2021 Volvo XC90 T8-E

PHOENIX — For years, I’ve made long weekend pilgrimages to visit family, explore National Parks, and go on golf junkets, mostly because I love to drive and partly because it’s cheap. Recently, it seemed a certain virus might annul my trip to southern Utah, but restrictions eased just in time for our Bryce Canyon-Zion hiking excursion. We were in luck.

I’d already lined up the 2021 Volvo XC90 T8-E Inscription for the trip and was anticipating the drive. The XC90 T8 is an all-wheel-drive luxury SUV with six- or seven-passenger seating; a complex 313-horsepower, 2.0-liter inline-four-cylinder engine that’s both supercharged and turbocharged, and powers the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. In back is an 87-horsepower electric motor that spins the rear axle, and combines with the engine for a total of 400-horsepower and 472-pound-feet of torque.

The XC90 T8 comes with a plug-in charging cable, enabling customers to charge at home for about 18 EPA-rated miles of electric-only driving when Pure mode is selected. It tops out at 78 mph before engaging in hybrid mode. In more than 500 miles of mixed driving, we averaged 29-MPGe.

From the moment you slip behind the wheel, you’re immersed in a vehicle that’s something very special, smart, debonair and impeccably Scandinavian, flush with top-shelf materials and honed with skilled craftsmanship. The cabin is banded with a sensual rhythm of book-matched laser-shaved linear natural matte finish gray ash wood inlays and a topstitched leather instrument panel.

The level of elegance and attention-to-detail continues with a raised, knurled ignition knob mounted in the center of the console that twists clockwise to start or turn off the engine. Directly in front of the knob is an Orrefors crystal gearshift knob.

Maintaining its leadership and reputation as having industry’s most “comfortable seats,” Volvo designers forego traditional leather seating in favor of stylish and suave midnight zinc tailored wool seat coverings. As far as I’m aware, that’s an industry first.

Apart from being big and luxurious, did the XC90 impress in other ways? There’s a wowing list of driver-assist tech, starting with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a 9.0-inch iPad-like screen integrated into the center console. It functions similarly to a smartphone, utilizing swiping motions through menus. Icons are small and the system is overall frustrating and non- intuitive. It operates almost all audio, climate control, navigation, phone and vehicle settings.

On the bright side, the XC90 comes standard with a suite of safety features including forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot warning, rear collision warning, rear cross traffic warning, and lane keeping assistance systems. Also included is Volvo’s run-off road protection and run-off road mitigation technology, a full complement of supplemental airbags including driver knee airbag, whiplash protection system in the front seats, and blind-spot information with steering assist.

Volvo's standard pilot assist system is included and combines steering assistance and adaptive cruise control. It has no proven safety benefit but can make driving more convenient in stop-and-go traffic. Drivers still need to constantly pay attention and be ready to take over when needed.

Our XC90 came equipped with the optional ($300) built-in second-row built-in child booster seat that’s excellent if you have elementary-school-age kids.

On the road, we found the big Volvo easy and pleasing to drive with responsive and predictive handling, restrained body lean and ample power for acceleration when entering the interstate or passing another vehicle on two-lane highways. The driving feel is neither sporty nor spirited but rather luxurious and balanced. And while it is equipped with all-wheel-drive, it is not intended for off-road duty.

The ride is mostly on the firm side but comfortable nonetheless with minimum body motions, juggles or tosses, we think thanks to the optional four-corner air suspension ($1800). Some competitor luxury SUVs offer a more luxurious ride and/or sportier driving experience. Visibility is excellent, large door mirrors are more than welcome and the 360-degree surround-view camera system is excellent for overhead and around-the-car viewing. The cabin is exceptionally quiet, even at highway speeds and over rough pavement.

Overall, the XC90 — with its restrained luxury, bank-vault like safety, Scandinavian design and pleasing driving characteristics — is well worth a “must test drive” place on many luxury shoppers’ consideration list.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $67,000
Price as Tested: $84,440
Engine/Transmission: Turbocharged, supercharged 2.0-liter inline-4, 313 hp, 295 lb.-ft; permanent-magnet synchronous AC motor, 87 hp, 177 lb.-ft; combined output, 400 hp, 472 lb.-ft; 9.1-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission
Fuel Economy: 55 combined MPGe Electricity + Gasoline, 27 combined MPG Gasoline only
Seating: 6 or 7

Where Built: Gothenburg, Sweden

Crash Test Results: Highest possible rating of Top Safety Pick + by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and highest possible 5-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Competes With:
Audi Q7
Cadillac XT6
Lincoln Aviator
Lexus GX
Land Rover Range Rover Velar
Mercedes-Benz GLS

Fab Features:
Cabin is palatial, serene, spacious
Safety features galore
Excellent fuel economy

— Jim Prueter