Volvo revolution - XC90 T8 AWD Plug-in Hybrid

By CARSIFU | 25 November 2015

A 14-hour journey to Sweden is indeed a perilous business – but being a hardcore Volvo loyalist has gotten me excited about travelling to the birthplace of this relatively conservative marque that doesn’t seem to chase nor crave for more market-share all these years.

But now with a re-energised brand under China-based Geely, Volvo is driven to boost its brand appeal in developing a wide range of sophisticated powertrains combined with cutting-edge technologies.

It has been a major move that aggregates all the right ingredients, which is topped-off with one of the most ambitious design languages ever implemented for mass-production.

The new XC90 is held up as a pillar of that change – and it’s tasked to not only be a flagship but the ultimate halo model for Volvo.

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On the outside, the XC90 marks a huge departure from the old model – with a design language symbolising what future Volvos could look like.

Visual aesthetics such as the muscular shoulder lines, raised bonnet approach and the inevitably attractive Thor’s hammer-shaped DRL’s are among the novelties that Volvo has introduced to confer a bolder XC90 presence without making it look brash or audacious.

In profile, the XC90 retains that chunky – albeit crisper – big seven-seating silhouette of the old. One obvious trademark would be that pair of symbolic rear light clusters, which extends up towards the roofline for better visibility.

It’s a signature Volvo design that makes it stand out from the rest.

The new XC90 is the most groundbreaking model since the XC60, penned by Steve Mattin.

Sitting beneath the swanky new sheet metal however, is a potpourri of smart technology that doesn’t only save the company millions of krona in development – but also – offers the potential of creating newer models by sharing the same footprint in the near future.

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Unlike the days of limited resource and development under Ford, the XC90 is the first vehicle to use the all-new Scalable Product Architecture, or better known as the SPA modular platform.

A first for Volvo, the underpinnings of this platform are engineered to accommodate modern and traditional technology.

Though flexible, expandable and multi-adjustable to cater to various body styles and powertrains, the platform is the strongest modular chassis ever to be developed in the automotive world.

The platform uses a generous range of hot-formed boron steel – a primary material that the company has been using since the early days by ensuring all occupants are safe in an unfortunate event while on the go.

Apart from that, it also enables Volvo to shorten the overhangs of the XC90, while having a longer wheelbase for bigger interior space. The results are exterior proportions that still look balanced.

The latest XC90 uses the all-new, turbo and supercharged 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder Drive-E engine that puts out an impressive 320bhp.

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The T8 variant which we tested uses a plug-in hybrid mechanism that combines an 87hp electric motor and a 9.2Kwh battery pack – delivers a grand total of 407bhp with 640Nm of torque.

It’s an amazing package that replaces the old 4.4-litre Yamaha V8 without sacrificing power.

As expected, the new engine also produces way less CO2 emissions than most of its rivals in the same pitch – a notable achievement for the world’s first seven-seating plug-in hybrid.

At the helm, the XC90 pulls with sweet poise on an empty stretch of road in the municipality of Torslanda. It somehow matches the fabled claimed figure of 5.6 seconds in a century sprint.

It’s surprisingly brisk for a SUV that weighs in just above the two-tonne mark – and yet frugal enough to return an official 24.5km/l in both city and highway driving.

I managed 21.8km/l in the test drive, still a very impressive figure which I have never come across before piloting a vehicle of this bulk.

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In the ride and handling section, the XC90 feels solidly planted throughout the drive on the E6 motorway that ends in Oslo.

Steering feel is reasonably adequate, though vagueness is apparent when steering through the bends and corners in a slightly spirited manner along the scenic Kongahällavägen route, which leads towards the old Gothenburg City airport.

Unlike the wallowy-feel execution of the older model, the new XC90 feels more precise and rigid at the same time.

It absorbs bumps and undulations well with ease, and road noise is kept at bay from the cabin.

Taking the Söderleden pass and exiting out from the 158 motorway towards Särö, the route soon leads to the usual, cramped countryside roads.

Despite the XC90’s oversized dimension, it steers and circles around narrow cul-de-sacs with ease.

Volvo has slotted in an eight-speed automatic transmission that is tailored by Aisin for greater efficiency and refinement.

The gearshifts are unnoticeable, and it’s a match made in heaven with the polished T8 powertrain – working well together while exuding a rather seamless feel on the go.

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Though the air springs are on the softer side, the XC90 glides along gracefully, suppressing jolts and thuds from being felt by occupants.

Seats are well padded to cater for occupants of different shapes and sizes. Rear and third-row passengers get a generous amount of both head and legroom space, thanks to the use of slimmer seat materials that enhances space inside.

Drivers on the other hand, will appreciate the well-positioned seat and visibility.

The centre transmission tunnel stores the main battery pack, hooked up to high-speed network connectors that allow for the all-wheel-drive function.

One can choose from six types of driving modes – All-Wheel-Drive for mild terrains, Off-Road for the occasional rough patches, Hybrid for daily commutes, and Power for a spirited 407bhp drive.

The electric-only Pure mode is best left for town use; a Save mode recharges the battery pack up to quarter-full if a plug-point is nowhere in sight.

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All modes are accessed through a 9-inch Sensus infotainment display, which is the second biggest centrepiece inside the simple and straightforward cabin.

Built quality is high, while fit and finish remains one of the plushest amongst rivals.

Kit levels that are specific to the T8 are a set of 19-speakers 1,400-watt Bowers & Wilkins audio system that holds the Gothenburg Concert Hall surround function, and the Orrefors crystal gear knob that is a visual delight.

The XC90 is also a practical car. Besides having a nearly lipless load entry point and a height-lowering function for slotting in any cargo with added ease, it also comes with a cavernous 436 litres of boot space – even with third row seats in place.

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If folded, it frees up 2,406 litres – making it one of the biggest load luggers around.
Volvo will be introducing the XC90 to Malaysia next month in T6 and T8 guises.

I hope the new R-Design trim will be available as well even in limited form.

From what I can tell from the Swedish experience, the latest XC90 has elevated the Volvo’s core values of safety, quality and practicality to a whole new level.

And that’s what makes this big SUV far more appealing in the end.