Words: Don Cheng
Photography: Don Cheng
Published: November 2, 2016
It’s almost a basic fact that Americans love SUVs. More specifically, a big lumbering seven-seater (for your family of four) that towers over everything else in the parking lot. In fact, crossovers alone accounted for 41% of all vehicle sales in September (not counting trucks), and it’s the only segment facing growth too.
None of this comes as a surprise. It’s easy to see why people prefer and appreciate the height and relative safety net of driving a large vehicle. To that effect, Volvo’s been the king of the game some years ago with their XC90 – offering world renowned safety, seven-seater capacity, and just enough luxury to make purchasers feel special.
The lack of meaningful updates to the vehicle left it in the dust against its competitors, but the company stunned the world when it completely revamped the XC90 from the ground up last year. The numbers don’t lie – it’s currently the company’s best selling vehicle.
The biggest changes to the XC90 lies beneath the surface. Volvo moved their product line-up to a Scalable Product Architecture (or SPA) which they debuted with the new XC90. The platform allows for flexible changes to the underpinnings of each Volvo model meeting their specific needs and demands without a complete redesign.
It all sounds like a bunch of marketing jargon and repercussions go unnoticed until you actually live with the car. See, typically brands don’t design their cars specifically with the intention of fitting battery packs and electric motors – Tesla, and the BMW i-series are exceptions. Cars are designed with the intent of fitting an internal combustion motor with all the components neatly packed away in the undercarriage.
Hybrids and plug-ins on the other hand feel like an afterthought, with batteries crammed wherever there is free space in the structure – probably somewhere in the trunk eating away at practicality. Think of like packing a suitcase for a trip to the Bahamas, only on the last second the location changed to the North Pole. Now you’ve got to swap out Borat’s Man Thong for a thick winter coat and boots. You’ve got nowhere to pack it except haphazardly and with the suitcase barely closing.
You see, this is where the genius of SPA comes into play. Volvo offers the XC90 in two guises, the standard T6 and the more powerful T8. Conventional nomenclature would suggest that the T6 is powered by some sort of six-cylinder motor, while the T8 by a V8. In actuality, both models are powered by the same inline-four engine that uses two methods of forced induction: turbocharging and supercharging. It’s Volvo’s way of dealing with dreaded turbo lag, whereby it utilizes the supercharger to create power in the low end while the turbocharger spools up and takes over on the top end.
The SPA allowed the XC90 T6 to accommodate a Haldex AWD system, and in the case of the T8, it allowed for changes to the platform to fit the larger battery packs and electric motors required to become a plug-in. There is a 9.2-kWh battery pack located near the transmission tunnel, an 87 hp AC motor is mounted in the rear, and a 46 hp electric motor sits between the two. Thanks to the scalable architecture, Volvo allows you to have your cake and eat it! The T8 impressively keeps its seven-seater capacity and wholesome 2,427 litres of storage space.
Total engine output increases from the 316 hp found in the standard T6 to 400, and torque swells from 295 lb-ft to 472 lb-ft. The start engine knob remains unique to the brand, and a quick twist to the right starts the T8 in hybrid mode – completely silent.
Move your hand down an inch and you can pick from one of seven different pre-set drive modes. The default is Hybrid mode and works for 90% of driving situations. But if none of the factory modes work, you could create your own out of 400 different possible combinations. That’s right, between the air suspension, instrument display, brakes, climate control, and power train settings this XC90 has more combinations than the dollar menu at McDonalds.
Power delivery is smooth and in normal driving conditions, you really don’t feel the extra grunt of the T8. Passing on the highway is a twinge easier for the car, as you can’t argue with 472 lb-ft of torque. However, all of this is offset by the massive weight penalty the batteries and extra motors impede on the car.
Despite the excellent scalable architecture, Volvo can’t defy the laws of physics and the extra 204 kg of mass hinders the overall handling of the car. Whereas the T6 felt relatively nimble and neutral, the T8 feels larger, heavier and more cumbersome on the road. Ride quality isn’t affected much but you do feel the extra weight when storming through the pot hole ridden streets of the city.
Thanks to the marriage of combustion and electrification, the SUV cruises along the city with almost zero cabin noise, allowing you to soak in the finer details. The T8 offers a few interior changes over the T6, mainly the crystal gearshifter made by Orrefors of Sweden. Admittedly my knowledge of high end crystals is pretty limited, but a quick Amazon search of the brand returned results like a set of 2 high ball glasses for $658.00 (don’t fret, it comes with free shipping). Other changes stem from the demands of the T8 drive system, such as alternate views of the LCD gauge cluster, and newer drive modes to accommodate the electric motors.
The as-tested price for this particular XC90 rings out to a total of $86,375 less taxes and freight. It’s a big cheque that you’ll be writing and I’m sure you’ll want to crunch the numbers and see if the fuel savings from the plug-in is worth it for you. Some basic numbers here indicate a $16,350 surcharge to step up from the T6 to the T8. Frankly, at the current price of 1.28 per litre of gasoline, you’ll be looking at over 120,000 kms travelled before you make up the cost of the T8 premium alone. Those looking to save through the government rebate won’t get much either at a paltry sum of $3,000.
At this rate, you’ll really need to beat on this XC90 to get your money’s worth – and that’s ultimately not a difficult thing to do. Offering a comfortable ride, impressive practicality, and a super lux cabin, finding excuses to spend time in this family sleigh comes easily. But in the end, opting for the T8 feels more like a statement to your neighbourhood rather than a rational decision. Personally, I’d opt for the lighter and more nimble XC90 T6 Inscription with all the bells and whistles (including the Bowers & Wilkins sound) and save $7,275.
型号 Model: 2016 Volvo XC90 T8 PHEV Inscription
顏色 Paint Type: Magic Blue ($800)
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $75,750
試車售價 Price as Tested: $86,375
軸距 Wheelbase(mm): 2,984
長闊 Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,950 / 2,140 / 1,775
車重 Curb weight (kg): 2,294
引擎 Engine: 2.0L turbocharged and supercharged I-4, 87 hp AC motor, 9.2 kWh Battery
最大馬力 Horsepower: 313 hp @ 6,000 rpm + 87 hp @ 7,000 rpm electric = 400 combined hp
最高扭力 Torque: 472 lb-ft @ 2,200 - 5,400 rpm
波箱 Transmission: 8-speed automatic
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
油耗 Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 10.1 / 8.8 / 9.5 (4.7 electric combined)
油耗 Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 9.6
輪胎尺碼 Tires: 275/45R21 ($975)