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2020 Volvo XC90 T8 Review: Chilling in a Swedish Luxury Icon

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Auto123 reviews the 2020 Volvo XC90 T8.

There are several forms of luxury. The version found in German SUVs tends to be clinical, sanitized, clean and smear-free, with a hint of sportiness. Americans like to throw their weight around, but their version of luxury is usually not performance-oriented. Swedes, meanwhile, like simple things, streamlined and unceremonious. Performance is fine, yes, but it has to be unobtrusive like the rest of the vehicle.

First introduced in 2003 and redesigned for its second generation in 2016, the XC90 is Volvo's largest SUV. For 2020, Volvo is making minor modifications with a slightly larger battery pack for the T8 PHEV model that help deliver a few more kilometres of range, but nothing significant.

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2020 Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design, on the road
Photo: Volvo
2020 Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design, on the road

A single engine, but in three configurations
Volvo offers the XC90 in Momentum, R-Design and Inscription iterations. As usual, Volvo sticks to one single engine in its product offering. All models are equipped with a 4-cylinder 2L turbocharged engine that produces 250 hp in the T5 version. The T6 edition adds a supercharger boosting output to 316 hp. Our tester, the T8 plug-in hybrid, offers a base power output of 333 hp and an 87-hp electric motor for a usable 420 hp and a generous 472 hp of torque.

You’d be forgiven for thinking a small 2.0L engine would suffer under all the weight of such a big galoot, but you’d also be wrong. That is apparent from the time you hit the road in the XC90, and it’s due in part to the standard all-wheel drive and 8-speed automatic transmission.

2020 Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design, front
Photo: Volvo
2020 Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design, front

Standard equipment
Standard equipment includes cruise control, active noise control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto systems, 12.3-inch digital dashboard, satellite radio, 4-zone automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof, leatherette upholstery, power heated/adjustable front seats with lumbar support and leather-trimmed steering wheel, automatic engine start/stop, power tailgate, rain-sensing wipers, fog lights, LED adaptive headlights with washer and cornering lights.

Safety features include pre-collision warning system, lane assist, park assist camera, front and rear parking assist and tire pressure monitoring.

Our tester with the R-Design package also comes with a navigation system, road sign information, rear side sun visors, leather upholstery, sport seats with lumbar extensions and four-way seat cushions, paddle shifters, a leather shift lever, R-Design style markers and 20-inch wheels. We also had an option package that included heated wipers, blind spot sensor, heated steering wheel and heated rear seats, power-folding rear headrests.

2020 Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design, interior
Photo: Volvo
2020 Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design, interior
2020 Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design, front row seats
Photo: Volvo
2020 Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design, front row seats

Comfortable seating
Among the elements that impressed us were the very comfortable seats - a benchmark in the industry, frankly – as well as the quiet ride and the simple, uncluttered finish. Also, the model is undeniably spacious with large windows that bring in plenty of light and excellent visibility.
We were less overjoyed by the slightly rough engine, the stiff suspension and the touchscreen.

Let's start with the positives. If like too many of us you suffer from back trouble, consider Volvo in your vehicle choices. Its SUV’s ergonomics simply set the standard in the industry. The interior design is as simple and tasteful as Ikea furniture, to pull out an overused cliché. The DNA of Volvo's products, which has remained intact despite being bought by Chinese auto giant Geely a long decade ago.

Less pleasant is the vertically placed multimedia screen, simply unwieldy and featuring a system that’s too complicated and not user-friendly. You have to scan the screen with your finger from left to right or right to left to find the submenus. An unnecessarily gnarly system that requires you to take your eyes off the road to find what you're looking for, or stop on the side of the road for a few minutes to find a radio station. That’s just wrong.

2020 Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design, multimedia system
Photo: Volvo
2020 Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design, multimedia system

Big power, tiny range
If you drive on a perfectly smooth road, you'll love the ride. But that love might be tested a bit on more difficult roads. Meanwhile, with the addition of batteries, the T8 version tips the scales at 2,303 kg, a substantial total that should, in principle, handicap the vehicle. You can clearly feel the weight, but the SUV remains very responsive and firmly planted on the ground. The ride isn't sporty or even dynamic, but it's capable of going fast and stay in control, which after all is the important thing we can all agree.

The steering is precise and you can choose from four drive modes including Hybrid, Eco and Sport, which actually regenerates the battery a little. About that: know that it will be difficult for you to drive more than 30 km on a full charge.

Considering the price tag of over $85,000 attached to the thing, that 30 km might not sit well with owners who can’t get out of their heads there are models like the Honda Clarity that can go over 80 km for half the price. But then, pricing and figuring a model’s worth to an owner is always a touchy thing, isn’t it. Anyways, we give the model a good grade for fuel consumption; our XC90 averaged no more than 8.2 L/100 km. For such a heavy vehicle, that’s pretty darn good.

2020 Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design, three-quarters rear
Photo: Volvo
2020 Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design, three-quarters rear

Conclusion
Volvo delivers its own distinct vision of luxury. In its concept, the power that’s there is used in service of comfort, not performance. Interior peace comes from the well-being created by a quiet and comfortable cabin. At the same time, it’s necessary to have deep pockets and be prepared to live with the heavy depreciation in store for owners. In fact, we recommend you consider a lease.

We like

Very quiet ride
Excellent visibility
Very comfortable seats
Powerful LED headlights

We like less

Complicated touch screen
Mechanics that lack refinement
Short range in electric mode

The competition

Acura MDX
Audi Q7
BMW X5
Cadillac XT6
Lincoln Aviator
Mercedes-Benz GLE