First Drive: Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine

Two into one doesn’t always go.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the latest Volvo XC90, declaring it to be a genuine rival to the far more expensive Range Rover. Now the Swedes have taken the XC90 and found space for a battery pack and electric motor to sit alongside the 2.0-litre petrol engine from the T6.

The result is a seven-seater SUV that promises to emit just 49g/km of CO2 and return 134.5mpg, but without sacrificing performance.

It does that by having that petrol engine both supercharged and turbocharged. This means it produces an impressive 316bhp, all of which goes through the front wheels. If that sounds like the XC90 has lost its four-wheel drive capability, don’t panic; there’s also an electric motor that sits under the boot floor that provides an additional 86bhp directly to the rear wheels.

There are a variety of driving modes to help you extract the most from the car, allowing buyers to choose between economy or power. Most, of course, will simply leave it set to automatically work its eco magic.

The electricity comes from any old socket, although it’ll take three and half hours to charge fully. Once that’s done, you’ll get a range of 27 miles where you won’t need to use a single drop of petrol. Break the speed limit and you’ll find the petrol engine kicks in at 78mph, even if you’ve set the car to pure electric mode. However, the system calls on the petrol power quite often when you use anything beyond about half throttle thanks to having 2.3 tonnes of metal to lug around.

The 250kg or so electrical gubbins doesn’t really affect the drive though, which means the XC90 remains a thoroughly competent but not particularly involving car. The ride quality on the standard steel springs is very good, but expansions joints can thump through a little jarringly. Wonderfully compliant air suspension is available at an extra cost of just over £2,000, if that’s a concern.

Bar an extra flap that covers the electrical connection, it’s difficult to differentiate the T8 from any other XC90, and that’s thank to the car being designed to accommodate the hybrid system from day one, rather than being a late bolt-on idea. The batteries are well hidden under the transmission tunnel, keeping weight low down in the car.

The rear motor does eat into the fuel tank a little, reducing its capacity from 71 litres to 50, while boot space reduces marginally from 692 litres to 640, but all seven seats found in the standard XC90 remain.

The same is true of the cabin, which remains the best place this side of a Rolls-Royce to spend time behind the wheel. The nine-inch Sensus touch-screen infotainment system is still the best in the business, and now it’s got Apple CarPlay as an option that is integrated beautifully. Android Auto will follow, but Volvo isn’t sure when.

It all sounds very good for Volvo, but there’s a catch. Once that battery has run out, economy plummets by a frightening amount. That high power petrol engine and help from the electric motor saw me return just 34.4mpg during my time with the car, which may be low enough to make you reconsider the hybrid benefits.

Given that there’s also a £14,000 price difference between the D5 Momentum and this T8 Momentum, the maths might not stack up.

There are some appealing tax benefits though. As an end-user, the most obvious is the zero-rated car tax, but that’s small fry on a £60,000 car. Company car drivers will face a tax bill of £1,691, saving nearly £4,000 against the equivalent diesel, while businesses can currently claim a 100% write down allowance in year one reducing a tax bill by more than £12,000.

Buying a car based around pure mathematics isn’t an enjoyable experience though, so here’s the simple view: If you’re a business buyer, the T8 makes some sense, especially if your commute is just a few miles each way. For private buyers, you would be better served by the diesel-powered D5, but you sacrifice performance then. If that’s what’s important to you, as much as I like the XC90, you might want to take a look at the Audi SQ7.

The XC90 is still a very tempting choice in T8 Twin Engine form, but it’s not quite as compelling as the regular versions.

Model Tested: Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine Momentum
Price: £60,400
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo petrol and electric motor
Top speed: 140 mph
0-62 mph: 5.6 seconds
Power: 407 PS (401 bhp)
Torque: 640 Nm (472 ft-lb)
Official fuel economy: 134.5 mpg
Road Test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 49 g/km
VED Band: A / £0 per year
Car insurance group: 43E
Kerb weight: 2,321 kg

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