Volvo V90 T8

The plug-in hy­brid es­tate has the power and the looks, but what is it like to drive?

Autocar - - THIS WEEK - RICHARD LANE @_r­lane_

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

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