“Is it here yet?”
An example of the text message I’ve received from my brother-in-law every third day for the past five months or so. A chain that, mercifully, the 2023 Volvo XC90 Recharge staring back at me from the driveway will snap this afternoon.
As a father of three (soon to be four), the BIL has been eying Volvo’s long-time flagship as a successor to the family’s careworn – read ‘knackered’ – Kia Carnival minivan for some time now. As a seven-seater SUV after all, the XC90 has practicality covered, and as a Volvo, safety is ticked off too. The plug-in hybrid drivetrain in our Recharge T8 test model, a useful steppingstone towards an inevitable EV future, is the cherry atop the tosca.
Plus, nepotism aside and just a few weeks removed from the reveal of the new EX90, what better time is there for TheCharge.ca to test the yardstick against which Volvo’s new all-electric flagship will be measured?
The response, as our test model’s 21-inch, 8-spoke diamond cut alloys roll to a stop on the BIL’s driveway, is a positive one. And understandably so. The XC90’s design is elegant rather than flashy, even if our ‘Inscription Extended Range’ tester is a little heavy-handed with the chrome detailing.
Brother-in-law partially raises both eyebrows and nods gently a couple of times – a well-known Canadian expression of giddy enthusiasm – while sister-in-law, six months into her pregnancy, shares a more animated “wwwhhoa!” as I step out. Child 1 (five years old) and Child 2 (just turned three) are similarly impressed with the ‘Denim Blue’ behemoth, and immediately start running laps around, what could potentially be, their new school runner.
“Cool,” says BIL, his fancy taken by the ‘Thor’s Hammer’ headlamps. “What’s the engine?”
Under the hood lies an almost farcically small 2.0-litre four-cylinder, given the near-three tons it’s required to shift. Albeit one that, thanks to supercharging and turbocharging, produces a solid 312 hp. Mated with this is an eight-speed automatic gearbox and a 107 kW electric motor, up from the 65 kW example that debuted with the upgraded Recharge back in 2021.
That’s pushed combined power and torque up to 455 hp and 523 lb-ft respectively. Greater than segment rival Genesis can muster with its seven-seater GV80.
SIL alights, and, having closed the driver’s door behind her to avoid braining Childs 1 and 2 on their marathon, is already admiring the cabin. Like the outside, it’s minimalist yet elegant: the multi-function steering wheel is practical and without fluff; everything but the rear demist switch, select radio switchgear and the stupidly small hazard warning light is accessed through the 12.3-inch (optional) infotainment touchscreen; and the walnut-effect trim is … a little bland, but, like the refined stitching on the upholstery, well-made.
There’s some clever packaging involved too. Unfold the middle seat, for example, and you’ll find a ready-made booster seat. Perfect for 18-month-old Child 3 once she’s left her rear-facing infant car seat behind.
Childs 1 and 2, now slightly dizzy, are soon keen to alight as well, and while their request to ride in the trunk is quickly shot down, they’ll excited to have the third row entirely to themselves. The high-mounting point of the third row means long road trips may be a little snug for full-sized adults, and there’s a brief moment of panic when Child 2 slips on the door sill as he tries to scramble through the surprisingly narrow egress point. But that’s quickly forgotten amidst a quick-fire sequence of, “what’s this do?” (cargo tether point), “what’s that?” (third row cupholder), and “look what I’ve found!” (hidden armrest storage compartment).
As BIL gets Childs 1 and 2 buckled in, I’ve helped SIL to the front passenger seat and am walking her through the driver assist systems and the infotainment system. The former is pretty standard fair, with lane keep assist, park assist cameras, and blind spot monitors included (albeit only with our ‘Inscription Extended Range’ package). The quad-tier display makes navigating the infotainment system a doddle, and the uncluttered layout of the 9-inch driver display, to which the SatNav screen automatically defaults, gets a big thumbs up too.
Admittedly, overly-clever packaging can shoot Volvo in the foot on occasion: selecting ‘Settings’ via the two small bars at the top of the screen while on the move is both hit and miss, and the ‘Vehicle Functions’ page – through which you can toggle your drive mode, adjust Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and the head-up display – is so well-hidden, we only stumble across it by accident.
And then there’s my biggest bugbear with the XC90.
In collaboration with Swedish designer Orrefors, the gearshift is made from crystal. For this particular writer, it’s an ostentatious and completely un-Volvo trinket that adds nothing to the minimalist, ‘Scandinavian’ interior.
Not only that, but for some reason, rather than knocking the gear lever from Park to Drive in one motion – as is industry standard – in the XC90, I have to pull back twice, or push forward twice, to select Drive and/or Reverse respectively. Doing so only once knocks the transmission into neutral. It’s not an insurmountable issue, but it’s unbelievably irritating, and an unnecessary dent in, what is otherwise, a sublime drive.
The four-way, lumbar supportive seats are probably the most comfortable I’ve experienced with TheCharge.ca so far, and the suppleness of the double wishbone suspension – a hallmark of the Touring Chassis that irons out road imperfections – means the ride is blissfully smooth. The sheer size of the centre console might make you feel a little penned in, but plentiful head and shoulder room ante that nicely. The full-length panoramic sunroof help in that regard too, flooding the interior with light when open, even if the roof-mounted switch – push to open, toggle to slide the cover into place – is a little fiddly to use.
“Look look!” Child 1 has found the fold-down rear headrests. BIL meanwhile is busy exploring the middle bench with Child 3. We’ve had to move the front passenger seat further forwards than expected to fit her child seat, but SIL’s legroom in the front has not been fatally affected.
BIL’s ‘concerns’ with the horsepower are quickly put to bed as the XC90 glides through the gears. It doesn’t feel particularly fast – not surprising given that we’re hauling up to 2,950 kg, plus passengers – but the T8 finds a nice balance between ‘peppy’ and ‘linear’ acceleration that’s still good enough for a 5.3-second 0-100 km/h sprint. Admittedly, the overly power-assisted handling is a bit lifeless, though through all but the tightest switchbacks where bodyroll takes the helm, the XC90 is nimbler than you might expect.
“So, what’s the fuel consumption?” – BIL.
Surprisingly good, as it turns out. Just over 300 km is covered across our week-long test drive, during which only a $15 fuel top-up is needed (at one point, 740 km of estimated range pops up on the trip computer, though that should probably be taken with a requisite pinch of salt). Most of the heavy lifted in-and-around town is done by the battery, which offers a solid-if-unspectacular 58 km of EV running. And yes, it does disappear as quickly as you would expect of a three-ton SUV.
Twenty minutes later, the XC90 Recharge T8 is rolling back onto the driveway. Childs 1 and 2 are quickly back to running laps, and SIL is entranced by the ‘Easy Entry/Exit’ control, which ‘squats’ the vehicle via the adjustable air suspension to make egress easier. BIL, meanwhile, having opened the power tailgate, has stumbled across the XC90’s Achilles heel.
Yes, fold both the third and second row flat and the XC90 will easily swallow your average couple of mountain bikes and/or a baby piano. With all seats upright though, the cargo space just isn’t big enough a family of soon-to-be-six for an extended weekend, let alone a week-long trip to the cottage.
This is still playing on my mind a few days later. Limited luggage space does give the seven-seater SUV a blooded nose, as, for that matter, does the dizzying $103K price tag of our test model. Much of that supple ride comes down to the $2,350 four-corner air suspension. The Bowers & Wilkins sound system is an eye-watering $3,750, and the driver display is so wonderfully laid out, it makes the head-up display – a $1,850 ‘Advanced’ option – completely unnecessary. Even the hidden booster cushion racks up an additional $350.
It’s an extraordinary amount – bordering on ‘luxury’ Polestar territory – especially when you realize that the base Recharge T8 model is almost $25K less than that. That’s a lot of money the plug-in hybrid drivetrain, smooth as it may be, will need to remedy. And, if we’re being honest, a big reason why BIL, post-test drive, is now on the fence about an XC90 joining the family.
Chinks in an otherwise still-heavily armoured suit though, if we’re being honest. Yes, some of the XC90’s packaging is a little too clever for its own good, my disdain for the crystal gearshift is unwavering, and pricing, for a ‘Volvo,’ complete with all the bells and whistles, is just too high.
The ride however is excellent. The design – bar one or two questionable choices – is clean and elegant. There’s bags of storage. The cabin is roomy and well-thought out. The hybrid drivetrain is smooth and gutsy without being overly aggressive. Make no mistake. The upcoming EX90 has some serious shoes to fill.