Cars

Published on January 19th, 2017 | by Kyle Field

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2017 Volvo XC90 T8 Plug-In Hybrid Test Drive & Review

January 19th, 2017 by  

Meet the Volvo XC90 T8

The Volvo XC90 T8 PHEV is a 7-seater plug-in hybrid sport utility vehicle, which makes it a great choice for folks looking for a vehicle that can run for a few miles in all-electric mode before switching to a more typical hybrid mode, while also having the capacity to haul around tons of people, kids, and/or gear. At the time of this writing, it is the only 7-seater PHEV available for purchase in the US, which is a big deal for planet-friendly families like mine that are looking for a few more seats in a vehicle that doesn’t gulp gasoline.

The XC90 PHEV offering is of special interest to many because of the Volvo brand, which is known for producing high quality, extremely safe vehicles. Equally important to others, the seats lay down flat, which opens up a cavernous rear compartment that seems like it would swallow a bedroom’s worth of furniture from Ikea with plenty of room to spare for some of Ikea’s new LED lighting fixtures (my favorite section of the store) on top.

Here’s the rundown on what the XC90 brings to the table:

  • Base MSRP: $67,800
  • All Electric Range (AER): 17 miles
  • hp. / lb. ft.: 400 / 472
  • MPGe for hybrid mode: 54 Hwy / 53 City
  • Passengers: 7

The XC90 utilizes a standard J1772 charging port that sips power from the included TurboCord 110/220v charger which can charge up the integrated 9.2 kWh battery at a maximum of 3.3 kW.

What Works

The XC90 was the last car I drove in a day filled with other plug-in hybrids from Mercedes, BMW, and Porsche, and I was shocked that I found it to be so much more enjoyable than the previous 6 PHEVs I had driven. It’s not that I have anything against Volvo, I just don’t have a lot of experience with the brand and the XC90 really set a high bar for the Volvo brand.

While I personally do not place a lot of value on the interior of vehicles (I’m typically all about the function of the car vs the luxury of it), the interior of the vehicle was obviously extremely high quality with leather, rich walnut, and even some crystal adornments adding flair to the shift lever.

Having said that, the Volvo did hit me in one of my soft spots with the nicely integrated displays that were used for the gauge cluster and the multimedia interface. Tesla really set a high bar with its beautiful implementation of the 17” touchscreen that provides an intuitive user interface for multimedia, amazing navigation, climate control, vehicle settings and more, and the XC90 is one of the very few vehicles I’ve been in that hit me with the same feeling.

The gauge cluster display, sitting comfortably behind the steering wheel, is customizable and features useful, dynamic information that’s relevant to what’s happening. Complementing the built-in gauge cluster display, the XC90 also features a supplemental heads up display (HUD) that projects a dynamic set of key details onto the windshield. During my time driving the XC90, the HUD displayed the speed limit and when I exceeded it, my speed as well. The consultant that accompanied me shared that it would switch to displaying navigation instructions if a navigation route was selected.

HUDs are extremely valuable when it comes to driver safety as they are typically used to project key details that aren’t safe for the driver to look for, allowing them to keep their eyes on the road or traffic when driving. Why look down to find out how fast you’re traveling if the car can literally just overlay it onto the windshield? Volvo asked this and moved straight on to developing and implementing a beautiful solution.

The Beginnings of Autopilot

Volvo prides itself on utilizing advanced technology for safety, and autopilot is a natural extension of that core focus. The optional Pilot Assist package adds the ability to auto-steer at speeds up to 30 mph. That’s not quite in the same ballpark as the Tesla autopilot that is more geared towards freeway driving, but still a noteworthy addition as it will improve the safety of the vehicle at low speeds and provide a foundation for future autopilot and autonomous functions in the future.

Room to Improve

Seating 7 people comes at a cost, and that’s the massive footprint and weight of the vehicle. It’s a very large vehicle and tips the scales at 2,295 kg / 5,059 lb. Some drivers may love the feeling of driving such a large vehicle while many, especially those in Europe who are accustomed to smaller vehicles suited for narrower roads, may find it to be cumbersome to drive.

While the XC90 is packed with technology, there’s no escaping physics. Hauling all that mass around takes a considerable amount of energy as can be seen in the fuel efficiency numbers for the XC90, which is measured in the ever-controversial MPGe.

The combined rating of 54 highway / 53 city is achieved by combining the excellent MPGe that comes from running in all electric mode for the first few miles with the more typical MPGe results that show up in the more traditional hybrid mode that is engaged when the battery runs out.

The Voice Control was another area that came up lacking. Tesla really set a high bar with a voice command system that performs better than almost any smartphone out there. I regularly punish it with terrible pronunciations of the many Spanish street names found around southern California, and even recently threw some Japanese at it when I asked it to “Navigate to Shin-Sen-Gumi,” and it was able to translate my hacked attempt at pronunciation into directions to the correct restaurant. After throwing commands like this at the Tesla, I’ll often say “good luck” and am regularly impressed.

Back to the XC90, the experience was more of what you would expect from a typical vehicle navigation system. The voice command system is comprised of non-intuitive commands that must be linked together in a specific order to achieve the desired result. After a number of failed attempts, I gave up and resigned myself to the fact that, much like in our Mercedes B-Class, it would be easier to just type the address in rather than to risk the inevitable frustration from attempting voice control.

With even cheap smartphones now offering functional voice control, it remains a curiosity why more automakers still can’t seem to implement voice control in a way that’s functional. This is even more of a gap in light of the fact that voice control has the potential to improve driver safety by allowing them to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the steering wheel. Alas, in a strange sort of irony, it appears that automakers will likely deliver fully autonomous vehicles before they will be able to implement a voice control suite that functions, Tesla notwithstanding.

In Summary…

The Volvo XC90 T8 is a huge step up for Plug-in Hybrids as it allows customers looking for a high end luxury sport utility vehicle to drive at least a few miles on the battery. The challenge the XC90 faces is in regard to price and safety. Looking at it in isolation, it is a fantastic vehicle, but when the fact that the $86,000 version we drove is in the same price range as the Tesla Model X that can also drive a few miles on the battery (heh!) and can also seat 7, the conversation changes.

With respect to safety, Tesla has changed the game there as well, delivering best in class safety ratings for both the Model S and the Model X, trumping even the Volvo. For more information about the Volvo XC90 T8 PHEV, check out the product page or the interactive online brochure for the XC90 T8.

Images credit: Kyle Field | CleanTechnica and Volvo

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About the Author

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. TSLA investor. Tesla referral link: http://ts.la/kyle623



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