POWER PLUG-IN HYBRID VOLVO When Volvo announced that each of its models would end up being offered with electrified variants, there was a suspicion Volvo might adopt a more environmental stance by offering cars purporting to offer sky-high miles per gallon matched with only adequate performance. However, with the plugin hybrid XC90 T8, the company had already hinted that this might not be the case. The XC90’s plug-in hybrid powers its sizeable bulk from 0-62mph in less than six seconds. That’s impressive by any performance car meter, nevermind that with the right driver it should be able to achieve its claimed 100-plus mpg figure.
Stick all that into Volvo’s slinky S90 saloon and much of the same impressive credentials remain true. The 2.0-litre petrol engine that has been treated to both supercharger and turbo produce a simply outrageous 320hp. To put that into perspective, that’s more horses than Honda managed to eke from the samesized unit found in the Civic Type-R hot hatch hero.
Impressive though this may sound, and it is, there’s a distinct feeling that Volvo might have over egged it a little bit. While there’s no questioning the S90 T8’s ability to embarrass most cars at the traffic light grand prix, this does feel slightly at odds with the rest of the machine. The S90’s
interior is about opulence, refinement and restraint, whereas the engine is – at times – a touch lager lout. However, don’t let that give you the wrong idea, because the S90, like the XC90 and XC60, is also equipped with the silky-smoothness of an electric motor. Combined, the two produce super-car data with more than 400bhp and 640Nm of torque.
This, combined with the petrol engine, allows the S90 T8 to fall into a near-silent mode whereby the interior acoustics come into play. With ample sound insulation, the car transforms its ambience into a serenity.
This is what a plug-in hybrid is all about: offering powerful driving dynamics on-demand, while blissfully taking care of traffic without an angry caged animal housed under the bonnet. Whereas it used to be one or the other, plug-in hybrids like this can offer the best of both worlds.
That being said, if you regularly venture beyond the roughly 20-miles electric real-world range, you’ll pay the price and see the fuel gauge tumble to as low as mid-30s with a heavy right foot. Back off and drive in EV mode as much as possible and this will rise to around 45mpg average. That’s not bad for a car of this size, weight and class, and as with all plug-in hybrids the significant caveat here is that one can easily surpass this with a bit of gentle persuasion. Nevertheless, being a large motorway-style cruiser, an S90 isn’t likely to be bought for nipping down to the shops regularly, so it is a bit of a mixed bag in that sense.
And despite all its power and accelerative performance, handling isn’t what you’d call dynamic. Understeer is very present and there’s a feeling the car’s not entirely happy with this level of on-demand potency.
Again, slightly at odds with the performance is the safety as standard policy which Volvo takes with all its vehicles. The S90 is no different and features pretty well every conceivable safety extra ever invented – even mitigation against large animals – but more UK-centric obstacles like pedestrians and cyclists are looked after with Volvo’s all-seeing eye. The nose-mounted camera not only aids detection, but also allows for the driver to literally see around bends, for example at a blind junction, rather than having to inch out until the car’s halfway across the road before having a clear sight-line. Its a small detail but one that the engineers have obviously thought about and drivers will appreciate.
There’s also Volvo’s Pilot Assist hardware, which allows for semi-autonomous driving along motorways and holds the car in a lane at the same time as enabling radar-adaptable cruise control. And that’s the point of this car. It’s all about the characterful touches Volvo’s engineers have installed.
There’s a distinctly human element to the car. While its performance may be present so that those looking at German saloons don’t dismiss the Volvo out of hand, it’s also an awkwardly endearing feature that one of the safest cars in the world is also one of the most outlandishly aggressive plug-in hybrids. And then there’s the silent electric drive and potential to its ability to mimic a Rolls-Royce. Quality materials and a tastefully minimal design inside set the car apart from the typically boring black-plastic clad rivals too. But whatever you may think of the S90 from this review, I implore you to go and sit in one at your local Volvo showroom. I guarantee you’ll be impressed and when you do eventually leave – likely kicking and screaming – you’ll want to return.
Yes, the T8 isn’t perfect and is, in many ways a bizarre concoction of performance meets environment, but it’s such an endearing package that brings Volvo to the typically teutonic-only market and it has the power to make you wish your next car is a Volvo.