The original XC90 was virgin territory for Volvo in 2002. Volvo was a company that had entertained owners with decades of station wagons but had steadfastly resisted the siren call of the SUV and crossover. Volvo needn’t have worried, other than to think, what took us so long? The XC90 was an instant hit, becoming the most popular model in the Volvo lineup.
But after twelve models years largely unchanged, Volvo took year off—there was not 2015 Volvo XC90—and returned for the 2016 model year changing not just something, but everything.
Indeed what a change for the Volvo XC90. It’s the first model to be built on Volvo’s new Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform, the basis for Volvo’s future models. The technology allows, as its name suggests, changing dimension of the basic layout to build different models.
The Volvo XC90 also introduces the first plug-in hybrid in the Volvo model lineup, and indeed, the first hybrid Volvo SUV/crossover, and the first ever seven-passenger plug-in hybrid anywhere. The engine lineup for the 2016 XC90 includes the base 250-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, available with front-wheel drive only, in the T5 AWD. A step up from the T5 is, naturally enough, the T6, powered by the same supercharged/turbocharged 2.0-liter four as used in the Volvo S60 T6, the Volvo XC60 T6, and the 2016 Volvo S60 Cross Country.
New for 2016 is the Volvo XC90 T8. The top-on-the-line T8 keeps the supercharged/turbocharged two-liter but adds an electric motor for a peak output of 400 horsepower. It’s a complex system, but here are the basics. The gas engine is boosted by a supercharger at low revs, and as the engine speeds up, the supercharger is disengaged to reduce drag, the supercharger adding boost for the upper rev range. The peak engine output is 316 horsepower.
The rear wheels are driven by an 80 horsepower electric motor sitting on the rear axle, providing , capable of either driving the car in electric mode (with the gas engine not running), or teamed with the gas engine for maximum acceleration.
The Volvo XC90 T8 has a third electric motor. Called the crankshaft-mounted starter generator (CISG), it’s positioned between the engine and the transmission and has three tasks. It’s a starter for the gas engine to go to combination power when the car has been operating on pure electric drive. It also functions as an electric generator. And it can also provide up to 110 lb-ft of additional torque.
Somehow, with two electric motors and a supercharged/turbocharged engine, Volvo comes up with a “twin engine” descriptor. Maybe something is lost in translation.
Anyway, power from the engine and the CISG go through an eight-speed transmission specially adapted for use in the hybrid system with a larger oil pump to give the necessary lubrication during electric drive and quicker pressure build-up when going from electric to combustion drive.
With no driveshaft to the rear axle (the T8 replaces the driveshaft to the rear axle of the non-hybrid all-wheel drive XC90), the center tunnel has been given over to the 65kW battery, placing the battery pack in otherwise wasted space rather than taking up room in the trunk or elsewhere.
Rather than the typical air cooling of the battery pack, the Volvo XC90 T8 has liquid cooling that is integrated into the engine cooling system, or not, as when heating the cabin when the gas motor isn’t running), as is cooling for the rear electric motor and the CISG.
Like other hybrid vehicles, the Volvo XC90 can be pre-conditioned, the engine, battery and cabin prepared for driving via a mobile app, particularly useful is the plug-in system is plugged in so that the car can be ready to go without consuming gasoline and creating emission (at least on site).
Speaking of plugged in, the 2016 Volvo XC90 T8 puts the plug in what’s becoming the standard location, behind a door on the right front fender. That way it’s harder for the driver to miss and drive off dragging the cord. The plug is locked into the socket as long as the car doors are locked. We had several people marvel, however, how the gasoline filler was on the left front fender. That gave us the opportunity to brag about how it was actually a plug-in hybrid and they were immediately impressed.
Which we were too. Partly because the 2015 Volvo XC90 T8 uses as little gasoline as it does. And for driving on level land and the driver has the discipline to keep from dipping too far into the throttle, the T8 can get by with none at all. Set in Eco mode, the tachometer is replaced by an energy monitor, which provides a visual cue to how much electric power is being used, and how close the driver is coming to tipping power into running the gas engine. Speed demons we may be, but this was our favorite mode, adding the challenge of driving in pure electric mode. And we like challenges. It’s probably the best way yet to keep us from leaning too much on the gas pedal.