Time was that a top-end Volvo estate would pack a meaty five- or six-cylinder turbocharged engine and be driven by your local undercover constable. Today, things have changed. The cops are now in BMWs and Volvo has moved on.
The new V90 T8 Twin Engine with ‘Polestar Engineered’ input is a case in point. Pop the bonnet and you’ll see just four cylinders, but there’s a turbo and supercharger, plus clever plug-in hybrid electric power. The result is an Audi S6 rival with around 60hp more power, which starts from £3,000 less.
Volvo V90 T8: First impressions
Firstly, the standard Volvo stuff. Spoiler alert: it’s a safe, highly accomplished family wagon. Standard kit includes Europe-wide navigation and semi-autonomous driving tech, as well as an arsenal of safety and assistance systems.
Its styling is sharp and pleasing, yet inoffensive and unpretentious. The R-Design package adds some decidedly un-Volvo sportiness, including 20-inch wheels and stylish (but fake) exhaust outlets. We love those pickaxe LED running lights, too.
On the inside, it’s just as smooth and sleek. The Polestar seats and leather appointment throughout the cabin are superb. On the whole, build quality is excellent, although cheaper materials are there if you look hard enough.
The touchscreen user interface is a bit quirky, and we worry whether Volvo’s infotainment is losing its edge in 2020. But it’s sharp-looking and performs well – once you learn how to operate it.
Volvo V90 T8: On the road
Volvo claims the T8 will go between 29 and 35 miles on electric power alone. We found a minimum of 20 miles could be expected in normal driving from the 11.6kWh battery. Charging takes around four hours.
Without a lead foot, it’ll happily run in EV mode in most situations, including at motorway speeds. For short trips that would leave diesel drivers shedding a tear for their DPF, zero-emission motoring is a real bonus. Indeed, we didn’t run the engine itself until three days into our week with the T8.
Swipe in the infotainment and you can select ‘Charge’ or ‘Hold’, either forcing the internal combustion engine to add to the battery charge, or maintaining what it has for later.
Volvo V90 T8: ‘Polestar Engineered’ mode
To access the fruitier side of the T8, you roll the drive selector wheel past Pure (mostly electric) and Hybrid modes to Polestar Engineered. The digital display changes, from monitoring your power usage to a sporty red rev counter. Now you have access to the full might of the T8’s 400hp combined output.
With it, you’ll see 62mph in five seconds – on par with the Audi S6 – and reach a top speed of 155mph. Electric power goes to the rear wheels via an 87hp 65kW electric motor, while the 2.0-litre engine’s 317hp heads to the front via a slick-shifting eight-speed auto gearbox.
It’s quick, yet undramatic. “Oh bother, I’m already at the speed limit,” you calmly mutter, as the T8 slices down the road. What sound do you hear from the petrol engine? It’s a curious concerto: mostly four-banger gruffness and the whirr of battery regeneration. Braking is impressive for a two-tonne-plus car.
The Active Four-C Chassis adaptive dampers (a £1,500 option) keep the V90 taut when cornering. Turn-in is good, but feel is non-existent. All told, the T8 does the business, but it is business – it’s no Dancing Queen. But neither are its rivals.
Volvo V90 T8: Verdict
So… The winner takes it all, or the loser standing small? To stick with the Abba theme, we’d take a chance on the V90 T8.
You won’t go around scaring BMW M5s, but if you’re an enthusiast in the market for a fast family wagon, it’s a compelling machine. And for a competitive price.
Bought as a company car, the benefit-in-kind taxation of the 43g/km-rated T8 could be highly appealing, too. We’d suggest test-driving one first, and seeing if you like hybrid way of doing things.
Volvo V90 T8 Twin Engine R-Design Plus: Specification
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-charged plug-in hybrid
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive
Power: 317hp (engine) + 87hp (electric)
0-62mph: 5.3 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Fuel economy: 25-40mpg (our testing), 97-117mpg (official WLTP results)
CO2 emissions: 49/g/km
Boot size: 560 litres
Price: From £59,655
Price as tested: £67,500