Updated: Mar 31, 2022
Probably the biggest misconception about hybrid vehicles is that they are slow---an opinion no doubt given credence by the fact that early Toyota Prius drivers tended to hypermile, accelerating gently and sticking to the speed limit, in an effort to run up those miles per gallon.
Time to dump the decade-old information from your memory banks. Enlightened purveyors of hybrid vehicles have been using the electric motor in addition to the gasoline engine to not only boost fuel economy, but acceleration. And the 2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge T8 Inscription is a perfect example of this approach.
The 2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge T8 Inscription is a plug-in hybrid. It provides 18 miles of purely electric driving before switching over to a combination of gasoline and electric power.
I've been critical of PHEVs that have such a small purely electric range. Friend and colleague Steve Schaefer at SteveGoesGreen.com has helped me understand that there's a point of diminishing returns for this kind of vehicle. Longer electric range means a bigger battery, which means added weight and reduced capacity somewhere. That battery has to go where it can't be seen. It's usually luggage capacity that suffers. Vehicles like the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, with a huge floorpan, can hide a large battery better and deliver upwards of 30 miles of pure electric range).
Still, even at 18 miles, it comes down to your routine. If you have a nine-mile commute to work, you can get there and back without using a drop of gasoline or putting a particle of pollution in the air. If you have a charging station where you work and one at home, you can make that a 36-mile roundtrip. And when you do exhaust the purely electric charge, the XC90 Recharge switches to a gasoline-electric hybrid.
In this case it's a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that is both turbocharged and supercharged, making 313 horsepower. The electric engine brings 87 horsepower to the equation, for a total of 400. It gets to the wheels via an eight-speed Geartronic automatic transmission. Zero to 60 happens in 4.9 seconds. If this were not a hybrid, everybody would be talking about the hot Volvo SUV.
Once in hybrid gas/electric mode, the EPA fuel economy average, a combined city/highway number, is 27 miles per gallon. We put 500 miles on our tester with a four-day weekend trip to Santa Cruz and Monterey, which gave us a great blend of interstate highways, winding mountain roads and city streets, and wound up with an average of 27.5.
The cargo area is cavernous with the third-row seats folded flat.
And the XC90 has a neat feature for loading and unloading from the cargo area---a button on the right side, next to the tailgate opening, that allows you to raise or lower the vehicle's suspension with the engine off.
Improvements to the XC90 this year include two USB-C ports for the rear seat passengers, wireless charging up front, adaptive LED headlights that turn with the steering wheel, high-pressure headlight washers, front parking sensors and Volvo Care Key, which allows you to set a maximum vehicle speed for yourself, other family members or anyone sharing your vehicle.
The base price of the 2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge T8 Inscription is $69,750. The window sticker is at the end of this review so you can see for yourself, but among the standard equipment highlights at that price are 20-inch alloy wheels, a Harman Kardon premium audio system, a panoramic moonroof, Nappa leather upholstery, wood inlays and a four-zone automatic climate control system.
Our tester also had extra-cost options, including $1,700 for the Lounge Package (backrest massage front seats with Nubuck headliners), $750 for the Climate Package (heated windshield wiper blades, heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel), $1,500 for the Advanced Package (a graphical head-up display and 360-degree camera), $645 for the Saville Gray Metallic paint, $300 for an integrated center booster cushion, $3,200 for a tremendous Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system, $1,800 for four-corner air suspension, $250 for air quality with advanced air cleaner and $800 for 21-inch 8-multispoke alloy wheels.
With $995 destination charge, the as-tested price of the 2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge T8 Inscription is $81,690.
That's a premium price, but the 2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge T8 Inscription is a premium piece. Luxury, power and a smaller eco-footprint all in one package.