by Jared Rosenholtz
The open road awaits, the massaging seats keeping me content as I barrel down the highway with 19 speakers blasting my favorite music through the cabin, the Pilot Assist function removing most of the tedious elements involved with driving. It's blissful. If you are going to take a roadtrip, there are few vehicles better for the occasion than the 2020 Volvo XC90 T8 E-AWD Inscription.
The Volvo brand has been synonymous with safety for many decades but in recent memory, the Swedish brand has struggled in the US market. Volvo cars lacked the dependability of a Lexus and you can forget all about the sportiness of a BMW. That all changed in 2015 when Volvo reinvented itself with the all-new, second-generation XC90. Rather than introduce a midcycle facelift as most automakers do, Volvo instead performs yearly updates to its vehicles in order to keep them fresh. We decided to check in on the company's latest updates to its flagship SUV to see how it stacks up in the mid-size luxury SUV segment.
The lineup for 2020 has been trimmed slightly, with the T8 Excellence model excluded for this year. Now a three-model range, the plug-in hybrid version of the XC90 also boasts new seating configurations, with the Momentum and Inscription models able to seat either six, or seven. A few tweaks were made to the suspension and a slightly larger battery promises to improve all-electric range marginally, too. There are also some alterations to the available color palette for this year, while a few additional exterior updates have been made (but may be hard to spot unless you really know the car like the back of your hand).
|Hybrid T8 Momentum||
2.0-liter Twincharged Inline-4 Hybrid
|Hybrid T8 R-Design||
2.0-liter Twincharged Inline-4 Hybrid
|Hybrid T8 Inscription||
2.0-liter Twincharged Inline-4 Hybrid
Still suave and contemporary, the exterior's new concave grille brings with it a sleek and fresh look for 2020. 19-inch six-spoke turbine silver alloys are standard on the Momentum, with 20s in Matte Black diamond cut reserved for the R-Design; the Inscription trims feature 20-inch ten-spoke tinted silver units. Dual integrated round tailpipes are standard fare on the base model and unique outlets are given to top-end Inscription models. Each trim also has its own exclusive grille and all feature a panoramic roof. A roof spoiler is standard, and the sporty R-Design has silk metal window trim to set it apart, together with bespoke R-Design exterior styling options such as mirror caps and a front spoiler.
Featuring the same dimensions as the non-hybrid models, the XC90 Hybrid stretches a total of 195 inches in length, resting on a 117.5-inch wheelbase. It stands almost 70 inches high, and is 79.1 inches in width without mirrors (84.3 inches with wing mirrors included). Weighing in at 5,105 lbs, the Hybrid is substantially meatier than it's gas-fed siblings: T5 variants weigh in at around 4,327 lbs, while T6 models with seven seats tip the scales at 4,623 lbs.
The range of colors available for the XC90 Hybrid is very muted, in all honesty - which is not unforgivable of such a classy and sophisticated vehicle. The basic palette consists of Ice White at no cost, and a range of metallics including Osmium Grey, Denim Blue, Thunder Grey, Bright Silver, Crystal White, and Onyx Black - all costing an extra $645. The R-Design trim gets Bursting Blue metallic for the same price, which is marginally more exciting than the remainder of the selection, but culls Denim Blue and Bright Silver. The top-end Inscription gets a few extras too - Pebble Grey, Pine Grey, and Birch Light, which is actually a lovely shade of gold that adorned our test vehicle. While we prefer the bolder styling of the R-Design with its shouty Bursting Blue paint, it's hard to argue with the elegance that oozed out of our Burch Light Inscription tester.
The gutsiest engine in the Volvo lineup (while technically there is only one), the T8 setup is comprised of a 2.0-liter engine paired with an electric motor and an 11.6 kWh battery that results in total outputs of 400 horsepower and 472 lb-ft of torque. With all-wheel-drive as standard, the XC90 can manage towing loads of up to 5,000 pounds, according to the manufacturer.
One of the benefits of hybridization, other than the obvious environmental impact and better fuel economy, lies in the extra oomph the engine is granted. While the likes of Tesla's Model X manages a whopping 518 hp and 487 lb-ft, Lexus' hybrid SUV offering shows the flip-side of the coin with only 308 hp to play with. The Volvo XC90 slips neatly in between, offering impressive power and sufficient kick to do what it needs to do faster than some rivals: while it's motor can lug the hefty Swedish SUV to 60 mph in the early five-second range (much better than the almost eight-second time of the RX 450h), it can't quite compete with the 3.6 seconds or 4.4 seconds from the Porsche Cayenne Hybrid and Tesla Model X, respectively. Still, it builds up to a top speed of 140 mph without any fuss, and even on pure electric power, it can easily reach near-highway speeds.
At the heart of this SUV lies a 2.0-liter twincharged motor, which - supplemented by an electric motor - is responsible for the 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque. This is channeled to all four wheels via an eight-speed Geartronic automatic transmission, which also allows for manual shifting. Together with the drive mode selector, this setup allows you to switch between Pure, Hybrid, Individual, Power, Off-Road, and Constant AWD functions to suit your driving style - transmission shifts and engine responses will tighten up or relax accordingly.
When tapping into the electric power, Volvo has integrated a power/charge gauge to replace the conventional tachometer. It even shows exactly how much throttle will trigger the gasoline engine so you can remain on electric power. Opting to use only the batteries will reduce the XC90's spryness, but a quick poke at the throttle will unlock more trust from the twincharged engine. Driving using the electric power is Rolls-Royce level smooth but the loud groan of the engine often ruins the serenity. You can keep the noise down by remaining light on the throttle but there is no point where Volvo's four-banger sounds anything other than coarse. It remains the major weak point in an otherwise wonderful drivetrain. Shifts from the eight-speed automatic are fairly imperceptible thanks to the electric assistance, with a second motor wedged between the engine and gearbox supplementing any torque deficiency the engine itself may have.
Even with the optional 21-inch wheels on our tester, which would ruin the ride comfort in most SUVs, the XC90 is exceptionally smooth. It's one of the softest SUVs we've ever tested. Frankly, Volvo has positioned the XC90 Inscription as a luxury model without paying as much attention to sporty endeavors, so it lacks unnecessary accouterments like paddle shifters, though there is a Power Mode setting. This is how a luxury SUV should be executed.
Despite the softness, the XC90 doesn't flop around corners like a bowl of pudding. We're looking at you Lexus RX. It delivers handling characteristics befitting of a European car, the air suspension keeping the vehicle steady even when pushed hard. The steering doesn't transmit any feedback to the driver, though the Power Mode does inject some weight into the rack. Volvo has also improved the brake pedal feel for 2020 after some journalists claimed it felt unnatural with the hybrid regeneration. We had no such criticism here, so Volvo's changes must have worked.
With an ostensible increase in all-electric range, thanks to a larger battery implemented for the 2019 model year, the XC90 is said to manage 18 miles on battery power alone - one whole mile more than the 2019 model was equipped to handle. In addition to offering a combined EPA estimate of 55 MPGe in electric mode, the XC90 manages 26/30/27 mpg city/highway/combined when the batteries and engine work together. While EPA ratings for the Lexus RX 450h are slightly better when using gas only (30 mpg combined), the Volvo PHEV offers a total range of 520 miles on one full tank of gas when supplemented by electrical power, whereas the Lexus won't get much further than 516 miles. As a plug-in hybrid, the XC90 can be fully charged in under three hours.
If we are being frank, your observed fuel economy in the XC90 T8 will be greatly dependent on how much you charge it. With plenty of juice to spare, we drove in stop-and-go traffic to the airport achieving 27.9 mpg (an excellent number for such a large SUV). That number dropped to 25.8 mpg on our highway road trip and even further down to 23.5 mpg when we used the car's self-charging function. If you live close to work and have a place to charge at home, we think the T8 drivetrain will easily be worth the price premium.
A strong suit for the Swedes is the absolute attention to detail found in the cabin of their vehicles - and, understandably, even more so on their flagship SUV. With seating configurations for six or seven, depending on trim and your desired outlay inside, there is sufficient space for even taller passengers, with only the highest quality materials used throughout. The driver is spoilt with prime visibility, although rearward perspectives can be slightly more difficult based on the large dimensions of the vehicle and the third row of seats and passengers hindering the view. Ingress is effortless for the first two rows, and - after a long debate amongst designers regarding inboard armrests - both second- and third-row occupants will find getting into their seats relatively easy, too. The Momentum and Inscription trims can be had with either six or seven seats, although the six-seater option obviously creates a more spacious, roomy feel overall.
For a mid-sizer, the XC90 feels roomier than many of its competitors. Front seat occupants are treated to 38.9 inches of headroom and 40.9 inches of legroom while they enjoy optional heated, ventilated, and massaging seats. Rear seats are heated only and offer 38.5 inches of headroom and 37 inches of legroom. Admirable, but not class-leading. Buyers can opt for a second-row bench of two captain's chairs, which annoyingly lack armrests in favor of easier access to the third row. Even the third-row can squeeze in smaller adults with 36.3 inches of headroom and 31.9 inches of legroom, but six-footers simply won't fit, a fact Volvo acknowledges openly. Opting for the captain's chairs gives third-row passengers a place to spread their legs.
The base Momentum trim is available with Charcoal or Blond leather with Black Ash Wood inlays on the dashboard and doors. Opting for the sportier R-Design trim adds perforated leather and swaps out the wood trim for Metal Mesh or optional Carbon Deco panels for $800. The most luxurious Inscription trim has its seats wrapped in expensive Nappa leather with either Linear Walnut or Grey Ash Wood inlays dressing up the cabin. Volvo made sure to cover almost all areas of the cabin with either leather, wood, or carpeting, meaning there are very few hard plastic surfaces left.
With the third-row of seats left in place, the XC90 Hybrid offers only 11.2 cubic feet of trunk space for your weekly grocery shop - it's not excessive, but it's enough room for all the kids' school bags too. But, the rearmost seats fold down flat (opening up 34.1 cubes), and the second-row stows away easily, too, opening up a grand total of 85.7 cubes of cargo volume. This is staggering in comparison to the 55.9 cubic feet in the RX Hybrid, and the near-60 cubic feet of the Porsche Cayenne Hybrid. Tesla's Model X comes closer to the mark with 81.2 cubes available in the back, and an additional 6.6-cubic-foot frunk. Still, what the XC90 has is impressive, and will go a long way to establishing the XC90 as a brilliant, useful family hauler.
For small items, there are ample nooks and crannies to make use of - numerous cupholders are available for your lattes in the front and back, and there is a well-sized glove box on the front passenger side. All the doors have large pockets, too, and even the back row gets access to small bins for knick-knacks.
Not only is the interior a useful space, but it's also quite plush - a three-spoke leather steering wheel is complemented by an Orrefors crystal gear shifter on our Inscription tester, and the steering wheel can be heated by means of a package add-on, which also equips the rear seats with heating. Four-zone climate control is standard, as are heated front seats that are also power-adjustable and feature memory settings with lumbar support. There are power side-bolsters on the Inscription models, too. Keyless entry and push-button start are standard for all trims, and stop/start technology is also a given. A hands-free power liftgate makes for added convenience by allowing easy loading into the back. A rearview camera, rear park assist, and automatic braking are all stock fitted across the range; together with blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, City Safety Avoidance, driver alert control, pilot assist, and lane keep assist, the XC90 is brimming with driver aids and thoughtful on-board technology.
Volvo's Sensus infotainment system is housed on a nine-inch, vertically-positioned touchscreen that is such a fingerprint magnet, Volvo actually includes a cleaning rag with the ability to turn the screen off for cleaning. But moving past the fingerprints, the system is highly intuitive to use, featuring a smartphone-inspired layout with minimal physical controls. You might think the lack of buttons would be irritating but Volvo executed it well. Previous model year Volvo systems suffered from a slow bootup time but a new processor has solved the issue as of 2019.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay come standard, though they are only able to take up around half of the nine-inch real estate. Music is played through a High-Performance audio system with 10 speakers and 224 watts on Momentum trims while R-Design and Inscription trims come with a 14-speaker Harman Kardon system with 600 watts. The piece de resistance is the optional Bowers and Wilkins system, which includes 19 speakers powering 1,400 watts. For $3,200, we can confidently say this is the best car stereo we have ever tested, and the Gothenburg Concert Hall experience it mimics is simply magical.
2020 models are recall-free at the time of writing, although 2019 models were part of a recall issued for GPS units failing to send a location in the event of a crash. J.D. Power has no contribution to make in terms of reliability and dependability, but Volvo offers comprehensive cover in terms of a four-year/50,000 mile limited warranty, which also takes care of the powertrain. A three-year/36,000 mile maintenance plan is also provided. The hybrid battery is covered for eight years/100,000 miles by default, with vehicles in California covered for an additional two years and 50,000 miles.
Excellent safety is expected from Volvo, and the NHTSA awarded the Volvo XC90 Hybrid with an overall five-star score - this included full marks for frontal and side crash tests, and four stars out of five for rollover evaluations. The IIHS put the gas-fuelled XC90 through its paces, scoring it top scores of Good for all five tests, and a score of Superior was given to the standard forward collision mitigation system. Similar scores were given for 2019, resulting in the IIHS awarding the XC90 with a Top Safety Pick title.
Volvo and safety are almost synonyms in the motoring world, and as expected, the flagship model in the Volvo range isn't lacking any safety features. Eight airbags are standard, taking care of all passengers by means of dual front, side curtain, front knee, and overhead airbags. The expected passive safety features feature, and the consignment of driver aids is extensive right across the range. This includes automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and cross-traffic alert by means of Volvo's BLIS system, a driver alert, the City Safety collision avoiding technology, hill start and descent control, lane-keeping assist, and the Pilot Assist suite with adaptive cruise control. Even rear collision warning and traffic sign recognition are part of the standard fare, but a head-up display, surround-view camera, and front park assist can be optioned on by means of the Advanced Package. By all means, the Volvo XC90 is a leader in semi-autonomous driving features but it lacks the ability to go hands-free like Cadillac SuperCruise or Tesla's Autopilot.
If you'd like your mid-size SUV to go on the race track of through a desert, a BMW X5 or Mercedes-Benz GLE might be a better option. But if you are one of the realistic buyers who knows they will never hit apexes at Silverstone or traverse the Australian Outback, the XC90 might just be the best option on the market. The Volvo lacks the flashy appeal of the BMW or Mercedes but once you hop inside, you'll realize that the Swedes know how to execute on luxury better than anyone.
The Volvo XC90 hits on all the key points we think a mid-size luxury SUV should tackle. It's roomy enough for five or six people, it rides like a cloud, the interior is premium, and as a cherry on top, the Bowers and Wilkins stereo will ensure that every family road trip sounds as if you are sitting in the first row of a live concert. Cheap, the XC90 is not. But elegant in all the right ways, it remains one of our top recommendations in this segment.
Although the levels of luxury and the quality of materials warrant a sturdy price tag, the range of XC90 Hybrids are still expensive - especially in comparison to rivals from Lexus that start at $46,750. The base model T8 Momentum has an MSRP of $67,000, with the R-Design bumping costs up to $72,700. At the top of the range, the T8 Inscription has a sticker price of $73,300, with the entry-level model and the range-topper requiring an extra $500 to equip the six-seater package. These prices exclude a destination charge of $995, as well as any taxes, licensing and registration fees. With options, our test model rang in at $85,790 delivered.
The 2020 Volvo XC90 Hybrid is available in only three trims for this year, down from last year's four-model lineup. This includes the Momentum, R-Design, and Inscription trims, each equipped with the same 2.0-liter hybridized powertrain that makes 400 hp and 472 lb-ft, paired to an AWD system and featuring an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Entry to the range is through the Momentum trim, which ships as standard with seven seats, although a six-seater package is available. Although it's the base model, it is equipped with the same safety features as the rest of the range, including automatic braking, rear collision warning, traffic sign recognition, blind-spot monitoring, and a driver alert system. Lane keep assist and the Pilot Assist suite is also standard. 19-inch wheels and a panoramic roof are stock fitted, and the interior is characterized by four-zone climate control, heated front seats with leather upholstery all around, a high-performance audio system, Sensus Connect on a nine-inch touchscreen - this includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as navigation and SiriusXM.
The mid-range R-Design trim adds a sportier appeal, with 20-inch matte black five-spoke diamond-cut wheels, bright integrated roof rails, R-Design exterior elements including a unique grille, door mirror caps, and a special front bumper. There is a Harman Kardon premium sound system in the cabin, and power-adjustable seat cushion extensions for the front seats, as well as perforated Nappa leather upholstery. Only one seat configuration is available, with space for seven occupants.
At the top of the range is the Inscription, with the option of seating six, or seven passengers. This trim has its own unique 20-inch wheels, active bending lights, and dual integrated tailpipes. Inside it features illuminated sill moldings and signature Inscription styling; there are power side bolsters on the front seats which are upholstered in ventilated Nappa leather.
For $500, the Momentum and Inscription trims can be optioned to have six seats instead of seven. Additionally, a heated rear seat and steering wheel package can be bought for $750 to warm the rear-seat passengers too, as well as the wheel beneath your hands. The Advanced Package is available for $2,450, and will add a graphical head-up display, full LED headlights with active bending lights, a surround-view camera, a headlight cleaning system, and front parking assist. Exclusive to the Inscription trim, the Luxury Package adds a heated steering wheel, a Nubuck headliner, massage function to the front seats, and heating for the back perches - it costs $3,100.
A few standalone options are also noteworthy, including a $200 Park Assist Pilot, Adaptive Air Suspension for $1,800, and a posh Bowers and Wilkins Premium sound system at $3,200.
After having experienced every model in Volvo's lineup, our stance remains that the Inscription trim is the one to buy over the similarly-priced but sportier R-Design. All of the R-Design models sacrifice Volvo's fabulous massage seats and ride on a stiffer chassis that hurts the ride comfort. In our opinion, sporty SUVs are better left to the Germans while Volvo perfectly executes on providing a flawless luxury experience.
We'd opt for the slightly less practical (but more accessible) six-seater XC90 T8 Inscription for $73,800. From there, we'd add must-have packages like the $3,100 Luxury Package to get seat massaging, Four Corner Adaptive Air Suspension for $1,800, and the Bowers and Wilkins Premium Sound for $3,200. As described, the XC90 will set you back around $83,540.
Although both make use of electrons in their motors, the Tesla Model X is different in that it relies fully on electric power. Whereas the XC90 has a plug-in hybridized engine that makes use of gas and electricity, the Model X is pure battery power all the way. Both can seat up to seven passengers, and both offer contemporary and modern cabins - however, the Model X leans much more heavily on technology, with a spartan look as opposed to the plush, clean-yet-comfy Scandivanian design of the XC90. The Model X is priced at $84,990 - much more than the Volvo, but for this price, you get a 4.4 second 0-60 mph time, a top speed of 155 mph, and a 328-mile all-electric range. When it comes down to comparing electric superiority, Tesla is nigh unbeatable. But, in our opinion, the Volvo XC90 - especially in six-seater guise - is more spacious, more comfortable, and much more passenger-focused with unrivaled luxury.
Throwing the first punch, the Lexus RX 450 hybrid undercuts the base-line XC90 by more than $20k - that's a rather large amount of money to account for. Where the Volvo lineup comes incredibly well-stocked with features - especially in terms of safety and driver's aids - the Lexus requires numerous packages to be optioned on to get up to par; this easily pushes the prices on par with the Volvo, while offering arguably less in terms of quality. Still, the Lexus is debatably more contemporary than the Volvo in looks alone, and the Lexus is also AWD and comes with a larger 3.5-liter V6 engine paired to three electric motors to produce a combined 308 horses. This is not as powerful as what the Volvo kicks out, but the payoff is in the gas mileage - the Lexus has EPA figures of 31/28/30 mpg versus the Volvo's 26/30/27 mpg, although it misses out on all-electric driving range as it isn't a plug-in hybrid. While the RX 450h is most certainly a more affordable option for those who don't necessarily need all the bells and whistles, we'd be hard-pressed to choose it over the Volvo, whose higher price is fully validated by its extensive features list and levels of comfort.
Check out some informative Volvo XC90 Hybrid video reviews below.