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2021 Volvo S90 T8 Recharge review: Distinctly different take on luxury

Luxury cars are all about making statements because they essentially say you’ve made it. However, some consumers refuse to copy others or get something super flashy. If you’re that person and you’re also sensible, the 2021 Volvo S90 T8 Recharge is for you. Unlike the average luxury sedan, this Swedish beauty exudes class and confidence effortlessly, letting its goodness do all the work to persuade you to buy it.

2021 Volvo S90 T8 Recharge exterior

2021 Volvo S90 T8 Recharge front 01 1
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Volvo recently refreshed the S90 but you’ll need a magnifying glass to see the changes. That’s not a knock against the car because it didn’t require any design tweaks. More than five years since its debut, the S90 remains beautiful and tasteful. The Thor’s Hammer LED headlights are unmistakable while the C-shaped LED taillights allow this big sedan to stand out more. Unlike competitors from Germany, the 2021 Volvo S90 T8 Recharge has a longer wheelbase. The U.S. gets the stretched version that’s assembled in China and geared toward that market where owners get driven in it.

2021 Volvo S90 T8 Recharge interior

2021 Volvo S90 T8 Recharge front seats 01 1
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

The S90’s cabin is the main highlight. In typical Volvo fashion, the interior is simple yet modern. Like the exterior, the interior has aged gracefully, giving it a fresh, attractive design for years to come. Top-notch build quality and attention to detail add to the experience. From the fantastic unpolished wood and metal trim to the crystal shifter and sumptuous leather, the S90’s interior exudes a luxurious aura. Copious levels of sound deadening further add to that vibe; you and your passengers get a tranquil sanctuary to relax in during long drives or the daily commute.

The rear seats are the place to be because the long-wheelbase yields abundant legroom and supreme comfort levels. Together with all the creature comforts in the back like seat heating and ventilation, power-operated sunshades, a large center armrest, and the ability to move the front passenger seat forward for additional legroom, the S90 was made to be driven in. Those in front aren’t left out either because the front seats are equally comfortable and offer plenty of support. Oddly, the front seats are the only ones with massaging capability. We hope Volvo adds that to the rear seats, too, as part of the Lounge package before the current S90 gets replaced.

Additional small-item storage would help make up for the shallow center console bin. Getting the Lounge package also deletes the split-folding rear seats and ski pass-through, meaning you won’t be able to expand the cargo area into the passenger cabin. Luckily, the trunk is huge, larger than the 13.5 cubic feet listed on the spec sheet, meaning it can easily swallow a lot of gear and bags. The middle rear seating position, on the other hand, is best for kids or short trips because the battery’s placement in the center tunnel creates a big hump.

2021 Volvo S90 T8 Recharge tech features

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Like every Volvo model except for the C40 Recharge and XC40 Recharge, the S90 uses the Sensus interface. A 9.0-inch touch screen is the centerpiece and can be complemented by a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster. Response times have been improved over previous iterations, meaning it’s easier to use the interface like an iPad embedded in your car. The submenus aren’t as many either with most functions requiring only one to two swipes or taps to get to what you need. You still get physical shortcut buttons but they’re limited to only defrosters, hazard lights, a volume knob, pause/play, and track forward/back. Even the rear climate and heated/ventilated seat controls are on a small display.

Volvo continues to offer one of the best audio systems in the business. The available 19-speaker, 1,400-watt Bowers & Wilkins surround sound system offers an epic listening experience thanks to its crisp sound projection and extensive customizability. There are several set themes, too, including concert hall mode, which emulates the acoustics of the Gothenburg Concert Hall for the most immersive listening experience. There’s also jazz club and studio modes if you want something more intimate.

Volvo’s safety leadership is in full show in the S90 because the active safety features all work well without acting like overprotective nannies. Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and the other collision prevention technologies are subtle in their operation and get your attention in a way that doesn’t become annoying.

Pilot Assist remains one of the best semi-autonomous driver assistance technologies on the market. Blending adaptive cruise control, traffic jam assist, lane centering, and steering assist, Pilot Assist takes the stress off of your daily commute. It keeps the car tracking straight on clearly marked roads and gently re-centers you if you start drifting. The distancing component actively manages your set distance even in traffic. Should another vehicle cut you off, the car immediately reacts via gentle braking inputs to keep you from getting too close. It’ll also accelerate smoothly while still retaining your set distance once the vehicle ahead moves away.

2021 Volvo S90 T8 Recharge driving impressions

2021 Volvo S90 T8 Recharge rear three quarters 05 1
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

The best way to describe the way the S90 drives is calm and serene, which is exactly how a luxury car should be. That doesn’t mean it’s clumsy because it goes about its business confidently. Even with the optional 20-inch alloy wheels, the car does a fantastic job absorbing road imperfections and isolating the cabin. Impacts barely register; you know you’re going over them but they’re hardly noticeable through the seat of your pants.

The high comfort levels don’t come at the cost of handling either. Yes, the S90 is tuned for compliance but it’s sure-footed through turns, and body motions are well controlled because it has enough stiffness to avoid being floaty. Even with the adaptive suspension in the sportiest setting, the car still does an admirable job filtering harshness out of the cabin. Although the steering is accurate, you won’t mistake the S90 for a sports sedan; it’s tight and confident but it’s a big cruiser first and foremost.

Volvo’s T8 plug-in hybrid powertrain is versatile and powerful. Utilizing a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder coupled to an electric motor, an 11.6-kWh battery, and an eight-speed automatic transmission, it makes 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque in the S90. The result is linear acceleration the moment you step on the pedal. You’re not wanting for more because there’s so much power available. In Power mode, the car even pushes you back into your seat. Since the electric drive motor is mounted on the rear axle, you don’t feel shifts in all-electric mode. The gearbox, however, could respond quicker outside of Power mode because it’s slightly hesitant to downshift when you put your foot down.

Since there isn’t a mechanical connection between both axles, the S90 relies on the electric motor to provide traction to the rear wheels. Luckily, the system is tuned well and you don’t get much torque steer or scrambling sensations during hard acceleration. You’ll know immediately that it’s an e-AWD system when turning because the rear end rotates more willingly, especially during spirited drives.

Volvo has greatly improved braking on the T8 cars, including the S90. Transitions from regenerative to friction braking are smooth, making it easy to modulate. B mode adds more energy recuperation and allows you to let off the accelerator sooner and slow down smoothly in a more consistent manner. The brake pedal itself is a joy to operate because it’s imperceptible where the mechanical brakes take over while retaining a nice level of progressiveness.

Charging the S90 T8’s 11.6-kWh takes 6 hours using a household outlet. A level 2 AC charger or 240-volt outlet cuts charging time to 3 hours. With only 21 miles of range in all-electric mode, it’s best to use that in city driving or in areas with heavy congestion to maximize your overall efficiency.

2021 Volvo S90 T8 Recharge pricing

Pricing for the 2021 Volvo S90 T8 starts at $61,095 for the Inscription and R-Design trim. Our test car, which came with the Lounge, Advance, and Climate packages, FOUR-C adaptive suspension, Bowers & Wilkins surround sound system, 20-inch wheels, and metallic paint, checks in at $70,640. The S90 T8 qualifies for up to $5,419 federal tax credit plus local incentives based on the state you live in.

2021 Volvo S90 T8 Recharge final verdict

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

The 2021 Volvo S90 T8 Recharge represents a different take on luxury because it doesn’t try to copy its competitors. Its timelessness, tasteful design, material choice, and focus on comfort give it a uniquely Scandinavian feel. Yes, it’s quick, roomy, confident, and luxurious but it’s not in your face about it and lets its capabilities do all the talking. The S90 is the luxury car for the consumer that appreciates understated elegance, a sedan that’s stately yet humble. You’ll still turn heads but not because you’re driving something showy. Instead, people will look at the S90 to admire its simplistic beauty and the regal presence it exudes.

At a glance

  • Year: 2021
  • Make: Volvo
  • Model: S90
  • Trim: Inscription
  • Type: 4-door, mid-size luxury sedan
  • Combined horsepower: 400
  • Combined torque: 472 lb-ft
  • MPG ratings (city/highway/combined): 29/31/30
  • EV range: 21 miles
  • Pros: Massive rear seats, supremely comfortable ride, beautiful interior
  • Cons: Not much small-item storage, center hump impedes into rear-seat space, downshifts could be quicker
  • Base price: $61,095
  • Price as tested: $70,640
Written by Stefan Ogbac
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