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Car reviews - Volvo - XC90 - T8 R-Design

Our Opinion

We like
Comfortable cabin, quality interior materials, refinement, interior flexibility, space
Room for improvement
Braking transition, suspension travel, torque steer and front-wheel traction, gear selector foibles, standard features list


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11 Jan 2017

Price and equipment

SITTING at the top of Volvo’s flagship range, the XC90 T8 R-Design costs $122,900 plus on-road costs – not a small chunk of change, but there’s cabin quality and a features list that gives the big Volvo a chance at taking some sales from the Germans who dominate this segment.

That price does however put it $4000 over the five-seat 230kW/450Nm BMW X5 xDrive40e plug-in petrol-electric hybrid that claims fuel use of 3.3L/100km from its four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, assisted by an 83kW/250Nm electric motor.

It is $18,000 more than a top-spec 200kW/600Nm turbo-diesel Audi Q7 but the Mercedes-Benz GLE500e – with its 245kW/480Nm petrol V6 and an 85kW/340Nm electric motor – jumps it with a $124,900 pricetag, although like the Beemer, it is only a five-seater.

Not yet hybridised but the Brits get involved too, with Land Rover’s new seven-seater Discovery turbo-diesel top-spec model just under $118,000, with a great deal more off-road ability and towing capacity among its attractions when it gets here mid-year. A hybrid is also on the cards.

The Volvo packs plenty of promise, with Nappa leather-trimmed seats offering comfort to all seven occupants, power adjustment for the front seats, keyless entry and ignition, a large 12.3-inch touchscreen featuring infotainment and climate controls, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, in-car hotspot, gearshift paddles and a crystal gear selector, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio, phone, trip computer and cruise controls and filtered quad-zone climate control.

Power-adjustable and folding exterior mirrors with puddle lights, powered opening and closing tailgate and the one-touch window and door child locks for the middle row are all worthwhile features.

The ten-speaker sound system was upgraded through the options list to a Bowers and Wilkins unit that is more than ample to shake mirrors with large amounts of quality sound and no shortage of beef to its output, making it at home with ABBA, Brahms, Beyonce or Bon Jovi.

Handsome 22-inch alloys and tinted rear glass were also taken from the options list in the $3500 Sport Pack, as was the $3000 Technology Package which adds a head-up display, 360-degree overhead view parking cameras, digital radio reception and Apple CarPlay, which thankfully doesn’t over-ride the other infotainment system functions unless selected.

Also on the test car’s list was the Premium pack for an extra $8000, which adds seat heating for the front and outboard rear second row seats, sunblinds for the rear side windows, leather dash and door trim upgrades, as well as the adaptive damping air suspension, which is a worthwhile addition.

Much of the content from the aforementioned packages should probably be standard on a $120,000 vehicle, which rose to an as-tested price of $137,400.


It would be unfair to compare the interior to a Swedish furniture store’s theme but you can certainly see the creative flair from its homeland.

Curvaceous seats with a good range of adjustment for the front occupants are comfort and supportive and the rear rows are also able to be occupied by adults in reasonable comfort.

The middle row also gets side window shades and the built-in child booster seat, although only for the middle seat and not the outboard pair its S90 sibling gets, perhaps due to the need for those seats to allow third row access.

The optional air suspension drops the rump 40mm to allow better access and adults can enter and dwell in the third row for shorter trips, and there’s reasonable (but not masses of) cargo space with all three rows occupied.

The luggage blind also needs to be removed completely as there’s no slot for it to be housed, or it rattles around behind the third row – others have managed to settle it beneath the floor of the luggage area.

There’s vents in the centre console and B-pillar for the second row and in the C-pillar for the third row, so no air supply issues there, and armrests and cupholders for both rear rows, but the large glass sunroof might need more than the lightweight sunshade if the climate control is to get any respite in summer.

The driver gets a clean and unflustered dash and centre console, with good storage nooks and a nice leather-wrapped steering wheel with cruise, sound system and trip computer controls that take a little time to become familiar with graphics that are not always obvious.

Only the Orrefors Crystal gearshifter annoys, even if it is something of a pretty novelty – it needs several flicks to get into gear, rather than adopting the straight-through approach once out of the push-button Park mode.

It needs to be one push forward for Reverse and one back for Drive or the braking function.

Much of the car’s functionality is controlled by the centre touchscreen that’s set up like a vertically-mounted tablet.

A little susceptible to direct light and fingerprint smudges, the swipe controls are like the steering controls, taking time to become familiar but work well once the driver is attuned to them.

The top-spec T8 gets plenty of carbon-fibre trim bits, ambient lighting, illuminated R-Design kick plates, R-Design carpet mats and pedals.

The rear cargo bay has underfloor storage for the charger cable and with seven on board there’s still 369 litres of boot space, which is more than some popular small hatchbacks.

With the third row folded, Volvo claims 1019 litres of space and 1868 litres with both rows folded flat Volvo claims there are 64 seating configurations.

Engine and transmission

Any driveline that can push 2300kg of Volvo and driver to 100km/h in 5.6 seconds and on to a governed top speed of 230km/h is effective, but when it claims 2.1 litres of 95RON PULP per 100km from the 50-litre tank as well, the techniques are worthy of inspection.

The petrol side of the equation is taken from the new (50kg lighter) XC90 T6 – a transversely-mounted alloy direct-injection supercharged and turbocharged four-cylinder producing 235kW and 400Nm, the latter between 2200 and 5400rpm, sending the bulk of that through an eight-speed auto (with a larger oil pump to cope with hybrid duties) to the front wheels or to charge the battery.

The electric motor adds 65kW and 240Nm to the equation and the fuel use is further reduced by a stop-start fuel saving system.

Our time in the seven-seat Swede resulted in 7.0L/100km, with plenty of assistance from the electric side of the drivetrain in suburbia.

Measuring 4950mm long, 2000mm wide, 1776mm tall and with a 2984mm wheelbase,the hybrid claims a braked towing capacity of about 2000kg, although the figure varies between 1800 and 2400kg depending on which specification sheet is consulted.

The 9.2kWh battery pack, housed low in the transmission tunnel for better handling, doesn’t impact on cargo space or the ability to seat seven it claims charge times between 2.5 (16 amp) and six hours (6 amp).

The drivetrain also has a crankshaft-mounted starter generator between the engine and the gearbox which allows the XC90 to switch from electric to hybrid drive seamlessly, as well as acting as a booster to provide additional electric power when required it also works as a generator on deceleration, when the braking system also plays a role, although the brakes are not the smoothest to operate with these functions involved.

The battery drives an electric motor at the rear with 60kW and 240Nm when in electric and power-boost modes, which is also signified by a change in the instrumentation for the driver, who gets a tachometer when in the performance mode and a battery/petrol gauge in hybrid mode.

Ride and handling

The previous-generation XC90 was worthy of consideration for packaging reasons but was somewhat let down by underdone suspension systems – the new series is a big improvement on the models before it, although the test car had been upgraded from the double wishbone front and integral axle, transverse leaf spring rear suspension.

The optional air suspension with adaptive dampers teams up with the powertrain choices for five driving settings – Comfort, Eco, Dynamic and Off-road modes, or the tailored Individual mode - and in a suburban setting the suspension does iron out most of the irregularities well, particularly given the low-profile 35-series rubber (which do get a bit noisy on coarser bitumen surfaces) on the optional 22-inch alloys.

Comfort mode feels a little loose in terms of control but by no means is it the worst air suspension for disconnecting from the road.

Switching to the more sporting of its modes and the ride doesn’t suffer unduly from the improved body control as the body lowers itself for more handling intent, as well as delivering a more macho stance ground clearance can range from 227mm to 267mm.

The light steering runs three turns lock to lock and is not over-assisted and it points well for a large machine, but getting the power down from two different powerplants at each end can be an issue.

With the inside front wheel easily losing traction on tighter bends without much assistance from the electrically driven rear end, but the behaviour isn’t apparent until the XC90 is pushed hard.

Safety and servicing

The plug-in hybrid carries a five-star NCAP rating and scored full marks – the first vehicle to do so – for its autonomous emergency braking systems it also gets an upgraded brake package at the top of a long list of safety features.

The front discs go up to 366mm from 345 and the rears grow 20mm to 340mm, with a claimed 36m stopping distance from 100km/h.

The driver is aided by automated emergency braking that detects pedestrian, large animals and cyclists as well as other vehicles, as well as adaptive cruise control that lets the speed vary enough to get the driver pinged in those states with low tolerance like Victoria.

It also includes Pilot Assist – a semi-autonomous driving mode and run-off road protection, which tightens up the seatbelts in use and preps the vehicle for a possible impact.

Active lane departure and blind spot warning systems are easy for the driver to see and respond to, as well as front, a driver’s knee, side and full-length curtain airbags (all three rows), front and rear parking sensors and the (inexplicably optional on a $120,000 vehicle) 360-degree camera system are all on the test vehicle.

There’s also rear cross traffic alert and collision warning, auto-dimming mirrors and ‘Thor’s Hammer’ LED Active Bending Headlights with Active High Beam on the safety features list.

Like so many prestige brands the capped-price servicing is not included, sold as Volvo SmartCare for scheduled service and maintenance checks every 12 months or 15,000km, for up to five years or 75,000km in two levels – Volvo SmartCare and SmartCare Plus, with the latter including selected maintenance items.

SmartCare can be purchased at any time within the first 12 months of car ownership providing the vehicle has not been exceeded the scheduled distance or time and not been serviced by any other third party.

Pricing ranges from $2195 for three years or 45,000km (Plus buyers pay $3030) or five years/75,000km starts from $4075 or $8875 for the Plus package.

There’s a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty, with roadside assistance that is extended beyond the warranty period by servicing at Volvo dealerships.


The XC90 T8 is a stunning visual package inside and out, offering genuine comfort and space for seven occupants within a quality (if a little quirky) interior.

The optional adaptive suspension overcomes some of its lesser siblings’ shortcomings and the twin-engine drivetrain works well in its mainstream mode.

It could respond a little more sharply (particularly through the rear) in its performance mode, but its biggest hurdle is going to be the price and resale battle, given it is sitting in direct competition with two of the market leaders on the latter.


Audi Q7 3.0 TDI, from $104,855 plus on-road costs
The more powerful incarnation of the big seven-seater from Audi might not have any electric assistance for the internal combustion driveline yet, but it offers 200kW and 600Nm from its EuroVI compliant three-litre turbodiesel power plant, a claimed 6.0 litres per 100km, a 3.5-tonne braked towing capacity and is $18,000 cheaper than the Volvo.

BMW X5 xDrive40e, from $118,855 plus on-road costs
The big BMW has runs on the board in the Australian market and its $4000 price advantage over the Volvo - as well as a resale track record that’s a little rosier - might give the 230kW/450Nm plug-in petrol-electric hybrid BMW enough to negate the availability of a third row. The US-built German SUV claims a similar 3.3l/100km from its four-cylinder turbo petrol engine, assisted by an 83kW/250Nm electric motor.

Mercedes-Benz GLE 500e, from $124,900 plus on-road costs
The other - if you’ll pardon the pun - star performer is the revamped Mercedes-Benz SUV range that has adopted the GLE badging to replace the ML. The GLE 500e offers a 245kW/480Nm petrol V6 and an 85kW/340Nm electric motor and lays claim to frugal fuel use as well, but doesn’t get seven onboard. Neither German-branded machine has a bad interior but the Swedish take on cabin comfort and ergonomics has flair and is unique.

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