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In a Class By Itself: 2017 Volvo XC90 E-AWD

Plug-in hybrid puts the emphasis on performance.

by on Mar.17, 2017

The design of the Volvo XC90 balances ruggedness with a modern, wind-swept appearance.

Say the word, “hybrid,” and you’re likely to think of a small, quirky little sedan or hatchback that trades performance for mileage. That might fit traditional gas-electric models like the Toyota Prius, but if you’re talking about the 2017 Volvo XC90 T8 E-AWD you’re in for a pleasant surprise.

Sure, this plug-in hybrid gets some great mileage numbers, at 54 MPGe. But the T8 version of Volvo’s flagship SUV also happens to be its most powerful, delivering performance that matches up to what key competitors are delivering with far less efficiency.

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The Volvo XC90 T8 anchors the unique strategy that Volvo outlined a few years back and which it is now rolling into place with the completion of the 90-Series and the debut of the new XC60 at the Geneva Motor Show this month. Unlike competitors who largely rely on V-6s and 8s, especially in their bigger models, Volvo has an all-four strategy. And, as we learned during our time behind the wheel of this SUV plug-in, small really can be beautiful.

(Click Here for a closer look at the all-new Volvo XC60.)

After what appeared to be a near-death experience during the Great Recession when it was sold off by Ford Motor Co., Volvo has come storming back to life by bringing on a series of new models that have caught the eye of critics and consumers. The XC90 has won a cabinet full of awards, including North American Truck of the Year.

The new Volvo XC90 T8 is powered by a new plug-in hybrid I-4 turning out 400-hp.

The basic XC90 is a three-row model that can be powered by any of three different four-cylinder powertrains. The Volvo XC90 T8 E-AWD Inscription opts for the top-line plug-in that puts the full-size SUV into a class seemingly all by itself.

Volvo likes to call this its “Twin Engine,” and for good reason. It starts out with a 313 horsepower inline-four that, in itself is unusual – though not entirely unique – relying on both turbo and supercharging to deliver seamless power from the moment you step on the throttle until it hits redline. The 2-liter gasoline engine produces 313 horsepower and an electric motor kicks in another 87 hp, for a combined 400 ponies and 472 foot-pounds of torque. Power is, in turn, directed to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.

I found the power and torque come into play quickly and efficiently whether starting from a suburban traffic light not far from my house or out on the highway as I moved to make a pass. The T8 quickly puts to rest any concern that hybrid drivetrains are not compatible with solid performance.

(Volvo stepping up the pace of product makeover. Click Here for the story.)

But the XC90 T8 doesn’t make you forget one of the reasons you might have bought it in the first place. Volvo says its shift to four cylinders is part of a push to become more environmentally friendly. As senior officials told at the Geneva Motor Show, they’re only a couple years away from launching a new battery-electric model.

For now, you can still run for as much as 14 miles in city driving on battery alone when the plug-in’s 9 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack is fully charged. According to the EPA, the Volvo XC90 T8 gets the equivalent of 54 miles per gallon – or MPGe – in plug-in mode. Operating on gasoline alone, it’s rated at 25 mpg combined.

The three-row XC90 has room for seven.

The ute’s ride and handling are equally impressive and nicely centered. It’s neither too hard or too soft and in keeping with vehicles fundamental character.

With its three rows of seating for up to seven passengers, the XC90 is a substantial vehicle but it handles as if it were much smaller and nimbler, with a solid grip as it travels through curves and over rough pavement. The suspension also handles the extra weight from the battery quite nicely.

The electric-powered steering is very responsive and gives you a feel for the road that isn’t found in many EPS models.

The regenerative braking system – which helps recoup energy normally lost during stops – actually improves braking power.

With the launch of the XC90, Volvo put an emphasis on upgrading both exterior and interior design. Visually, it retains just enough ute machismo to appeal to those turned off by some of the latest “soft-roader” SUV designs. One of the most striking exterior features is the front grille with the “Thor’s Hammer” LED headlight design and Volvo Iron Mark badge. The rear features the distinctive vertical taillights now found on all Volvo wagon and ute models.

The latest-generation XC90 introduced Volvo's new all-four cylinder engine strategy.

The cabin is much more refined than in past versions of the ute, with the T8 model’s crystal Start knob underscoring the more refined materials that now make this a true luxury competitor.

The cabin is filled with some intriguing technology, including an oversized touchscreen that follows the lead of the Tesla Model S with its vertical format. It allows for easy access to all key infotainment and vehicle functions, from tuning the satellite radio to operating the car’s optional new semi-autonomous Pilot Assist.

At up to 80 mile per hour, it can handle things like steering, braking and stopping, though we found it not quite up to the level where we could count on it for truly hands-free driving. It seems to work best on well-marked, limited-access highways.

The plug-in hybrid XC90 also includes Volvo’s City Safety Technology, which goes a step further than basic collision avoidance by adding the ability to detect pedestrians, bicyclists and even large animals in urban settings. And  Run off Road Mitigation helps to keep you on the pavement even if you fall asleep at the wheel.

The XC90 also has a full complement of other safety features, including air bags advance anti-lock brakes electronic stability control, which helps maintain Volvo’s reputation for building safe vehicles.

Deja vu? The new Volvo XC60 shares key design cues - downsized - from the XC90.

Add to the tech list a hands-free Bluetooth connection and a Wi-Fi hotspot that will link smart phone, tablet or laptop to the internet. The entire connectivity package is artfully integrated into the XC90′s cabin, which is ultra-quiet and helps insulate the driver from the stresses that accumulate during a long drive or on an ordinary commute. In addition, the key driving controls are within easy reach of the driver.

You can get into the 2017 Volvo XC90 T8 E-AWD for around $69,000 with a reasonable amount of standard equipment, though the sticker on the load version I drove was $88,855 plus a $925 destination charge.

The hybrid XC90 is big vehicle, and might be more than what many buyers need – so we’ll be looking forward to driving the new XC60 later this year. But for those who need a three-row seven-seater, it is clearly one of the most sophisticated models on the road today. Add the T8 plug-in driveline and you get a ute that is both quick, capable and environmentally friendly, all in one package.

(Volvo exec reveals an IPO is an “option.” Click Here for the story.)

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One Response to “In a Class By Itself: 2017 Volvo XC90 E-AWD”

  1. Tom Schwede says:

    Volvo is back! Like the new cars from Sweden.