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2021 Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge review: Electrified Scandinavian luxury for the whole family

If you were to look up the definition of a luxury family crossover, chances are you’ll find a photo of the 2021 Volvo XC90 next to it. The current iteration of Volvo’s flagship utility vehicle jump-started its brand revival and redefined its identity. Five years later, the XC90 remains relevant, fresh, and formidable. We have the plug-in hybrid T8 model in Inscription trim to see what an electrified powertrain does to an already beautifully executed package.

2021 Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge exterior

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

The 2021 Volvo XC90 is one of the few crossovers that successfully blend style and practicality. You’re not going to mistake it for anything thanks to the Thor’s Hammer LED headlights and the egg crate grille adorned with the Volvo iron symbol. In the rear, you find more signature cues like the full-length LED taillights that frame the lift gate. Other than the Recharge badges on the front doors and the tailgate, and the charging port on the driver’s side front fender, the XC90 T8 doesn’t advertise its electrified nature out loud. Unlike its smaller siblings, the XC90 has an upright greenhouse, giving it a traditional SUV profile to complement its tough yet elegant presence. The boxy shape also provides exceptional visibility; there are next to no blind spots, making it easy to maneuver the XC90 in tight spaces.

2021 Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge interior

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Get inside the XC90’s interior and you’ll feel like you’re in a Swedish-themed luxury lounge. Like the exterior, the cabin is restrained yet elegant and attractive. Every material used from the wood and metal trim to the leather and Orrefors crystal on the electronic shifter creates a cohesive look to go with the impeccable fit and finish. Physical controls operate with a satisfying sense of tactility and all surfaces that you interact with exude an upscale aura. Our Inscription test car also came with wool blend upholstery, giving it a unique look while amplifying the premium ambience. Unfortunately, it deletes the ventilated and massaging seats.

Generous levels of sound insulation keep the XC90’s hushed, allowing you to better indulge and appreciate the cabin’s tranquil, relaxing vibe during your drive. Even with the optional 21-inch wheels, noise levels are kept to a minimum regardless of whether you’re driving on the highway or cruising around town.

Being a family-friendly crossover, the XC90 has several neat features to make life easier (and safer). The available center child booster seat allows your little one to better see the world outside while keeping them within the protection of the side curtain air bags. Every seat in the middle row can slide and recline independently, adding more flexibility.

Those in the first two rows have plenty of head- and legroom. Keep the third row for short trips, children or quick lunch runs unless you have generous second-row passengers because it’s tight back there. You can also order the XC90 T8 in a six-passenger configuration featuring second-row captain’s chairs. However, that limits the interior choices to black or two-tone black/blonde leather upholstery.

Cargo capacity varies depending on how many passengers you have. There isn’t much with all seats occupied but fold the third row and you get a lot more room to work with. Dropping the second and third rows gives you a squared-off space and a flat floor for bulky items like flat-pack furniture. If your XC90 is equipped with the optional air suspension, you can also lower the rear to make loading and unloading easier.

2021 Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge tech features

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system was ahead of its time when it first debuted a few years ago. While that’s no longer the case, this latest iteration is still modern; responses to your inputs are quick and snappy. This makes the interface easier to use, especially when treated as a tablet. The layout is simple and the icons are easy to hit. Infrequently used functions are two submenus away at most meaning you’re not going to get lost trying to find what you need. There’s also a home button conveniently located at the bottom of the display if you somehow manage to dig yourself too far in.

The optional 19-speaker, 1,400-watt Bowers & Wilkins surround sound system is one of the best in the business, offering an exceptionally crisp listening experience and extensive customizability. There are also preset modes like the Gothenburg Concert Hall, which allows the audio system to cover the interior while still retaining the incredible levels of clarity that enable you to hear every instrument being played.

Pilot Assist, Volvo’s semi-autonomous driving assistance technology, is one of the best on the market. Combining the functions of adaptive cruise control, lane centering, steering, assist, and traffic jam assist, Pilot Assist monitors traffic around you, flowing with it as needed, and will even make gentle maneuvers to keep you away from another vehicle cutting into your lane. On clearly marked roads, the system seamlessly helps you steer the car through turns, brake, and accelerate in stop-and-go situations. The system will also help you make evasive maneuvers on the highway and don’t get jerky when traffic flow suddenly changes. Other driver aids like forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert also operate without acting like they are nannies, making you more likely to keep them active.

2021 Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge driving impressions

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

For a vehicle that weighs 5,145 pounds, the XC90 T8 is surprisingly quick. A supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder gets coupled to an electric motor, an 11.6-kWh lithium-ion battery, and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Combined, the XC90 T8 makes 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque. The result is a three-row luxury crossover that moves more adeptly than its size would lead you to assume. You’re never short on power; all you need to do is put your right foot down on the accelerator to get to highway speeds, climb a steep hill or pass that Sunday driver hogging the left lane.

The lack of engine noise adds to the already quiet cabin’s luxurious experience. Thanks to the powertrain’s ability to run in EV mode for up to 18 miles and coast on the highway for extended periods, you get a serene cruiser that can move quickly. Accessing the hybrid system’s full power is the only time you hear the engine come to life; even then, it’s barely a murmur because of all the sound insulation. You feel the powertrain more at low speeds because there are times where it gets caught in the wrong gear and takes a while to give you a downshift.

Unlike most AWD-equipped crossovers, the XC90 T8 doesn’t have a mechanical connection between the front and rear axles. As a result, you get the sensation of a rear-drive vehicle in EV mode since the electric motor is the only one powering the rear axle. Despite the gas engine being the only one turning the front wheels, there isn’t any torque steer under hard acceleration. The only time you notice that it’s an e-AWD system is when driving spiritedly because the rear end rotates a little more thanks to the electric motor’s instant torque.

Comfort is paramount in family-oriented luxury crossovers and the XC90 is no exception. Even with the optional 21-inch alloy wheels, it glides over road imperfections, giving you a smooth ride, especially with the available air suspension. You also get confident handling for such a big vehicle and body motions are nicely controlled. It’s tight enough to keep the crossover from getting floaty yet still handily keeps bumps, potholes, ruts, and expansion joints from jostling you around. Accurate steering makes the XC90 easy to maneuver and it’s quick enough to avoid feeling ponderous.

Earlier variants of the XC90 T8 were plagued with grabby brakes and rough transitions between regenerative and mechanical braking. That has since been addressed and our test vehicle exhibited none of those traits. You get a good amount of regenerative braking in B mode and you can’t tell where the handoffs occur when using the brake pedal. It’s more apparent during emergency stops but it’s not so abrupt that you get jerked around.

Charging the 2021 Volvo XC90 T8 takes 3 hours using a level 2 or 240-volt charger. A standard household outlet doubles that time to six hours. With only 18 miles of range per charge, it’s best to use the XC90’s EV mode in city driving because highway driving quickly drains the battery.

2021 Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge pricing

The 2021 Volvo XC90 T8 starts at $64,545. Our Inscription test car, which came equipped with several features including the Climate and Advance packages, air suspension, 21-inch alloy wheels, and the Bowers & Wilkins surround sound system, checked in at $79,990. Being a plug-in hybrid with an 11.6-kWh battery, the XC90 T8 is eligible for the $5,419 federal tax credit plus local incentives.

2021 Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge final verdict

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Making a vehicle stay competitive throughout its life cycle is hard and few brands have been able to do that. The 2021 Volvo XC90 is one of those rare entries that arrived as a class leader and remained at the top even near the end of its life cycle. The plug-in hybrid T8 model takes the already formidable formula and amplifies it. You get a quieter interior, more power, better efficiency, and the ability to cruise around town emissions-free all while retaining all the goodness of the standard version. This is how you do a proper electrified luxury crossover for the family; it’s easy to live with and always a treat regardless of whether you’re the driver or a passenger.

At a glance

  • Year: 2021
  • Make: Volvo
  • Model: XC90
  • Trim: Inscription
  • Type: 4-door, three-row mid-size luxury crossover
  • Combined horsepower: 400
  • Torque: 472 lb-ft
  • MPG ratings (city/highway/combined): 26/28/27
  • EV range: 18 miles
  • Pros: Beautifully finished interior, comfortable ride, strong acceleration
  • Cons: Transmission can be hesitant at low speeds, not much cargo space with all seats up, tight third row
  • Base price: $64,545
  • Price as tested: $79,990
Written by Stefan Ogbac
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