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Driven: Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design. Image by Volvo UK.

Driven: Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design
Pretty much the top dog in the revised XC90 range tested over Christmas/New Year - what’s the verdict?


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Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design

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Good points: the XC90 remains a stunning-to-behold large seven-seat SUV

Not so good: neither the R-Design spec nor T8 drivetrain are its finest options

Key Facts

Model tested: Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine AWD R-Design
Price: XC90 range from £52,235; T8 Twin Engine R-Design from £66,645, car as tested £70,070
Engine: 2.0-litre super- and turbocharged four-cylinder petrol with 64kWh electric motor and 11.8kWh lithium-ion battery
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Body style: five-door, seven-seat, plug-in hybrid SUV
CO2 emissions: 52g/km (VED Band 51-75 Alternative Fuel Cars: £15 in year one, then £455 per annum years two-six of ownership, then £135 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 113mpg, 28-mile electric range
Top speed: 140mph
0-62mph: 5.8 seconds
Power: petrol 303hp at 6,000rpm, electric 87hp, quoted system maximum 390hp
Torque: petrol 400Nm at 2,200-4,800rpm, electric 240Nm, quoted system maximum 640Nm
Boot space: 314-1,838 litres

Our view:

We've driven many a Volvo XC90 since its launch in 2015 and we've always adored this fabulous Swedish machine; frankly, it's the best premium seven-seater SUV you can get, in our eyes, even if it does have an array of purely four-cylinder engines at its disposal. If that paucity of pots bothers you, then you can always go for the mighty PHEV T8 variant as a means of (some) recompense, as it has always generated around 400hp; the sort of power you wouldn't sniff at from a V8.

But anyway, if you want to read repeated fanboy adulation for the big Nordic family-mover, look no further than this website. OK, so the juicy T6 model doesn't make an awful lot of sense, but we love the 'base' D5 model as much as we adore the T8, and our desire was not dimmed one iota during the XC90's range-wide facelift in 2019, where the 'D'-badged turbodiesel became a 'B'-badged mild hybrid, namely the B5.

Yet there has always been a dilemma where the 90-series Geely-era Volvos are concerned. And the quandary is this: do you specify your top-end Volvo as an Inscription, or an R-Design? Having agonised over it for five years, the test of this facelifted T8 R-Design and a forthcoming road test of an S90 Inscription has finally given us a sense of conviction about our answer. If you're going 'Big Volvo', go Inscription.

Not that we didn't thoroughly enjoy our time with this XC90 T8 R-Design, spending 19 hours at its wheel in total. One of the new colours for it is Thunder Grey, a matte-effect finish that goes well on a Norse god of an SUV that already has a set of Mjölnirs in its headlights, but it genuinely doesn't matter what shade you clothe your XC90 in, it'll still look terrific. The facelift of last year was vanishingly modest, which is no bad thing considering how wonderful a piece of styling this second-gen SUV was in the first place. And it's the usual sumptuous interior, too, which wins plaudits for: the increasingly familiar Sensus touchscreen infotainment; the beautiful 12.3-inch TFT instrument cluster, which doesn't go overboard on the snazzy graphics and instead presents its configurable data in a clear, concise and appealing fashion; the fact this plug-in hybrid T8 model loses no boot space nor seating capacity by virtue of it being a PHEV, which is not something you can say of all the Volvo's prestige hybrid rivals; and the general comfort and appearance of the R-Design-spec cabin, which definitely has the best sports seats of any mainstream/premium brand going. In terms of showroom and kerb appeal, the XC90 has both in embarrassing abundance.

And there's no major concern with the drivetrain. Yes, it's true, you fall afoul of the usual lament about PHEVs if you don't charge it regularly enough. We got a remarkable 112.5mpg running it the eight miles to Sherwood Forest and back when its battery was full of juice, but usage over the Christmas and New Year period with little mains hook-up yielded an overall figure of 30.5mpg across 623 miles. And don't think motorway runs help, because an overnight trip to central London (150 miles each way, four-up for most of the two journeys) saw the Volvo turn in 30.9mpg on the way down and 29.6mpg on the way back up, the former with some charge, the latter without.

Now, of course, you can argue that 30.5mpg is rubbish for a car that officially claims 113mpg, or you can look at it the other way and say that not many nigh-on-400hp, near-2.3-tonne, petrol AWD SUVs would manage to give you back anything like 30mpg on mixed-roads driving; perhaps more pertinent was that, on the occasions we did top the battery up, the maximum EV range only ever showed something like 20 or 21 miles, rather than the claimed 28. Again, in the Volvo's defence, this was during the depths of winter, when the XC90 T8 was regularly running in cold temperatures with lots of drains on its electrical reserves.

But the actual drivetrain, that 2.0-litre super- and turbocharged four-pot with its 64kWh motor, is something of a gem. It's smooth and reasonably quiet at low revs, and when you want it to make a bit more noise then it's reasonably alluring, if not the most exciting petrol induction/exhaust note we've ever heard. There's also no reason at all to doubt the 390hp and 640Nm claims, because the electrified propulsion unit shifts the SUV with suitable alacrity. We think Volvo's eight-speed gearbox is pretty slick too, despite the fact others have reported that it can be occasionally dim-witted. So, overall, with good refinement, strong performance and reasonable running costs, the XC90 T8 R-Design remains as desirable an SUV as it ever has been previously. If you buy one, or you've already bought one, you'll think it marvellous.

The problem is, we think we'd specify it differently if ordering it ourselves. The R-Design suspension brings in too much of a compromise in ride comfort with not enough of a pay-off in terms of the handling. While the XC90 is still a composed and assured machine in the corners, it's not notably sharp or invigorating. And there's too much low-speed fidget from the tougher R-Design springs and dampers, too much thump from its 20-inch wheels (the R-Design Pro gains 22s as standard; we shudder to think...), too much tyre roar from its enlarged rubber for us to proclaim this car as effortless to live with. It's not unbearable, of course, and if you fancy owning one then you could undoubtedly teach yourselves to live with it, but an Inscription on 19s and air suspension would be a whole different ball game in terms of plush comfort.

Then there's the price. At £66,645, the T8 Twin Engine R-Design is hardly cheap to begin with and once a few options are fitted, the price escalates to £70,070. Said options on the test car were the Harman Kardon sound system for £850 (although we'd be going full Bowers & Wilkins if we got the chance), the £525 Winter Pack, the £275 Family Pack, the 360-degree Parking Camera Surround View for £525, Blind Spot Identification System (BLIS) with Cross-Traffic Alert and Rear Collision Mitigation for £500, a £50 4.5-metre Type 2/Mode 3 charging cable, and the metallic paint at £700, all of which are most lovely and you'd probably have 'em. But 70 grand for a four-cylinder Volvo; too much? As good as the T8 is, we think so. True, something like an Audi SQ7, which has a broadly comparable 435hp and the same seven seats, starts at £76,720 and clocks in at a whopping 95 grand as a Vorsprung, but for that you get a genuine performance SUV with a V8 engine of such charisma and outrageous punch that it feels a level above the ultimate XC90, 390hp or not.

So the upshot of all the above is that here is one of our favourite SUVs, in the wrong spec. As technically impressive as the T8 Twin Engine is and as good as an R-Design Volvo looks, we can't help but feel that an XC90 B5 Inscription would, for those of use who don't live in semi-urban areas to allow us to charge our PHEVs regularly, be just as economical (if not more so) to run, would be considerably cheaper to buy and it would provide pretty much all of the very best bits of the T8, only with a better ride and less road noise. The XC90 is therefore clearly one of those cars where the sweet spot of its range is nowhere near the top of the specification tree.


Audi Q7 e-tron: sacrifices its seven-seat capacity and uses diesel-electric power, and we'd say the Volvo looks better inside and out.

BMW X5 xDrive45e: BMW's X5 PHEV is vastly improved for its second outing, thanks to six-cylinder power, but - like the Audi - it's a five-seater only.

Lexus RX L 450h: this one preserves the seven seats but sacrifices the plug-in capabilities, proving that the XC90 T8 is a clever piece of packaging.

Matt Robinson - 2 Jan 2020    - Volvo road tests
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2020 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine R-Design UK test. Image by Volvo UK.2020 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine R-Design UK test. Image by Volvo UK.2020 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine R-Design UK test. Image by Volvo UK.2020 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine R-Design UK test. Image by Volvo UK.2020 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine R-Design UK test. Image by Volvo UK.

2020 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine R-Design UK test. Image by Volvo UK.2020 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine R-Design UK test. Image by Volvo UK.2020 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine R-Design UK test. Image by Volvo UK.2020 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine R-Design UK test. Image by Volvo UK.2020 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine R-Design UK test. Image by Volvo UK.


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