From £76,5308
Greater electric-only range and an infotainment refresh for PHEV version of seven-seat SUV

Very few modern cars seem to age as well as the Volvo XC90 has. With its electric replacement (the Volvo EX90) already revealed before its debut in early 2024, this car is so long past being flavour of the month in the luxury SUV segment that some might need reminding that it’s still on sale at all. But even today, how great does it still look? And among those who know them, how often do you hear it said that “nothing else will do what an XC90 does”? 

There are plenty of other seven-seat luxury SUVs, but if you want one with seven seats along with a tax-friendly plug-in hybrid (PHEV) powertrain, it really is true to say that there are very few other places you can shop. Bascially, it’s this or a top-of-the-range Hyundai Santa Fe.

Volvo’s particular packaging of the XC90 T8 Recharge's drive batteries and electric rear axle are the reasons why it has had that micro-niche almost all to itself for so long. And after it improved the petrol-electric powertrains of all of its PHEV models quite recently, Volvo has also just updated the XC90's active safety and infotainment systems and realigned its equipment levels in a bid to send it off into retirement in an appropriately respectful way.

As of midway through the 2022 model year, then, the XC90 T8 got a 143bhp electric motor on its rear axle (up quite a way from the old 87bhp one) and a drive battery worth 18.8kWh of installed capacity. The latter finally makes this a sub-50g/km CO2 fleet operator, having missed out for so long on optimal company-car tax qualification.

Volvo xc90 t8 recharge2023 02 side panning

Volvo’s latest Android-based touchscreen infotainment system will add welcome connected functionality to the XC90's digital armoury (for owners with the right kind of smartphone, at least), and it works simply and intuitively enough. It has no tactile input device and very few menu shortcut buttons, so usability can feel a little bit laboured at times. Pointing and swiping at a screen with an outstretched hand does divert more of your attention away from the road than moving a cursor around a screen with a manual input device seems to, of course; and it is a little odd that safety-conscious Volvo wouldn’t have noticed as much by now, despite how often road-testers observe it. Still, the XC90’s system is no worse than a great many in other modern cars in that respect, and the Google-based voice-recognition system actually works very well indeed when you're entering sat-nav destinations and the like, which is a useful compensation. 

The rest of the car’s cabin, as unchanged as it may be, is spacious, solid-feeling, well-constructed and generally very pleasant indeed. I don’t think you would guess that it’s ostensibly an eight-year-old design from the way it looks and feels. Our test car had Volvo’s Midnight Zinc grey wool-blend upholstery, which makes a very enticing change from the usual leather or imitation-leather seats. Its front seats are generously sized, widely adjustable and comfortable over long distance, while its rear seats are roomy even for taller adults (except in row three).

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The most significant thing that adding that bigger battery and more powerful motor has done for this car is boost electric-only range. It’s now claimed to be somewhere between 40 and 44 miles, and in practice it's worth very close to that - which probably is 50% better than in the old model. When the battery runs flat, the car returns only around 35mpg, but a real-world 40-mile EV range could ensure your aggregated fuel economy might be a lot higher than that, contingent on plenty of charging and shorter-range driving.

The new motor delivers appreciably better electric-only drivability, too. It accelerates the XC90's 2.3-tonne bulk more authoritatively, making it easier to keep the petrol engine shut down when you’re in Hybrid mode at speeds both low and high, boosting running efficiency as a result. 

Volvo xc90 t8 recharge2023 07 dashboard

Dial up Power mode and the XC90 can feel genuinely fast – quicker, no doubt, than a big seven-seat Volvo really needs to be. The responses of the electric and combustion parts of the powertrain can feel a little unsynchronised under greater loads, though, as they often do in 'P4’ hybrids (those in which one axle is driven electrically, the other via the combustion engine, with no mechanical connection between). That’s the main reason why you wouldn’t think of this as much of a driver’s car, although surely few would imagine that it might be in the first place.

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Its ride and handling are respectable enough, although here you might regret a little not getting your order absolutely spot on. As a result of Volvo’s latest equipment line tweaks, only top-level Ultimate cars get four-corner adaptively damped air suspension; it’s not even an option on lesser trims. But 21in wheels like those of our test car can be added as an extra on a mid-spec model, and the combination of those wheels with the XC90’s passive suspension won’t be a desirable one if you like an especially comfortable and quiet-riding car. 

The XC90’s ride is just a shade less well isolated than you find it in the very best full-size SUVs, slightly noisy over coarse bitumen and a little bobbly, fidgety and excitable over complex surfaces. Body control is far from poor, but it does evidence the car’s size and mass at quicker B-road speeds or if you hurry around corners in a way that better-handling rivals now don’t.

I can’t believe that XC90 owners would want a more dynamic driving experience than this, to be fair, but they might well like a marginally more relaxing one - and if so, the best advice is “go big or go home” by buying Ultimate trim. Do that and, short of waiting until 2024 for the EX90, you won’t find many more competent, pleasant, smart-looking or quietly gratifying seven-seater family cars. And that’s no bad way to bow out, is it?

Volvo xc90 t8 recharge2023 15 front cornering

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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giulivo 24 January 2023

You are forgetting the Sorento and the Ford.

xxxx 18 January 2023

20k cheaper than the next 90 BEV, wonder how long it would take to get that 20k in petrol for the private buyer. Either way both are over priced imo.

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