What is it?
The 2020 Volvo XC90 T8 Is a Better Plug-In Hybrid
Small Changes Make a Big Difference
Volvo's big SUV, the three-row XC90, was the first vehicle to show off the company's latest design language when it debuted back in 2016. It's a testament to how thoughtful Volvo was that the design hasn't started to feel old or outdated. But in spite of its understated luxury and comfort, the XC90 has admittedly had some flaws, especially the T8 plug-in hybrid.
When we tested an XC90 T8 in 2016, we were disappointed with both the braking and the ride comfort, and we weren't the only ones to express reservations on those fronts. It seems like Volvo got the message. The 2020 Volvo XC90 receives a much-needed freshening, with most of the changes focused on the PHEV's dynamics.
First, Volvo rethought the braking system in order to provide smoother stops and a more natural pedal feel. It also revised the suspension for the T8 to improve ride quality. Finally, it increased battery capacity to 11.6 kWh, which we're told should add a few extra miles of all-electric driving range.
The other big change for 2020 is the addition of a six-passenger configuration, with second-row captain's chairs in place of a bench seat. This layout is meant to ease access to the third row and provide a bit more space for passengers back there to stretch their legs. The six-passenger XC90 is also set up to accommodate child booster seats in the third row, expanding seating flexibility when traveling with kids.
Oh, and the crystal shift knob in the Inscription trim has been redesigned. It looks neat.
Why does it matter?
Competition in the luxury three-row segment has never been hotter, and as new competitors appear on the market and old nameplates are refreshed, more and more brands are adding electrified options in the space. Overall, the XC90 is aging well, but the changes for 2020 will definitely help keep it competitive. Improving the dynamics of the plug-in T8 was especially important because the PHEV serves as not only the more efficient XC90 model but also the most powerful.
What does it compete with?
The non-hybrid XC90 faces off against a plethora of strong contenders, from the excellent Audi Q7 to newly introduced competitors such as the Lincoln Aviator. The Aviator also appears in the small but growing field of three-row luxury PHEVs, alongside the BMW X5 xDrive45e. Volvo previously had this space almost to itself in the U.S., but now that there's competition, it's good to see that Volvo's not standing still.
How does it drive?
In our time with the 2020 Volvo XC90 T8, it seemed as though Volvo's revisions have paid off. The brakes certainly felt more natural, and it was much easier to execute a smooth stop. If you're paying attention, you can still feel the transition from regenerative to mechanical braking in the seat of your pants, but it doesn't seem like the issue it once was.
The ride, likewise, felt a bit more compliant and a bit less busy. We'll have to see if changes impact the XC90's position in our SUV rankings when we get one in for our full battery of tests. But at first blush, Volvo seems to have nudged the XC90 T8 in the right direction.
What's the interior like?
The interior continues to provide a pleasantly designed environment of understated luxury. Volvo's seats are excellent, and the second-row captain's chairs are no exception. Our tester didn't have fold-down armrests on the second-row seats, which we would have appreciated, but otherwise its cabin was an eminently pleasant place to spend a couple of hours.
How practical is it?
The six-seat variant offers better practicality with its increased seating flexibility and third-row access. Unless you really need the extra seat, the six-passenger XC90 is the way to go. Cargo space is average for the segment — usable but not exceptional.
What else should I know?
The XC90 is available via Volvo's Care By Volvo subscription service, which includes insurance and maintenance in its monthly price. Volvo is working to expand Care By Volvo and make it easier to get approved and start a subscription through its smartphone app.
Thanks to thoughtful updates for 2020, the Volvo XC90 T8 merits fresh consideration alongside the latest crop of electrified family haulers.