlights, 19-inch wheels, ten speakers, navigation, satellite radio, smartphone integration, dual-zone climate control and a ton of safety features. These include forward-collision warning and mitigation at low speeds and on the freeway. Also included are lane-keep assist, a drowsy driver warning system, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and oncoming lane mitigation. A 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, heated wing mirrors and keyless entry are also standard. We'd save the extra cash that upgrades the sound system and changes the leather to Nappa with the Inscription trim, thereby keeping the price below $65,000 for an attractive mid-size hybrid sedan.
The Volvo starts off as a strong competitor to the BMW, offering a similar number of standard safety features and, most notably, more power. The Volvo produces 400 hp and 472 lb-ft, while the BMW manages just 248 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. However, the BMW has a bigger trunk at 15 cubic feet compared to the Volvo's 13.5. The Bimmer also offers a greater electric-only range, with 28 miles versus the Swede's 21. The 530e also bests the S90 T8 with 72MPGe, although this is only 1MPGe more and the BMW's figure drops to 67MPGe if you opt for the xDrive model. Where the differences really shine is in the price: the 530e starts at $53,400 and tops out two grand later, while the starting price of the S90 T8 is over $63,000. In addition, the Bavarian brand offers a choice of either rear-wheel-drive or their xDrive all-wheel system. Dynamically, the 5 also exhibits less body roll. Overall, the Volvo just loses in too many key areas and the BMW wins this shootout.
Thanks to additional weight, the S90 T8 suffers in the bends against its gas-powered brother, the T6 AWD. This model does without the electric motor, but features the same twin-charged gas engine as the T8. However, its fuel economy figures are not far off, with a combined EPA estimate of 25 mpg, just four mpg behind the hybrid. With all the same safety features, color options, interior trimmings, and driver aids, the T6 is not lacking in any department besides overall fuel economy. Thanks to a far lower starting price that is $10,000 less than the T6's at $54,350, the savings at the pump will take a long time to recoup, even with added incentives. Unfortunately, the T8 is just not a masterclass in hybrid tech, and its price is a real deterrent. That regenerative braking is also frustratingly intrusive, and one of the reasons that on its own could send buyers to a different car. This hybrid will have to step up its game considerably before we consider it as a viable alternative to Volvo's other offerings