Volvo XC90 T8 Excellence review, test drive
21st Dec 2016 5:00 pm
The range-topping Volvo XC90 is designed to save the environment while pampering you in absolute luxury.
What is it?
The XC90 T8 Excellence is the most expensive Volvo to date. It costs Rs 1.25 crore (ex-showroom, Delhi) which makes it 50 percent costlier than the former range-topping XC90 D5 Inscription; quite a lot for just a higher variant, right? The thing is, Volvo doesn’t want you to think of the T8 Excellence as just a variant. It wants you to see the T8 Excellence as an XC90 that offers a whole different experience. The ‘T8’ in this XC90’s name signifies that it’s a plug-in hybrid while ‘Excellence’ speaks of luxury at a scale not seen in any Volvo before.
On the outside, there’s little which shouts that this is the Maybach of Volvos; chrome-plated B- and C-pillars, larger 21-inch wheels and a second filler cap on the left flank (for the charging socket) are the only details that distinguish the Excellence from the regular XC90. It is a handsome SUV, no two ways about that.
But most of what makes this XC90 special is actually hidden from outside view. Volvo calls the T8’s setup ‘Twin Engine’ and it really is that. Under the bonnet sits a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine. It’s a supercharged (for low-end responses) and turbocharged (the turbo takes over from the mid-range on) unit, making a strong 320hp and solely driving the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. The second source of propulsion is an 87hp electric motor that sits atop the rear axle and powers the rear wheels only. There is no mechanical linkage between the front and rear axles and the space that would have been taken up by a traditional prop shaft has been cleverly used to house the lithium-ion battery pack in the centre tunnel. This space-efficient arrangement is a result of Volvo developing the SPA platform that underpins the XC90 and S90 from ground-up with full electrification in mind. The battery can be fully charged by plugging it into a 220V wall socket (Volvo provides two charging stations with the car) in 2.5 hours, and power is also replenished on the move through regenerative braking.
Also, the XC90 Excellence is the first car in India to feature radar-based safety systems like collision mitigation with autonomous braking. Unfortunately, our test car did not have these features, so we can’t comment on their efficacy in Indian conditions.
What is it like on the inside?
The Excellence experience starts in earnest when the valet or your chauffeur opens the rear door for you. Gone are the regular XC90’s third row and middle seat bench. Instead, the Excellence gets two individual chairs at the back. There’s 50mm more legroom and some of the best seats in the business to make the most of that space on. The shapely rear chairs, finished in nappa leather no less, are the same as the supremely comfortable ones in front and will leave you spoilt for choice in the ways you can set them to your liking. There’s ventilation, heating, seat angle adjust, side, back and thigh support adjust as well as a superb back massage feature, all controlled via a retractable touchscreen that pops out from the rear centre console. You can even adjust the position of the front passenger seat from the back. The rear seats are where you’d want to de-stress after a tough day at the boardroom. When it is time to celebrate that multimillion-dollar deal, you can always reach out to the refrigerator between the seats to pull out the bottle of champagne and pair of handcrafted Orrefors crystal glasses. And you can count on the Bowers & Wilkins sound system to set the mood. It’s been optimised for the Excellence and sound’s brilliant.
Also unique to the Excellence is a glass partition that divides the passenger compartment and luggage bay, which is there in the interest of minimising cabin noise levels. Peer past the glass partition into the boot though and you’d wonder how your golf kit will fit in. Unlike standard seven-seat XC90s that get a space-saver tyre stowed in a dedicated recess, the Excellence features a full-size spare that sits on the boot floor.
Up front, the Excellence doesn’t feel all too different to the stock XC90. There is a posher nubuck headlining and the gear lever is uniquely made of crystal (we have mixed views on this), but the changes only add to what was a beautifully turned-out cabin to begin with. However, we’re sure that those at the wheel will join us in asking Volvo for a few more physical shortcut buttons for routine functions like setting the air con; there’s just too much bundled on to the central touchscreen.
What is it like to drive?
On offer are five drive modes. ‘Pure’ mode is fully electric; ‘Hybrid’ alternates between the engine and electric motor for max efficiency; ‘AWD’ and the more responsive ‘Power’ call into play both the electric motor and the engine (and hence, both axles) for a combined output of 407hp; and ‘Save’ lets you run solely on engine power to preserve battery charge for later use. Progress is surprisingly good in Pure with the XC90 pulling away briskly, silently and without any emissions from the tailpipe. The system will switch the engine on if you want full power but at mild throttles, and up to 80kph or so, the XC90 will run on electric power alone, the battery charge permitting. However, try as we might, we just couldn’t match Volvo’s claim of an all-electric range of 40km in Gurgaon’s crawling rush hour traffic. In Hybrid, there is a smooth transfer of power from the engine to motor and vice versa. Just wish the engine was a touch quieter. It’s not loud per se but it sounds a bit gruff. Remember, in the price band the XC90 T8 operates, V6s are the norm. We couldn’t put the AWD to test in the apt setting but we can tell you that Power mode does justice to its name. The build of speed is quick and, if you really pay attention, you can tell the initial thrust at launch is from the electric motor. Volvo claims a 5.9sec 0-100kph time for the T8, which is incredible for a 2.4-tonne hybrid hulk.
In other areas, the T8 feels quite like the regular XC90. You get a good feeling of control at the helm but this version’s larger 21-inchers do bring in some low-speed pitter-patter on uneven surfaces. The overall noise insulation is good, but not on par with a full-size luxury sedan. The comparison with full-size luxury sedans here is intentional – the T8 could be seen more as an alternative to the similar-priced 7-series and S-class’ of the world than other luxury SUVs.
Should I buy one?
The XC90 T8 Excellence is an SUV that is rather good at what it does. It’s impressive as a luxury car and has also got the right (read, green) image. Sure, it is expensive and sales for this new XC90 variant will be limited. But at a time when SUVs are routinely demonised, the XC90 T8 Excellence comes across as a guilt-free indulgence. To the wealthy who can afford one, that’s as good a reason as any to consider the XC90 T8 Excellence.
Location: Vivanta by Taj, Gurgaon