Nowadays, repeating the “Volvo is on a roll” claim would be beating the proverbial dead horse, but here we are. We’ve been fortunate enough to test Volvo’s lineup from top to bottom, and the accolades have been just about universal. Aside from the smaller and more focused XC40, everything Volvo offers today rides on their modular “Scalable Product Architecture” (SPA). While the products built on this platform can differ greatly in terms of overall size, the common bones means that most Volvos drive similarly, in one way or another. We were sent a fully-loaded 2019 Volvo S90 T8 Inscription, painted in Crystal White Pearl Metallic.
The T8 badge denotes that this particular car features Volvo’s “Twin Engine”, which refers to the usual 2.0L twin-charged Drive-E (supercharged and turbocharged) gasoline engine, paired up to electric motors powering the rear axle, and a plug-in hybrid interface to power it all up. Similar powertrains are available in the XC60 T8 and XC90 T8, and we’ve come to love them for the combination of total system power – 400 horsepower – and possible fuel economy, if your daily commute makes use of the electric-only range.
The S90 has been on sale since the 2017 model year, but 2018 brings an important update: an additional 120mm (or 4.5”)into the wheelbase, for a total of 3061mm. In practical terms, the formerly Chinese-spec S90 adds all that extra wheelbase length into the rear seat legroom. With the driver’s seat set up for myself (at 5’9” or 175cm), I can’t actually touch the driver’s seat with my stretched arms when sitting in the back. You’d think this longer S90 would be more for those sitting in the back, but in typical Volvo fashion, all four seats are some of the best in the business – the driver’s seat in particular features an excellent massage function.
The Inscription trim continues with the genuine open-pore birch wood inlay and the lit Swedish Orrefors crystal that makes up the mono-stable gear selector. The nine-inch Sensus touchscreen seen in every current Volvo model is now fairly familiar, but still retains some quirks. The minimalist slant is attractive from a design point of view, but some hard buttons for the climate control would be nice, and the same goes for a quicker start-up time – a long-time complaint of mine.
Outside, it may be difficult to differentiate between the “short” and “long”-wheelbase variants of the S90. Putting the two cars side by side will reveal a longer rear door, and not much else. The charge port is just ahead of the driver’s door, and is about the only way you can tell the S90 T8 apart from its gasoline-only siblings. The trademark Thor’s Hammer LED daytime-running light signature continues to be the defining feature of the front-end, though the taillights look a somewhat frumpy during the day – a little less so at night. In short, most seem to agree that the Volvo S90 is a very handsome looking sedan, with some unique bits that help it stand out from its competitors from elsewhere in Europe (read: Germany).
The Volvo S90 starts off with the T5: a turbo-only variant of the Drive-E gasoline engine, producing 250 horsepower. Bolting a supercharger onto the intake brings you to the T6 engine option, and bumps that horsepower figure to 316. The flagship T8 adds the aforementioned electric motors (65kW) to the rear axle, powered by a 10.4kWh lithium-ion battery. When you put the gasoline and electric portions of the Twin Engine powertrain together, you get a total system rating of 400 horsepower at 6,000RPM and a whopping 472 lb-ft. of torque from 2,200 to 5,400RPM.
The important number to be aware of with the S90 T8 is the electric range: 43km. There are a handful of different drive modes which will prioritize different sources of propulsion, but it is possible to tell the S90 T8 to utilize the electric portion of the powertrain as much as possible. You won’t get all 400 horsepower in full-electric mode – you’ll need the gas engine online in order to get you moving quickly, but the electric motors alone (worth 87 horsepower) will get the S90 T8 moving smartly, on their own. The S90 T8 also happens to be unexpectedly fast considering its frugal ratings: the 0-100km/h run is completed in just 4.9 seconds, which is in the territory of some fairly serious luxury cars, most being powered by at least a twin-turbo V6 gasoline engine. One drawback: the Drive-E four-cylinder engines continue to sound a little gruff and uninspiring when pushed.
Most commutes fall well within the 43km electric range that the S90 T8 offers. As such, I was able to make use of the full reserve, to and from the office in downtown Toronto. Thanks to the regenerative brakes, the stop-and-go traffic proved to be advantageous to keep the battery charged up, and the 21km (one-way) distance didn’t actually make a huge dent on the remaining battery range. Plugging the S90 T8 into a standard household 120V outlet overnight was enough to charge the battery up from almost empty – though Volvo quotes a 2.5 hour charge time through its dedicated 230V chargers.
The beauty about plug-in hybrids is that range anxiety really doesn’t have to be an issue. Once the battery runs dry, you still have the gasoline engine to get you home. Volvo Canada quotes the S90 T8 at 8.9L/100km in the city, 7.1L/100km on the highway, and 8.1L/100km in a combined cycle. Thanks to the decent battery range, I was actually able to keep the indicated fuel consumption average to 4.0L/100km, throughout the week of mostly city driving. The S90 T8 will hold 50L of the recommended 91 octane fuel – non-hybrid variants of the S90 will hold 60L of fuel, probably due to the lack of space constraints from the electric hardware.
The base S90 T5 AWD Momentum starts at $55,750. You still get that super-long wheelbase, and the simplest version of the Drive-E powertrain, at 250 horsepower. Furthermore, you still get the Thor’s Hammer full-LED headlights, full leather upholstery, but you miss out on some items like the large 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. Stepping up to the more powerful S90 T6 Momentum bumps the price to $59,300, with the S90 T6 Inscription priced at $65,500. The S90 T8 plug-in hybrid stands at the top of the lineup, at $74,950.
This particular tester was of the Inscription trim, and there are still quite a few options and packages that can be added. The $2,000 Vision Package adds blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, automatically dimming mirrors, power folding exterior mirrors, and a 360-degree top-view camera. The $3,500 Luxury Package adds front seat massagers (making those excellent Volvo seats even better), ventilated rear seats, and a more premium headliner material. The $1,250 Climate Package adds a heated steering wheel, heated wiper blades, and heated rear seats. The only stand-alone options fitted were the larger 20-inch wheels at $1,000, and the $3,250 Bowers and Wilkins premium audio system. I’ve never been a huge fan of high-end car audio (you can never get an optimal soundstage within the confines of a car), but this B&W system really is excellent if you feed it some lossless audio files. All in, this loaded S90 T8 Inscription comes in at $86,850.
The recent change in provincial government for Ontario has changed the electric vehicle market somewhat – there’s no more rebate that owners can apply for, so cars like this S90 T8 are affected. Some electric vehicles got their $14,000 rebate canceled, leaving customers scrambling to get all their paperwork signed before the new regulations come into effect. Rebates aside, the S90 T8 isn’t without competition: BMW’s new 530e xDrive sedan brings a somewhat similar formula to the table, with its 2.0L turbocharged gasoline inline-four, paired up to electric motors.
It provides a more dynamic feel (thanks to its rear-drive architecture), but its 248 horsepower system output rating pales in comparison to the S90 T8. The BMW also doesn’t get the limousine-spec wheelbase, either. Acura’s RLX Sport Hybrid is an oft-forgotten player, with 377 horsepower, six-cylinder luxury, and their dynamic Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system, but it lacks true plug-in capability and soldiers on with a very dated interior feel, if that matters to you.
Volvo’s S90 T8 offers us a glimpse into the future of how Volvo sees the automobile. They’ve committed to electrification throughout their entire lineup, and this isn’t just limited to their comfortable luxury cars and crossovers. Volvo’s performance arm, Polestar, has teased details of the Polestar 1, which will be their flagship hybrid sports coupe. The rumours suggest the Twin Engine in that car should produce as much as 600 horsepower and 738 lb-ft. of torque, which should get just about everybody excited. The 2019 Volvo S90 T8 Inscription allows us to taste their version of the balance between efficiency, progressive lifestyle, and performance, all with little to no compromise. Battery technology will continue to improve, but even as we all wait for a major breakthrough, this is one of the better rounded packages out there for the modern and upscale consumer.