For years, Volvo’s much-deserved claim to fame was its peerless safety features, rather than sexy lines, as the boxy rides resembled rolling security-laden refrigerators. Not the most alluring silhouettes, but at least you had a great chance of arriving in one piece.
Thankfully, Volvo designers have heard the shouts of customers demanding their safety in beautiful packages. Good on them.
The all-new 2021 XC90 Recharge Plug-In T8 checks all the boxes for those desiring classy luxury, security, wonderful technology and, yes, beauty. The tester’s top-of-the-line Inscription option provides plenty of luxurious enjoyment.
Let us count the ways.
The XC90 is in its fifth year since Volvo was taken over by Chinese automaker Geely. It offers some serious good-looking chops, up against a highly competitive upscale SUV market. The exterior exudes a clean, elegant appearance with a hint of drama. Outrageously sexy “Thor’s Hammer” headlights (auto high beams!) illuminate the road and rotate when turning. Sightlines offer a fresh SUV appearance from any angle, and a blunt front allows Volvo to satisfy European pedestrian impact regulations. There’s just enough chrome bling trim to accessorize the exterior, and the rear includes dramatic vertical LED brake lights and dual chrome exhausts.
Darkened rims are welcome accessories. The roof rails profile gradually slopes with Inscription (call me a big fan). Thus, the overall shape and trim definitely delivers some sexy panache.
The powertrain is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. An eight-speed transmission coupled with a twin-charged (Super & Turbo-charged) 2.0 liter brings 400 HP/492 lb-ft. torque! That is some serious oomph (0-60 in 5.3 seconds), moving some 4,400 pounds, as the dual-charged power delivers admirable smoothness and pep for the targeted audience. That said, it is eerily quiet for all that power. And the standard AWD is a joy when confronted with inclement weather.
The usual driving modes (ECO, Comfort, Sport) mostly alter the throttle rather than steering and suspension. I normally solely embrace Sport modes, but the Comfort was just right, thank you.
You’ll notice the engine bay is far larger than the engine. As usual, Volvo used safety-first thinking to allow a good distance buffer between engine, bumper and cabin for reducing collision calamities. Genius.
The normally annoying Auto Stop mode is one of the smoothest I’ve experienced, and for the first time I left it alone when testing a vehicle. Bravo.
Finally, the gas mileage is superb for a three-row SUV. I got 27 mpg overall and a robust 58 mpg using the battery/gas.
Everything about the interior is superb – especially for a three-row human hauler. Creature comforts abound in the spacious cocoon, and the already lovely scented cowhide leather appointments improve even further in the upgraded packages. Soft-touch materials, attractive blonde wood trim and a perfectly formed heated steering wheel (three temperature settings!) will delight the inhabitants. Massaging front seats run $1,700.
The TFT Instrumentation is clear and attractive. Several ambient lighting choices will accentuate your every mood. An excellent Head’s Up Display shows speed and applicable speed-limit signs on the windshield. Wireless charging is included. You can “lock” your main key fob in the console and take a smaller waterproof sport fob with you when biking, hiking etc. And the wiper fluid is dispensed through the wipers themselves, thus no more annoying over-spray when cleaning the windshield.
Volvo spent seven years working with renowned chiropractors redesigning the heated and vented seats, resulting in near perfection with zero pressure points to endure. In fact, the XC90 automatically braces the passengers if the car goes airborne or detects an imminent crash from behind. Safety plus!
A large double-panoramic moon roof provides oodles of headroom and looms above abundant rear seating. You can fold, recline or slide forward/backward each of the three-row seats without moving the others. You can replace the bench seats for buckets at a $500 premium. Even the third row comfortably seats six-footers. Graduated stadium seating allows all passengers excellent views. Drivers also can fold down all the rear headrests with one button for increased visibility when traveling alone. Finally, a mere sweep of your foot underneath the bumper opens and closes the trunk lid for entry into a spacious cargo area (at 85.7 cubic feet, it’s the largest in its class).
Some interesting quirks include tapping the gearshift twice to put into drive or reverse, and there are also paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
The XC90 T8 continues offering the tablet-themed Sensus Technology for its infotainment system. The 9” vertical touchscreen is easy to comprehend after a quick tutorial. In fact, with Apple Car Play of Android Auto most of your phone apps are displayed, so there’s little to learn.
Given it’s a Volvo, there is a plethora (nearly an entire column) of very worthy safety features. The Lane Departure firmly brings you back when weaving while ignoring the lane signal. For grins, I drove over three miles hands-free on the Tollway, with nary a concern but plenty of admiration.
Audio availability includes the excellent 14-speaker Harman Kardon package in the Inscription package.
The 2021 Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge Plug-In AWD is an extraordinary ensemble, embodying luxury, driving chops and cutting-edge technology. Thus, it’s the epitome of what a customer desires to arrive safely while coddled in luxurious appointments inside a striking figure. You’d be wise to give it a go when looking for a three-row people hauler that checks all the boxes.
Golf Bags: More than two
Curb Appeal: That’s a Volvo?
0-60: 5.3 sec
Mileage: 27 mpg with gas only, 58 mpg with battery/fuel
Must-Haves: Inscription package
Warranty: 4-year/50K miles
Base Price: $70,250
Price as tested: $78,435
Who Buys It? Families desiring unparalleled safety and upscale comfort
Finish Line: A terrific vehicle that checks just about every box on the entire wish list