Flashy seven-seat SUVs appear to be the latest industry trend. This is no surprise when you remember that it remains the fastest growing segment in the market. Manufacturers continue to raise the bar for what should be regarded as the most luxurious and dynamic people-moving road warriors on sale. With the likes of BMW, Audi and Infiniti joining the segment, can Volvo keep its popular XC90 ahead of the game? We headed to the Cotswolds to find out.
What is it?
This is the range-topping variant of Volvo's highly-rated XC90 – the T8 'Twin Engine' plug-in hybrid. Essentially, this is still the same big friendly giant that stole our hearts in 2015 – based on the same trusty platform as the sturdy D5 diesel and pokey T6 petrol – only the T8 is crammed with a wealth of extra gadgets as standard and has an even smaller carbon footprint – but only when it's running solely on electric charge.
What's under the bonnet?
Lift the hood and you'll find the same 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine that powers the other XC90s in the range, only this one is a little more special. The petrol unit in question is both supercharged and turbocharged to ensure maximum response at both low and high revs. This 320bhp powerplant is also linked to an 87bhp electric motor mounted at the back, which drives the rear wheels and bumps the total power output up to 407bhp and 640Nm of torque. It's powered by batteries, which can be charged by plugging the car into the mains and offers a pure-electric driving range of 27 miles.
If you thought this was pretty clever, you'll also be impressed by the additional 25bhp generator between the petrol engine and the eight-speed gearbox. That's right, there's a third powerplant, and it's used to iron out the transition between the six drive modes and boost torque. It's important to remember that the T8 is most efficient when you're using its batteries – once the petrol engine kicks in, its fuel consumption figure will drop.
What's the spec like?
Bold yet brilliant. Once again the XC90 is available in three trim levels: entry-level Momentum, mid-range R-Design and range-topping Inscription. The XC90's clever HMI (Human Machine Interface) infotainment system is a class-leader in terms of in-car technology and user-friendly controls, with the dash thoughtfully laid out. Its nine-inch portrait touchscreen is clear and quick to respond to demands and the cabin materials boast a premium feel from the shut of the door.
The XC90 is a strong reminder of just how advanced cars have become in terms of connectivity. Thanks to optional gadgets such as Apple Car Play – which is an additional £250 (£300 on D5 and T6 XC90s) – the XC90 is a wifi hotspot, an app-friendly pod and an intelligent machine on four wheels, which allows you to pre-heat, pre-cool or even find your car before you get in it.
What's it like to drive?
Impressive. Once again, the Swedish carmaker has hit the nail on the head with XC90. It's seamlessly smooth, refined and pokey, too. As standard, the T8 is equipped with six driving modes. This means it can run solely on the electric motor, you can choose to store the battery charge for later, or you can leave it to do the hard work for you by leaving it on the default hybrid setting. Oh, and if you decide to go cross country, there's an AWD mode, too. In truth, the XC90 doesn't feel like a 400bhp car that can hit 62mph in 5.6 seconds - there's no surprise there, though, since it does weigh 2343kg.
The glitzy crystal drive selector, exclusive to the T8, is also rather clever and provides a 'B' option, which will help you boost the battery charge with regenerative braking. This doesn't alter the feel of the brakes dramatically, but you will notice a firmer pedal. The XC90 won't be defeated by any hidden potholes on steel springs, but the optional air suspension (which come at an additional cost of £2150), is certainly worth the extra.
Well, the obvious contenders are that of the best-selling Mitsubishi PHEV, the BMW X5 xDrive40e and Audi's Q7 e-tron. But that does the XC90 T8 have that these cars don't? Seven seats. That's right; although Volvo has adapted the XC90 platform to house a plug-in hybrid setup, it's managed to retain the third row of seats that make it a class-leading people mover. The XC90 does add up to be a little pricier, especially once you've added the optional extras, with the entry-level Momentum starting from £59,995 and the Mitsubishi PHEV starting from £45,054.
What do we think?
Volvo has really hit the sweet spot with the XC90 T8. Its clever layout means the additional electric motor hasn't compromised interior space – which could have resulted in a loss of the third row of seats – and it's so smooth, you hardly notice the SUV switching between hybrid and electric drive. The XC90 is arguably the most convenient and technologically advanced cars one can buy, but it does come at a cost. If you've got £60,000 to spend, it's definitely worth the money. However, if you don't have regular access to a suitable plug socket, you may want to consider the D5.
Model: Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine Momentum
Price: £55,455 (including £5k government grant)
Engine: 2.0-litre, four cylinder turbocharged and supercharged + electric motor
Power: 407bhp / 640Nm
0-60mph: 5.3 seconds
Top Speed: 140mph