Volvo V90 T8
The plug-in hybrid estate has the power and the looks, but what is it like to drive?
Plug-in diesel-electric estate rated
If you’re looking for a large luxury estate equipped with a plug, your options are limited. Mercedes has yet to apply the 350e powertrain to the E-class Estate, it’s unlikely BMW will offer a Touring version of its excellent 530e and the arrival of an Audi A6 Avant e-tron remains a distant, murky prospect.
That leaves the Swedes. Volvo, specifically, with the T8-badged version of its handsome V90 estate, which in solely oil-burning guise we’re rather fond of. This flagship wagon uses a similar mechanical set-up to the XC90 T8 SUV, which is to say a force-fed four-cylinder petrol engine (the marque no longer indulges in a greater cylinder count, for any model) that drives the front axle while an electric motor does for the rear. Bridging the two is a 10.4kwh battery pack (larger, surprisingly, than the 9.2kwh unit in the XC90) that can be fully charged in as little as two-and-a-half hours. Claimed electric range is 28 miles – just about par for the plug-in electric vehicle course in 2017.
It’s a dexterous powertrain, capable of persisting solely with electric power all the way up to 78mph or, by simultaneously engaging the twincharged engine, locking itself into four-wheel drive mode to improve low-speed traction on treacherous surfaces, should the need arise.
Replenishing the battery on the move is a matter of selecting the battery-charge function within the slick central touchscreen, at which point the T8 morphs into a 312bhp front-driver.
Engaging kick-down, meanwhile, unleashes a four-wheel-driven, petrol-electric total of 401bhp and a startling turn of pace that’s not always easily managed given the car’s two-tonne-plus heft, notable body roll owing to the laid-back suspension tune and disconcertingly spongy pedal feel from the regenerative brakes (however effective they may be once caliper finally meets disc). Provoke this behemoth with care.
The V90 T8 is best left in its default Hybrid mode, in which the car itself manages the division of power. The digital dials have a novel, useful way of displaying the point where the engine will ignite, which varies with remaining battery charge and throttle input, and under reasonably light loads the combustive element of the powertrain drifts in and out of effect almost imperceptibly. It’s at this point that the car is everything you want of a modern Volvo estate – effortless, cultured and unendingly sure-footed, slightly rigid ride notwithstanding.
Push on and compromises begin to reveal themselves. Our test car – optioned to an eye-watering £67,580 thanks in part to its adaptive damping with rear air suspension (£1500) and Bowers & Wilkins sound system (£3000) – is a beautiful machine in so many ways but at 2011kg it is certainly not the driver’s car its R-design body kit might suggest. Under the duress of successive direction changes, all that metal takes up the slack in the springs in a slightly clumsy manner, leaving the car a step behind the topography of the road. The engine also takes on a flat, industrial tone when stressed.
Nevertheless, those for whom the car’s modest electric range can be made to bear the brunt of their daily mileage will own something of tremendous – but far from openended – versatility. Anyone else who wants a sprightly V90 might be better off settling for the smoother-riding, torque-rich D5 AWD, saving themselves £14,000 in the process.
Cosy, high-sided cabin is a V90 highlight, though the T8’s bucket seats are incongruous