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2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge Plug-in Hybrid Review

Need a large SUV and commute locally Monday to Friday? Volvo has an XC-iting proposition.

If you’re after a large SUV, you’re spoiled for choice. No matter what your budget, there are several options for you.

However, if you’re looking for a large SUV that attempts to reduce its footprint on the planet and you want to drive it away now, your options are considerably less.

Enter the Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design Plug-in Hybrid (or XC90 Recharge Plug-in Hybrid). It offers up luxury, a terrific amount of practicality and a more planet-friendly way of motoring. And, in my humble opinion, it looks fantastic.

It starts at $115,990, but our review vehicle had a few options equipped, taking the total to $121,715. These options included:

  • Climate pack – $600
  • Power folding headrests in the rear – $275
  • Nappa leather perforated comfort with ventilation (charcoal) – $2,950
  • Metallic paint – $1,900

What’s it like inside?

If you look through the Volvo range, you’ll see the interiors are reasonably similar from bottom to top. That isn’t a criticism though, as Volvo crafts a great place to sit.

2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge Plug-in Hybrid interior

Our test vehicle came fitted with the optional $2,950 “Nappa leather perforated comfort” pack which includes the charcoal Nappa leather interior you see before you, as well as ventilation for the seats upfront.

The front two seats are six-way adjustable with adjustable lumbar support and the ability to extend the seat base for extra support under the thigh for taller drivers. Despite being a thinner design, they are cozy and we had no complaints from passengers, even on longer trips.

It also copped the “Climate pack” which adds heated seats in the back as well as a heated steering wheel. While this feature list is already comprehensive, the Swedes have thrown in a massage function on the front seats, too.

Needless to say in this spec, the XC90 PHEV will be comfortable regardless of the season and also has the potential to become a sanctuary from the kids.

The centrepiece of the interior is a nine-inch vertical touchscreen which operates almost as accurately and intuitively as an iPad. You use this screen to access the vast majority of interior functionality from the air conditioning and heated seats, to more-advanced features like prompting the petrol engine to charge the battery for the electric motor.

Out of the box, the native system is easy to use and also features satellite navigation, Internet connectivity and voice controls, among other functions. It comes loaded with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto too, but these don’t get priority with a half-screen implementation used. The rest of the screen is reserved for Volvo things.

With its black background, it does tend to show fingerprints clearly.

2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge Plug-in Hybrid sound system

A premium sound system is fitted to the XC90 Recharge Plug-in Hybrid, courtesy of Bowers and Wilkins. 19 speakers (no, that isn’t a typo) are scattered around the cabin including an open-air subwoofer and a tweeter, which is placed in the centre of the dash.

There are seven seats for those carting larger groups around regularly, but both the second and third row also fold flat as required.

When in use, passengers will have little reason to complain with four-zone climate control ensuring that everyone is comfortable (two zones in the front row and one in each row behind). If there are some larger humans among the passengers, seats in the second row can be slid forward and back to give people more shoulder room and make things a bit more spacious.

2021 Volvo XC90 PHEV airconditioning zones

Cabin storage is good too, with decently sized door bins front and back, while even those in the third row get cup holders.

XC90 Recharge Hybrid boot space

In a 5-seat configuration there are 651 litres of space available which is accessed via an electronic tailgate. The practicality of the boot is impressive.

To open it, you swipe your foot under the bumper when your hands are full. Or, if you’re lifting something hefty, you can electronically lower (or lift for other items) the height of the vehicle with two buttons off to the side of the space.

With the 2 seats in the third row in use, you have 291 litres of space to work with.

What’s it like on the road?

The XC90 Recharge PHEV is powered by one engine and one motor.

In the internal combustion corner is a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder supercharged and turbocharged engine which produces 246kW and 440Nm of torque. An eight-speed Geartronic automatic transmission manages power to the wheels.

Over in the other corner, the electric motor adds 65kW and 240Nm of torque.

They both work in tandem to produce 311Kw and 680Nm, which translates to a whole lot of get up and go for this SUV. With your foot to the floor (and I imagine “Polestar Engineered” driving mode engaged), it will get you to 100km/h in just 5.5 seconds.

Polestar was the Swedish company’s equivalent of Merc’s AMG wing or BMW’s M division, but it has now shifted focus to creating electric vehicles.

2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge Plug-in Hybrid boot

There are other drive modes too. You have “Pure”, which is for when you want no dinosaur fossils burned and then there is “Hybrid”, which uses a combination of petrol and electric. They all make other alterations too, with the second most obvious being the ride height. That brings me to the other driving mode,“Offroad”, which raises the vehicle as high as it'll go.

Personally I wouldn’t want to take it offroad for fear of scratching its beautiful body. This has to be one of the best-looking SUVs on the market – but I digress, let's get back to how it performs.

Pure and electric modes both engage the electric motor, which is capable of moving this large, 2.3-tonne SUV 35 kilometres under battery power. That figure may not sound like much, but when you consider that the average trip to work in Australia is 16km, it starts to.

It takes five hours to charge off a normal power point so as long as you plug the Volvo XC90 into a power socket when you get home, you’ll have a full charge by morning. That means you could essentially travel to work and back each day without harming the planet (with no tailpipe emissions that is).

Take it on a longer trip and the electric motor will get you out of the hustle and bustle of the city where the petrol engine takes over. We took a drive to Berrima and saw the fuel consumption creep up towards the 7.5 litres per 100km mark. That’s not bad, considering the heft of the car.

You also have the option on those longer runs to charge the battery, not just through regenerative braking, but a mode you access on the infotainment screen. By turning the engine into a generator, you will have more electrons in the battery for when you hit congested areas.

In terms of dynamics, despite having the large 22-inch rims and low-profile tyres, the XC90 PHEV produces an incredibly plush ride. The air suspension cushions the cabin as you travel over rougher sections of road.

Steering is electronically assisted making the big Volvo easy to manoeuvre as a result. Further aiding manoeuvrability is a range of parking sensors and cameras for tighter situations. The steering is direct too. Coupled with the body control, it delivers up a nice level of composure through corners.

For those less confident parking such a large vehicle (or those who enjoy novelties) there is even a parking assistant.

How safe is the Volvo XC90 PHEV?

Volvo has built a reputation for safety, constantly innovating to make its cars safer. It was Volvo that invented the three-point seatbelt that is in all new cars today. It then gave up the patent, so that other manufacturers could implement the system, making motoring safer for everyone.

2021 Volvo XC90 PHEV - 7 seats

The XC90 is no exception, carrying a 5-star ANCAP safety rating.

It is loaded with driving aids and safety technology too, some of which include:

  • Autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Lane-keep assist
  • Blindspot monitoring
  • Cross-traffic alert
  • A whiplash detection system
  • Speed sign recognition
  • Parking assist

In more of a demonstration of what Volvo is capable of, there is a “Pilot Assist” function too and in terms of lane-keeping technology, it is right up there with Tesla. Working in tandem with the adaptive cruise control, it doesn’t just bounce you between lane markings. The accuracy in keeping you in your lane and taking bends is brilliant.

It is, again, more of a novelty, as you need to put pressure on the steering wheel every handful of seconds.

The verdict

Despite a $115,990 price tag, the Volvo XC90 makes sense for large families who are after a luxury vehicle and also don’t travel far on the daily commute. Getting into the habit of charging it nightly means you could potentially spend the day free from exhaust emissions.

With that being said, Volvo also builds the XC60 Polestar Engineered and XC40 Recharge Plug-in Hybrid. Either of these could be a good option should you not need seven seats. As an added bonus both will leave some extra change in your pocket and travel between 5km and 10km further using electricity only.

Frequently asked questions about the XC90 Recharge Plug-in hybrid

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Alex Jeffs is the senior publisher for personal, car and business finance at Finder. He has been building websites since he was 14 years old and has tested cars everywhere from race tracks to Oodnadatta. See full bio

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