appreciate the finer things

2020 Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription Review: A 5-Star Hotel on Wheels


March 19, 2020 Cars By

The XC90, at least for the time being, is Volvo’s flagship luxury SUV. When it launched, the second-generation model heralded the brand’s SUV-centric future — one packed with impressive levels of luxury and safety tech, all based on Volvo’s new Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform.

Of course, that launch came in 2014. Volvo’s SUV of the future is now very much the present; as such, the XC90 is now a venerable model getting a few tweaks for 2020 ahead of a full overhaul down the road.

Despite its age, however, the XC90 remains one of the most compelling luxury SUV options on the market. I drove the now top-level Inscription trim in full, impress-the-car-reviewer spec — i.e., with about $20,000 in options. The car also packed Volvo’s best powertrain, the T8 E-AWD plug-in-hybrid, which puts out 400 horsepower and 472 lb-ft of torque while still delivering reasonable gas mileage. The five-year-old XC90 still feels modern, luxurious and potent — and it still puts some newer and more expensive luxury SUV offerings to shame.

The XC90 offers top-notch luxury.

A classical concerto broke out when I first turned on the XC90. It was the coincidental SiriusXM preferences of the person who delivered it to me, but it felt like it should have been a feature. The sound quality from the fancy Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system may be the best I’ve experienced in a car. Indeed, it was perhaps too good; I listen mostly to podcasts and audiobooks, and I could have done without knowing how every host’s seasonal colds were progressing.

The sound quality was just one part of the multi-sensory experience. The XC90’s interior looked and felt luxurious; it had Nappa leather, gray ash wood trim and a plush Nubuck headliner. The front seats massage you. The vertical touchscreen is refined, simple, and easy to use. The cabin is quiet and insulated. (The only touch that came off a tad excessive was the Orrefors crystal shifter.) The whole experience leaves you feeling like you’re basking in the serenity of a Scandinavian five-star hotel…at least, until your kids pipe up from the back seat.

But the battery-only range disappointed.

Volvo says the XC90’s plug-in-hybrid will do 12-to-24 miles on pure electric power, but I’m not sure I got 12-to 24 miles of battery operation in hybrid mode on a full charge. It drained precipitously while out running errands; I had to switch to gas-only mode to reserve some battery to test the hybrid mode on the highway.

Some caveats: it was cold during my test period, dropping down to about 20 degrees Fahrenheit at night. I had to keep the XC90 outside, since it didn’t fit in my garage. I also did my errands in short bursts, which Volvo says limits the range vs. doing one long stretch. Still, I remained well within the normal usage levels, so this sort of issue is a little disconcerting.

The XC90 excels at what you use it for.

The XC90 is not the SUV I would hoon around the Nordschleife, nor the SUV I would choose for traversing the Australian Outback. It may be the luxury SUV I would choose for my everyday suburban dad life, however. It’s comfortable and it’s practical — particularly with the third row dropped down for added cargo space. It has a lot of torque, and can scoot from 0 to 60 mph in less than six seconds. It’s not just safe, it’s Volvo safe. It’s sort of a rich man’s Kia Telluride, where it does everything a reasonable person would want — and does it well.

Price as Tested: $86,990
Drivetrain: Turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter plug-in hybrid, eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power: 400 hp, 472 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 55 mpg-e (combined)
Seats: 6

Volvo provided this product for review.

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Tyler Duffy

Tyler Duffy is Gear Patrol's Motoring Staff Writer. He used to write about sports for The Big Lead and The Athletic. He has a black belt in toddler wrangling. He's based outside Detroit.

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