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A price cut and power drop aim to make Volvo's plug-in hybrid estate more accessible

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The maturation of Volvo’s electrification strategy since its first forays into plug-in technology back in the late 2000s has been impressive to say the least.

Those with longer memories will recall the C30-based ReCharge Concept from 2007: a ‘series hybrid’ that could travel as far as 62 miles in electric-only mode and which used a 1.6-litre petrol engine to charge the batteries that powered its four electric motors. Then there were the two diesel-electric V70s that Volvo ran as part of a joint research trial with energy supplier Vattenfall.

‘Thor’s hammer’ headlights remain among Volvo’s most easily identifiable styling cues. They still look fantastic today, some four years after the V90’s launch

These plug-in estates offered an electric range of up to 19 miles and in 2010 were given to Volvo employees so their strengths and weaknesses could be assessed in real-world use. Suffice to say, a chief criticism was a shortage of emissions-free range provided by the 11.3kWh battery.

Since then, however, things have accelerated greatly. With a massive cash injection from owner Geely, Volvo was able to use the lessons that had been learned from such projects to get the jump on its German rivals. So a diesel-electric plug-in hybrid version of the Volvo V60 arrived in 2012 and was gradually followed by a raft of high-end, performance-oriented petrol-electric models that offered savvy company car owners an appealing and stylish means of cutting their fuel and tax expenditure.

Fast-forward to 2020 and Volvo’s entire model line-up is now electrified, including everything from mild-hybrids to full EVs. At the same time, Volvo has also worked to make some of its larger, pricier plug-in hybrid models a bit more financially accessible now that rival manufacturers’ electrified portfolios are beginning to grow.

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This V90 T6 Recharge is one of those cars. The newly updated version of Volvo’s flagship estate lands not only with slightly less power than its T8 Twin Engine predecessor but with a fractionally lower asking price too. And crucially, it will also slot into that coveted 10% benefit-in-kind tax bracket, provided you don’t go mad with options.

The question is, is it a compelling enough machine to steal sales away from the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz? Read on to find out.

The V90 line-up at a glance

All V90s now feature some degree of electrification. B4, B5 and B6 petrol and diesel models come equipped with a 48V mild-hybrid architecture, while the T6 is currently the only plug-in hybrid V90 on offer.

Those Recharge models are offered in either R-Design or Inscription trim, while the more conventional B-series cars are available in a wider range of specifications. Momentum represents the entry point for these cars, and is followed by R-Design and then Inscription.

The V90 also comes in Cross Country guise, with lifted ride height, four-wheel drive and off-road-friendly cladding.

Price £55,305 Power 335bhp Torque 435lb ft 0-60mph 5.6sec 30-70mph in fourth 8.4sec Fuel economy 40.0mpg CO2 emissions 50g/km 70-0mph 45.7m

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Volvo V90


Volvo V90 T6 Recharge PHEV 2020 road test review - hero side

Four years have passed since the V90 was first revealed, but it remains as striking and handsome as it was back in 2016. Nevertheless, Volvo has subjected its flagship estate (as well as its S90 saloon sibling) to the mildest of mid-life facelifts for 2021.

The tail-lights, foglights and lower bumper have all been tweaked, but really a refresh as reserved as this is testament to the success of Thomas Ingenlath’s original design. And given that the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6 have both entered entirely new model generations since the V90 came on sale, its evergreen aesthetic only becomes more laudable.

These 20in alloy wheels are an £800 optional extra. Standard Recharge R-Design cars get the same design, but as a 19in fit instead. They’re worth the money, we reckon

Much is familiar beneath it all, too. The V90 continues to sit on the Scalable Product Architecture that underpins all large Volvos and is itself the product of billions of pounds of investment from Geely. Suspension comes by way of double wishbones at the front and multiple links at the rear, with passive dampers all round.

As before, however, customers have a choice of sticking with the standard-fit composite rear leaf springs or swapping these out for optional air springs. Our test car had the latter, which meant it also gained adaptive dampers. Being an R-Design model, its ride height is lowered by 20mm. Where things begin to differ, however, is the engine line-up.

It’s still based on a tight line-up of 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol and diesel powerplants, but each now offers a varying degree of electric assistance. The recently introduced ‘B’ series of engines all feature 48V mild-hybrid technology, while our T6 test car replaces the old T8 Twin Engine as the current range-topper and sits within Volvo’s newly rebranded Recharge family of plug-in vehicles.

Unlike those ‘twin-charged’ T8 models that employ both a supercharger and a turbocharger, the T6’s 250bhp petrol engine does without the former. It drives the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission, while an 86bhp electric motor mounted at the rear axle imparts the V90 with four-wheel-drive capability.

An 11.6kWh drive battery is housed beneath the centre console, providing an electric range of 36 miles under WLTP conditions. Hook it up to a home-charging wallbox and it will be topped up in a couple of hours.


Volvo V90 T6 Recharge PHEV 2020 road test review - cabin

The V90’s cabin remains as impressively spacious and materially sophisticated as ever. Volvo’s cool minimalist design and simplified approach to layout are by now instantly recognisable, while a choice selection of leather, aluminium and gloss-black plastic surface treatments allow the V90 to mix comfortably with Mercedes, Audis and BMWs. Volvo wants us to think of this car as a premium offering and, as far as the fit and finish and material palette of the V90’s cabin are concerned, that’s precisely what the V90 is.

There’s a lot to like from an ergonomic perspective, too. The driver sits bang in front of a pleasingly thin-rimmed steering wheel, in a sporty-looking chair that’s neither too firm nor too soft. Healthy amounts of bolstering ensure your thighs and torso remain in place and power adjustability provides plenty of scope for making minute tweaks to the seating position. Meanwhile, the infotainment system’s portrait-oriented touchscreen is within close reach and is relatively easy to interact with while you’re on the move. Volvo now possesses more brand cachet than it ever has, and it’s refreshing that this shift upmarket hasn’t come at the cost of usability.

The horizontal cylinder that you use to change drive modes feels a bit odd initially, but you soon get used to it. Still, a regular button would be an improvement.

Nor practicality, for that matter. Despite the V90 being designed to prioritise rear passenger space over outright luggage capacity, boot space is still plentiful. With a generously tapered rear window, it might not be able to swallow a chaise longue as easily as its unashamedly boxy ancestors, but a wide load bay aperture and a flat floor ensure that loading and unloading bulky items won’t be any more difficult than it needs to be. Taller passengers will find they are well catered for in terms of head and leg room in the second row, too.

Volvo V90 infotainment and sat-nav

The V90 makes use of Volvo’s 9.0in, portrait-oriented touchscreen infotainment suite, named Sensus Connect. This by now is a familiar system, and the fact that it’s wholly operated via the touchscreen won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has experience with the current crop of Volvo products.

It’s simple enough to master the ins and outs, and to Volvo’s credit the screen responds keenly to your inputs and is easy to read while on the move. The mapping graphics are a touch basic, however, and you need to pay extra to get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The optional Bowers & Wilkins sound system is suitably impressive in the hushed confines of the V90’s cabin but isn’t exceptional by wider class standards.


Volvo V90 T6 Recharge PHEV 2020 road test review - charging port

Given the V90’s size and premium positioning, it’s easy to sympathise with those who would bemoan the lack of a six-cylinder unit from its engine line-up. But as tempting as it is to visualise a big Volvo with a BMW 30d- or 40i-rivalling engine, this particular V90’s four-cylinder, petrol-electric powertrain nonetheless endows it with an appealing level of easy-going performance.

It’s certainly as quick as you would realistically need it to be, if not quite as rich-sounding or mellifluous under load as those larger engines. Plant your foot in the default Hybrid driving mode and the electric motor’s modest torque reserves provide strong initial urgency, before the engine steps in to really get things going. There’s a slight accelerative lull as the motor runs out of shove and the eight-speed transmission takes a second to kick down, but this window of hesitation is narrower than it is in other PHEVs and doesn’t adversely affect overall drivability.

Before the V90, I’d never maxed a car on Millbrook’s mile straight. Volvo wasn’t kidding when it said it was restricting the top speed of all its cars; I promptly hit the limiter at an indicated 114mph

An average 0-60mph time of 5.6sec is respectable and matches Volvo’s claimed time exactly. A 30-70mph time of 4.9sec is impressive too, particularly when you consider that the considerably lighter BMW 330d Touring needed 5.2sec. But as punchy as the Volvo’s petrol-electric powertrain is, on the grounds of in-gear tractability, it can’t match the sheer muscle provided by the BMW’s torque-rich six-cylinder diesel engine. Locked in fourth gear, the V90 required 8.4sec to accelerate from 30-70mph, whereas the 330d needed just 5.8sec.

Yet an overt focus on athleticism has never really been Volvo’s style, and when you drive the V90 in a more laid-back, relaxed fashion, it truly is very easy to get along with. With no supercharger to speak of, its 2.0-litre petrol engine sounds smoother and slightly less frenetic than those that have appeared in older T8 Twin Engine models, while the manner in which the V90 juggles its electric and combustion power sources is impressively smooth too.

Switch to the electric Pure drive mode and the V90 is particularly enjoyable to waft around town in. There’s enough poke to help make the most of gaps in the traffic, but any attempts at sustained acceleration runs will see the petrol engine spark back into life.


Volvo V90 T6 Recharge PHEV 2020 road test review - on the road front

Rather than major on driver engagement, the V90 remains a car that suits a more relaxed style of driving, and one that prioritises comfort and ease of use over and above any prominent dynamic streak. Drive it in such a manner, and you’ll find you’re far better placed to appreciate what this car is all about.

Naturally lightweight steering makes it easy to manoeuvre the V90’s striking 4.9m body in tight spots at low speed, and it is accurate and intuitive enough to build confidence out on the open road. The lowered yet still conspicuously comfort-oriented suspension distances you from smaller imperfections under wheel, while also ensuring body movements are kept in check. It also does well to minimise the destabilising effects of mid-corner impacts. Meanwhile, the car’s 245-section tyres and chassis work together to provide a level of grip and stability that never threatens to sap your confidence.

I think this rebalancing of Volvo’s plug-in hybrid powertrain suits the V90 so well that I would actually take a T6 over a T8. (Not that you can actually choose one). The T6’s relaxed gait and heightened refinement suit a big Volvo perfectly

If you ramp the V90 up to its sportiest Power drive mode, and flick its stubby little gear selector into B to increase the forcefulness of the regenerative braking system, it will competently facilitate a marginally more enthusiastic driving style. But push too hard and you’ll find that there’s little reward in challenging its chassis right to the limits of adhesion, and that those previously tied down body movements soon give way to notable amounts of float and lateral roll.

Not that we imagine many Volvo owners would mind this lack of inherent sporting prowess, but nonetheless we’d be remiss not to acknowledge it. And for all of those customers who might value an elevated sense of driver appeal and engagement, just as many will be attracted to the V90 for its sleek looks, eminent practicality, famed safety credentials and sublime ride comfort. More on which now.

Comfort and isolation

The smooth, silken manner in which the V90 lopes its way down a road is undoubtedly its greatest dynamic asset. There were reservations among our testers that the V90 R-Design’s large, sporting alloys and lowered suspension might count against it here, but after a few miles these were quickly dispelled.

In fact, you get the sense that a slightly tauter suspension set-up would actually play into this heavy plug-in hybrid model’s favour. At relaxed speeds, vertical body movements feel smartly contained over long-wave inputs, so you don’t perceive the car to be working too strenuously at all to keep itself level.

At the same time, however, this control is backed up by a supple pillowiness that makes the V90 a remarkably comfortable car in which to tackle long, arduous journeys.

This serenity isn’t unceremoniously shattered at lower speeds, either. Run those attractive 20in alloys over poorly maintained sections of Tarmac and, while you can hear the suspension thumping away gently beneath you, such protests are never forceful or violent.

The car remains composed and quiet practically all of the time, with only the largest bumps and divots causing that calm mask to momentarily slip. The cabin is very well isolated on the motorway, too. Wind and road noise are present but distant, and the petrol motor fades away into the background with little drama.

According to our sound meter, the Volvo compares favourably enough against similarly sized rivals from Audi and BMW. At 70mph, it generates 66dB of cabin noise, compared with 65dB from an A6 Avant 40 TDI and 66dB from a BMW 520d saloon – both impressively refined machines themselves.

Assisted driving notes

Volvo has taken a serious approach to improving the safety of its vehicles. As a result, the V90 T6 Recharge gains practically every driver-assistance aid you could ask for, with adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection all included right out of the box.

Our car also came with Volvo’s optional £500 Driver Assist Pack, which adds Blind Spot Information System with Steer Assist, Cross Traffic Alert with Autobrake, and Rear Collision Mitigation functions. And, like all modern Volvos, the V90 is now electronically limited to a top speed of 112mph.

There can be no doubting the effectiveness with which these measures have been implemented, and they complement the V90’s positioning as a laid-back, comfortable cruiser smartly. You don’t feel quite as inclined to switch them off as you might in a BMW or an AMG-fettled Mercedes.


Volvo V90 T6 Recharge PHEV 2020 road test review - hero front

Prices for the V90 T6 Recharge R-Design start at £55,305, and move up to £56,155 for the more luxurious Inscription. That might seem like a hefty wedge to private buyers who won’t necessarily benefit from a potential sub-50g/km CO2 rating, particularly when the excellent, newly facelifted BMW 530d M Sport Touring starts at £56,835.

However, for those who are after a plush estate for business use, the V90 does make a stronger case for itself. With the potential to achieve a benefit-in-kind rating of just 10%, those buyers will pay considerably less company car tax than if they opted for the diesel BMW, which can quite easily slot into the 36% tax bracket. That said, a plug-in hybrid 530e Touring M Sport with a 10% tax rating is due to arrive in November and is currently priced from £56,575.

V90 is competitive against PHEV rivals in terms of residual values, but none performs particularly strongly

Audi also makes the petrol-electric Audi A6 eTFSI, although at present there’s no added-practicality Avant version. All three models are capable of travelling similar distances on electricity alone, so personal badge preference will play a big role come upgrade time. For what it’s worth, though, the V90 was suitably frugal once its battery had been drained: under motorway touring test conditions, it managed 41.9mpg.

Our 40.0mpg test economy isn’t necessarily representative of the V90 at its best, largely because it spent more time on the track and on the motorway than cruising around town on electricity. Keep its battery charged, though, and over short hops this figure will rise considerably.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Volvo V90


Volvo V90 T6 Recharge PHEV 2020 road test review - static

The V90 T6 Recharge represents Volvo at its very best, even if – as a posh plug-in hybrid - it doesn’t exactly rewrite the formula.

Rivals make comparable and occasionally superior claims when it comes to electric range and CO2 emissions, and most offer similar levels of performance while promising similarly alluring levels of premium quality and finish. Yet the V90 remains an eminently appealing option in a sector that is now considerably more populous than it was only a few years ago, and a conscious effort on Volvo’s part to play to its core strengths plays a decisive role here.

Hardly revolutionary, but exceptionally appealing nonetheless

The V90 doesn’t try to be the most dynamic, engaging car in its class. Instead, it counts suave design, a heightened focus on safety, exceptional rolling refinement, impressive practicality and impeccable roundedness as its star attributes.

If it tried to take on the likes of BMW or Jaguar, the V90 might well be a more immediately exciting product – but at a cost. Not only would it sacrifice the effortless grace with which it would undoubtedly slot into your life, but it wouldn’t feel quite as earnest a product either. And it would be all the worse for it.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Volvo V90

Volvo V90 First drives