Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: May 2, 2021
There is nothing fundamentally new about the 2021 Volvo XC90. The three-row SUV has been around for half a decade, spearheading the brand’s leap forward into the modern era. Everything has been carried over from last year’s 2020 model, with the only change being the new white badge adorning the trunk lid that says Recharge.
Recharge is Volvo’s new sub-brand of vehicles, and refers to anything with a plug. That means all their plug-in hybrids (PHEV) and full-battery electric vehicles (EV) will be carrying this new moniker. Volvo has taken action earlier than most, and is currently the only mainstream automaker offering electric options on all of their models, from the V60 wagon to the compact XC40 SUV. Volvo sells the most plug-in electric vehicles in Canada, and aims to be a climate neutral company by 2040. By 2025, they want 50% of their sales to be fully-electric cars, while the other half are hybrids.
While the badge is new, the XC90 Recharge is essentially the old T8 eAWD. That means the same 2.0-litre super- and turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to an 87-hp electric motor and a lithium ion battery, for a total output of 400 horsepower and 472 lb-ft. The XC90 runs that output through an 8-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels.
Volvo claims an electric-only range of 29 km, which is slightly less than the S90 Recharge due to this SUV’s larger curb weight, but that’s still a significant and workable number. Our own test drive around the city, which heavily utilized regenerative braking, yielded us 35 km on a full charge. That might be enough for some drivers, but those worrying about range anxiety will be happy to know that the gas engine will tag in anytime, adding another 500-600 km of range. On the bright side, from a standard household outlet, it only takes around 8 hours for a full charge. Plug it in before bed and it will be fully juiced up in the morning. Some might never even need to utilize the engine. Level 2 chargers will do the task even quicker but we only recommend installing them into your garage if you are seriously investing in an EV future.
When operating in electric-only mode, the 87-hp motor delivers weak acceleration, especially when launching off a green light. This will aggravate drivers behind you, so best to stick to the right lane. That, or you can press harder on the gas pedal and overcome that little notch, which forces the engine to fire up and add power - handy for when you need emergency torque, or to engage in last minute overtakes.
When that combustion engine does wake up, it creates an audible and palpable ruckus. The supercharger whine is not pleasant, the engine feels coarse and rough mid-range, and you can tell the twin-charged unit is struggling to keep up under large power demands. At least the swap between combustion and electricity is seamless. Volvo has done a phenomenal job in this regard. In addition, the XC90 comes with an optional 4-corner air suspension that will lower the vehicle when exiting, easing ingress and egress and loading cargo. It also makes for one serene ride through town, absorbing bumps with uncanny precision.
I can do without the hyper-reactive steering rack that is typical of modern Volvos. The rotation is super light and offers almost no rotational resistance, so those used to wrestling their steering wheel will find themselves over-rotating and over-correcting their angles quite often. This Volvo requires a bit more finesse of the wheel, but at least it ensures arm strength isn’t a prerequisite to pilot one. The good news is that unlike other PHEVs, the regenerative brakes here are quite similar to regular hydraulic examples, and don’t feel like you’re pressing on a springboard. They are very linear in feel, and don’t need any practice to nail down a consistently smooth stop.
Volvo interiors are luxury-oriented but focus on minimalism and simplicity. Think less of IKEA, and not so much West Elm, but more of Structube. The special wool upholstered seats here are a nice touch - Volvo calls it Tailored Wool. Not only are they less prone to temperature extremities, but they look damn good. Toyota uses this material on their Japan-only Century model as well. You can spec the material with heated seats, but you cannot add on ventilated seats. The wool might need some extra upkeep, though, especially from stains, pet fur, and Big Mac sauce. Our test vehicle with 6,000 km on the clock already had a lot of fluff and lint on the wool surface. Still looks fantastic.
The touchscreen is a focal point of the interior. It may be fingerprint laden but it’s vibrant, high-definition, and offers one of the cleanest 360-degree camera views in the business. A crystal gear knob made by a Swedish company named Orrefors is exclusive to the Inscription model, and this rounded obelisk that looks like a paper weight feels nice to hold, though its shifting mechanism might be a little different than what you are used to. Alongside the conventional Park button, you tap the shifter up twice to hit Reverse, and tap the shifter down twice to hit Drive. Wherever you push the shifter, it will always bounce back to its neutral position.
Once the XC90 becomes fully electric, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it become Volvo’s most popular model. For now, the small but usable electric range should appeal to a select few. Those that demand more range should stick around a little longer. Volvo has a bright future.
Model: 2021 Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription Expression T8 eAWD
Paint Type: Birch Light
Base Price: $77,600
Price as Tested: $83,650
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,950 / 2,008 / 1,776
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder + electric battery and motor/generator
Horsepower: 400 hp combined @ 5,700 rpm
Torque: 472 lb-ft combined @ 2,200 - 5,400 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Claimed Electric-only Range: 29km
Observed Electric-only Range: 35km