► 2023 model year Volvo XC90 Hybrid review► Bigger 19kWh battery for 43-mile claimed range
► Swedish seven-seater with 449bhp

The Volvo XC90 hybrid has been fettled for the 2023 model year – bringing one last hurrah for the Swedes’ range-topper before the all-new XC90 replacement is shown in November 2022. It gets a bigger battery, more power and longer range to boost its plug-in credentials.

This update is relevant, as the Volvo XC90 Recharge Plug-in Hybrid T8 AWD will continue to be sold alongside the pure electric next-generation XC90 arriving in dealers later in 2023, giving buyers a choice of PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) or BEV (battery electric vehicle).

Read our Volvo XC90 Recharge T8 review to see if the upgrades have made a difference and whether you should pick this or a BMW X5 45e.

Volvo XC90 Hybrid review

The XC90 T8 hybrid, or Recharge for short, is the most expensive, cleanest, most frugal, and quickest car of the XC90 range. Its raison d’être is that it’s a seven-seat plug-in hybrid – something of a rarity still.

It’s aimed at the middle classes who can’t quite commit to a fully-electric car, but still want the tax breaks and street cred associated with one.

The 2023 update brings a hint of Q-car to the XC90, which boasts a total power output of 449bhp when 2.0-litre petrol engine and 143bhp electric motor are both fired up. Lovers of stealthy performance cars will be salivating at the thought of a 2.3-tonne family-hauler cracking the 0-60mph sprint in a faintly ridiculous 5.1 seconds.

android, volvo xc90 hybrid recharge t8 review: now with bigger battery for 2023

The XC90 uses Volvo’s SPA scalable product architecture. This platform also underpins the S90 saloon and V90 estate, while the chassis was designed from the outset to package electric powertrains. In the T8 a petrol engine in the nose drives the front wheels via an eight-speed auto gearbox. A electric generator sandwiched between the two rapidly cranks the petrol engine into life, boosts torque and charges the larger-for-2023 18.8kWh battery as required.

The cells, housed along the central tunnel a propshaft normally calls home, feed a large single electric motor on the rear axle that also generates electricity under braking. A control unit in the engine bay synchronises the two power sources, ensuring happy, efficient collaboration and all-wheel drive when required.

Does the XC90 Recharge feel 449bhp fast?

There’s effortless performance throughout the rev range, rather than dragster punch. Mash the throttle to the carpet in Power mode and the T8 launches pretty smartly, the battery pouring power into the electric motor as the turbocharged and supercharged direct-injection 2.0-litre four slogs its guts out. As a performance powertrain it’s undoubtedly effective, the claimed 5.1sec 0-62mph feeling entirely believable, but the car’s not inconsequential weight (2297kg) blunts the feeling of performance.

android, volvo xc90 hybrid recharge t8 review: now with bigger battery for 2023

This kind of heavy-footed tomfoolery also feels pretty inappropriate, not because the chassis can’t cope – far from it – but because the petrol engine’s strains lack charm, shattering the XC90’s otherwise very endearing serenity.

Volvo insists a more sonorous higher cylinder count would have been incompatible with the firm’s product architecture and the wants of environmentally responsible consumers. Certainly the four-cylinder engine contributes much to the T8’s headline figures of 28-34g/km of CO2 and 188-235mpg on the WLTP combined cycle, though, after running one for six months, we can safely say the latter is an almost impossible figure in real-world driving.

The obscene three-figure MPG rating is synonymous with the plug-in hybrid car. We reckon if you charged religiously, and never drove more than 100 or so miles, the figure might be someway achievable. But the real hindrance to the XC90 is that when the battery is bereft of charge, you’re realistically looking at a sub-30mpg car.

Volvo quotes an official electric range of 43 miles for the 2023 model year XC90 hybrid with the bigger battery, but in day-to-day mixed driving we never saw the onboard computer predict more than 32 miles.

android, volvo xc90 hybrid recharge t8 review: now with bigger battery for 2023

Back to the drive modes. It’s better to select the Hybrid and trade a little of Power’s throttle response and poke for improved economy and some far more agreeable peace and quiet. Either way, the integration of electric and petrol power is almost seamless. At smaller throttle openings the petrol engine chiming in and out is almost undetectable, and the brake pedal is similarly well resolved, passing through the regenerative phase and into hydraulic braking with no discernible shift in resistance.

The usual PHEV functionality ensures a good degree of control: choose Pure mode to use only electric, select Braking on the gear selector for stronger regenerative braking on downhill runs, or even a lower gear for increased engine braking; use the instrument display or the dead-spot in the throttle pedal’s travel to stay on electric power, rather than accidentally triggering the petrol engine’s assistance.

Volvo XC90: high-rise limo or lively steer?

Air-suspended XC90s deliver an impressive drive, blending a cosseting ride with impressive body control. Appropriately there’s a little initial roll before the outer air struts take up the slack, lending the 5m-long seven-seater the wieldy feel of something much smaller and lighter.

android, volvo xc90 hybrid recharge t8 review: now with bigger battery for 2023

Conventionally sprung XC90s manage a good impression of the same body control but lose a good deal of the ride quality, occasionally running out of answers on the kind of weather-beaten roads the UK does so well. Our advice is to budget for the air suspension, which also drops the rear of the car by 50mm on demand for the easy loading of heavy furniture and arthritic dogs. A handy feature.

Interior quality, features and space

Curious timbers, machined aluminium and acres of beige leather don’t sound too promising but, almost irrespective of colour choice, the Volvo XC90’s is one of the finest interiors out there, certainly in anything like a comparable price bracket.

Fit and finish are exemplary, the design striking in a very pleasing, understated way and the overall sense of light, space and uncluttered calm the perfect ally to the T8’s potential for 43 miles of near-silent pure electric transportation. Additional NVH work has banished much of the background chatter of fans and compressors a combustion engine’s machinations normally mask, leaving an impressive and luxurious absence of noise.

android, volvo xc90 hybrid recharge t8 review: now with bigger battery for 2023

Less successful is the now-ageing infotainment screen. Newer Volvos’ Android operating system underlines how old the earlier system is – everything from the mapping to heating controls is a little bit fiddly now. The new XC90 coming in 2023 will fix this.

Too many functions require plentiful prods and glances away from the road, which rapidly become annoying and fiddly on the move. Turning the heated seats on to their full power requires three stabs at the screen, for instance. And that crystal gearlever looks nice but is oddly clunky to use – and much less intuitive than the stubby lever in the Polestar 2, say.

Volvo XC90 hybrid review: verdict

The XC90 is fundamentally a very fine SUV that is ageing well, and the hybrid powertrain has much to recommend it, not least the tax breaks afforded by its miserly CO2 outputs. And the newly bumped 449bhp combined outputs mean it’s got performance not far off what you might have found in a V8 SUV a decade-and-a-bit ago.

However, for most people a diesel-engined Volvo XC90 delivers comparable, if not superior, economy, particularly if the battery’s never charged from the grid (50% of its existing PHEV owners don’t plug in, according to Volvo!) but the T8’s potential for both lunging bouts of acceleration and silent electric running is hugely attractive. Much like the car itself.

Since being launched, other manufacturers have caught up by offering plug-in hybrid SUVs. Audi, Range Rover and BMW all have these in their arsenal – and all are newer than the XC90, the elder statesman of this sector. Yet, the XC90 still delivers in being devastatingly fast and handsome, and nowhere near as audacious and flashy as its European rivals.

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