Driven: 2023 Volvo XC90 Recharge Is The Perfect Mix Of Power, Luxury, And Refinement

Test Drive

The all-electric EX90 is coming soon, but the XC90 Recharge is the smart choice for now.

The 2023 Volvo XC90 Recharge is a car that doesn't leave you wanting more. Its handsome features have aged well, and it seems so comfortable in its skin that facelifts tend to be nothing more than a delicate nip and tuck. The interior might not have cutting-edge tech or an array of triple-stitched leather from Scotland's finest bovines, but it is a lovely place to be and has ample room for a family of five and their gear. And it gets down the road with a poise and composure that eliminates the stress of the toughest journeys.

Since arriving some 20 years ago, the XC90 has gone about its business, nonplussed about the competition. The electric revolution will see it replaced by the EX90 - Volvo's first bespoke EV set to arrive in 2024 - although the XC90 will be sold alongside it for a while for those who aren't yet ready for an EV.

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Subtle Styling At Its Best

The current design dates back almost a decade, with a refresh in 2019 that applied a few modest cosmetic updates. While some may consider its design staid, we believe it's stood the test of time well. For those who always desire the latest and greatest, the all-electric EX90 will arrive with new sheet metal, but if you prefer your SUVs to have some form of combustion power, the current Volvo XC90 is as good as it will get in the looks department.

Instead of refreshing it for 2023, Volvo introduced Core, Plus, Ultimate trims, each with the option of Bright and Dark exterior themes. Our tester was a 2023 Volvo XC90 Recharge Ultimate Bright wearing a lovely shade of Denim Blue.

As a 'Bright' model, the car has chrome bars in the grille, chrome window surrounds, and Bright integrated roof rails. Opt for Dark, and all these come in high-gloss black instead. The XC90 also sits on a set of 21-inch diamond-cut alloys.

The XC90 is a car that looks 'money' without shouting about it. Park it up in a luxury condo's parking garage in downtown Miami, and it won't look out of place sitting alongside luxury SUVs worth twice the price.

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Front View
Rear View

Perfect Power-Luxury Combo

The XC90 Recharge is the most potent in the lineup, courtesy of a 455-hp (T8) plug-in hybrid powertrain - and the Ultimate trim also represents the best-appointed model. This power-luxury combo comes in at over $80,000 and can hit almost $90,000 if you splurge on options. With options, our tester rang in at $85,495, including $3,200 for a Bowers and Wilkins sound system and $1,800 for the air suspension.

Typically, we'd say spending more on a sound system can be a waste, as the juice isn't always worth the squeeze; especially since the XC90's standard system is an impressive Harman Kardon setup that will do most Spotify playlists justice. However, the Bowers & Wilkins setup Volvo uses is one of the best sound systems in any car today, and if you're an audiophile may be worth the expense. The suspension, however, is a must. More on that anon.

The extra $7,500 over the Recharge's $72,995 price tag required for the Ultimate gets you things like power-adjustable and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, sun curtains, a 360o surround view camera, and a head-up display.

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Laid-Back Interior With A Hint Of Luxury

Luxury carmakers must pay attention to detail to convince buyers to spend more on their products. The new Range Rover, for example, has a lovely sculptured ceramic gear selector that matches its minimalism perfectly. Volvo has done likewise with a pure crystal gear selector knob made by Orefors. It's the only showy element to an otherwise practical, smartly appointed interior.

Our tester came with the wool blend seats in a shade called Midnight Zinc (the only color available if you don't want leather), complemented by pale wood inserts. These seats polarized opinions during our week with the car: they either look and feel premium if you have an open mind to modern materials or are nothing special if you associate leather with luxury.

If you opt for wool, beware that ventilated front seats are unavailable; this is something to consider if you live along the equator.

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Front Seats
Seat Details

Getting to grips with the interior is pretty straightforward, and the interface is easy to comprehend if a little bland (ditto the digital dials).

Where once the XC90 was a class-leader, however, it's fallen behind in some areas. The portrait infotainment system is fine, but nothing more. When touchscreens became mainstream, the system seemed great, but now, the BMW X5 and Mercedes GLE-Class are more intuitive.

The lack of many physical buttons keeps with the minimalist theme, but Volvo saw fit to include a physical volume knob.

By switching to a Google built-in infotainment system, the XC90 lets you ask Google to do anything: turn up the volume; turn the heated steering wheel on; or find a good spot for breakfast. Once you get used to talking to your car, it becomes second nature, and most controls are activated without lifting a finger. Just get used to saying 'Hey Google' ad nauseum.

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Instrument Cluster

Everyone’s Happy Inside The XC90

Volvo's biggest model is about the same length as other midsize SUVs like the Acura MDX, Mercedes GLE, or BMW X5. It's large enough for an average-sized American family of two adults and as many children, although this author can attest to a third child being easily accommodated.

The second-row seats are heated and can slide and recline, there's dual-zone climate control, and being family-friendly, a child seat is a cinch to fit.

One weird feature, or lack thereof, on the XC90 is that headrests can't be adjusted on any seats. It's not something you care about until you realize it's not an option. Then it becomes like an itch you can't scratch. And then you forget about it... until the next time you want to make a micro adjustment to your neck comfort. We know headrests are primarily a safety function in the event of an accident, but a little adjustment would've been nice as not all occupants have the same height and posture.

Further back, Volvo has made sure that the third-row seats are usable in some form, but they won't be suitable for all adults.

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Front Chairs
Interior Overview

Children or adults up to five-foot-seven will be fine, with ingress and egress fairly easy, but Volvo is open about the fact that the rearmost seats were never made for anyone taller than that. Once seated there, there's a nice size window, storage, ventilation, and enough legroom.

Short jaunts are not an issue even for tall adults, but my two boys who measure a little taller than Volvo's recommendation would argue over who was relegated to the back for any journey over 30 minutes, at which point they would complain of being cramped.

Luggage space is middling for the mid-size SUV segment - which means plenty with the third row down and decent with all seats in place. With four large suitcases, four carry-on bags, and a baby buggy, the third row had to come down. But you could easily pack a large grocery run with it up.

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Keep Calm And Drive A Volvo

A 2.0-liter four-cylinder is the biggest engine in any Volvo, with varying degrees of augmentation from turbochargers, twinchargers (turbo and supercharger combined), and hybridization. The new B5 and B6 mild hybrids replace the T5 and T6, but we had the pleasure of driving the Recharge, which pairs the twincharged four-cylinder with a 143-hp electric motor on the rear axle for a total output of 455 horsepower and 523 lb-ft of torque. The powertrain is managed via an eight-speed automatic gearbox.

It's the most powerful (by far) and expensive powertrain, but also the most efficient and fun to drive, and has 32 miles of pure electric range. This makes it perfect for school runs and could cover a few days of the week with a nightly charge at home.

But the XC90 is all about providing a calming environment, a safe space for a family to relax by delivering a smooth, composed, and quiet ride.

The XC90 puts the driver at ease, providing a cocoon of coolness from which to slice through traffic. It's well insulated from wind and road noise, has decent brakes, and while regenerative braking can sometimes affect the brake feel, we didn't experience this in the big Volvo.

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Side View Driving

The electric motor helps to deliver a nice dollop of instant power, with 0-60 mph coming in at five seconds flat. And despite the 21-inch wheels upsetting the ride quality from time to time, it's a pleasant high-speed cruiser. The air suspension makes light work of uneven road surfaces and is an essential option if you live anywhere with unloved pavement.

In Volvo's infinite wisdom, it removed the roller switch that used to let you switch driving modes via the center console, meaning you have to dig through the touchscreen to switch now. This means you can't change modes quickly on a whim when you decide you want the full 455 hp in Power mode for a brief overtake.

Driving it as most Volvo owners will, however, safety is likely to matter more than performance. The standard safety tech is impressive, and lane keep assist nudges and vibrates the steering wheel when you venture off track. When cabin distractions take your eyes off the road after stopping in traffic, the XC90 emits a sharp ping to let you know the traffic has started to move. While slightly obnoxious, it's more desirable than getting honked at from behind.

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Charge Port

The Family First SUV

Buyers wanting a luxury family SUV with seven seats can look to Germany with the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLS, or Audi Q7 or go further east with the Genesis GV80, Acura MDX, or Infiniti QX60. But if you're nonplussed about performance and want to treat your three-row crossover like the comfortable family shuttle it's meant to be, the smart money is on the Volvo XC90 Recharge.

It delivers the perfect blend of performance, ride quality, safety, and comfort for a competitive price. You'll love driving it, your family will enjoy the ride, and it has the looks to blend in everywhere.

The 21-inch wheels with the Ultimate look the part but undoubtedly lessen the ride quality. The base Core model will please most buyers and is probably the smart choice, and if power and performance aren't a concern, you can save even more by opting for the B5 or B6 engines. You can't go wrong with any trim or engine choice, which is not something you can say about every SUV. And you'll have a car that will age better than most.

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