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DRIVEN: Volvo XC60 and XC90 T8 plug-in hybrids aim to bridge the EV gap

Published May 24, 2022

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Johannesburg - Looking at these two premium SUVs, you might think of words like stylish and classy, but I doubt the phrase “performance SUV” ever entered your mind.

No shouty body kits to see here, and no rumbly six or eight-cylinder engines. Yet, according to claims, the new Volvo XC60 T8 Recharge can sprint from 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds, which makes it a shade faster than the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43, and 0.6s quicker than an Audi SQ5.

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For the record, its larger and more luxurious XC90 equivalent, which features the same twin-engine plug-in hybrid drivetrain, takes 5.3 seconds, which is not bad at all considering its hefty size.

Clearly Volvo plays the premium SUV game a little differently, but it’s paying dividends. Last month, the Swedish carmaker managed to increase its share of the South African premium car market to a record 12%. And totally in keeping with its greener goals, almost half of those sales were of electrified vehicles.

While the Volvo XC40 P8 and upcoming P6 fly the flag for full electrification, the XC60 and XC90 T8 Recharge plug-in hybrid models bridge the gap for those who also want the flexibility of being able to cover large distances when needed. We recently had the opportunity to spend some time with these XC60 and XC90 T8 variants back-to-back, and a comparison was inevitable.

First let’s take a look at what powers them.

Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge. Picture: Supplied

Both Volvos feature a twin-engine hybrid drivetrain, that produces a combined 340kW and 709Nm. The 2.0-litre petrol-powered component is both turbocharged and supercharged, and produces 233kW and 400Nm, while the electric motor, that’s mounted on the rear axle, contributes 107kW and 309Nm to the tally.

When you’ve selected Power mode, and both come out to play at full tilt – you get acceleration that’s nothing short of exciting, as the aforementioned figures illustrate, particularly in the smaller and nimbler XC60.

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That’s all good and well, but the whole point of a plug-in hybrid is economy, but this can be a bit of a thorny issue when we’re speaking of fuel consumption figures.

Just how efficient are these new Volvos?

Volvo claims a fuel consumption figure of 1.6 litres per 100km for the XC60 T8 and 2.1l/100km for the XC90 T8, based on the official European test cycle, but in the real world in which we live, these numbers are pretty much meaningless.

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If you charge the battery often enough and never exceed 50 to 80km between charges, then you could theoretically do all of your driving on electric power alone. Volvo claims an electric range of around 80km, but budget on 50 to be safe.

Volvo XC60 T8 Recharge in Thunder Grey. Picture: Supplied

Our XC60 T8 arrived with an almost-full battery and 51km of indicated electric range, and I managed to drive around for a few days on electric power only.

However, every time you start the vehicle it defaults to Hybrid mode, so you have to dig through the infotainment menu to switch to the “Pure” drive mode if you want electric only motoring.

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But the real test came after the battery was depleted. I purposefully avoided recharging it in order to see what kind of consumption it would achieve with a depleted battery and, over a highway journey of around 100km, it returned 8.3l/100km.That’s honestly not too bad for a mid-size SUV that weighs two tonnes – remember that it’s also lugging around a pretty heavy 18.8kWh battery.

In fairness, that kind of consumption is a very small price to pay on your annual holiday or occasional long-distance trip, if your everyday driving is battery-powered.

After resetting the trip ahead of some urban driving, the consumption on my XC60 climbed to around 11l/110km at one point. And that’s the crux of it. Don’t be like me, make sure that your battery is regularly charged.

When the Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge arrived the following week, I decided to do it Volvo’s way and leave the drivetrain to its own devices. In the default Hybrid mode it mainly made use of the battery reserve and returned a consumption figure of 1.8 litres per 100km. But when the battery juice was depleted it returned an average of 9.4l/100km in a mixture of highway and urban driving.

New Android infotainment system

Driving the two Volvo SUVs also gave me a chance to test out the new Google Android powered infotainment system in the XC60, against the older Sensus Connect system in the XC90. It’s worth noting, however, that the XC90 will be available with the new system from June 2022 production onwards.

New Google infotainment system in the updated Volvo XC60. Picture: Supplied

I think it’s fair to say that the old Sensus system is somewhat clunky, as you have to swipe either side of the home screen to access your apps and settings. This is very frustrating at the beginning, however, you do eventually learn the lay of the land here, so it does become easier over time.

The new Google infotainment system simplifies things somewhat, with shortcuts to the app menu, settings and camera system at the bottom of the screen. As before, there’s also a shortcut for the climate system, which can only be controlled by the screen. That’s not ideal, but that’s the way things are moving these days.

One additional positive about the new Google system is that it will be able to improve itself over time through over-the-air updates.

Unfortunately you currently need to use your phone to power the Android features, such as Google Assistant, but we hear Volvo will soon be selling these cars with a built-in sim.

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XC60 or XC90, which one is best?

This is very much a case of middle sibling versus larger sibling, with the XC60 T8 Recharge coming in at R1 222 400 and the XC90 T8 Recharge commanding a price of R1 560 600.

2022 Volvo XC60 T8 Recharge. Picture: Supplied

As you’d expect the smaller and nimbler XC60 is the most rewarding to drive if you enjoy a feeling of agility, although it’s not quite small enough to be parked easily in tight spaces.

In terms of cabin space, it’ll accommodate five adults in relative comfort and the boot will swallow 468 litres of luggage with the back seats in place.

The Volvo XC90, on the other hand, is a true cruise-liner on wheels, with comfortable seating for seven occupants.

2022 Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge. Picture: Supplied

Like the XC60, it is optionally available with air suspension, but in the XC90 it just feels waftier and more comfortable, while cabin noise insulation is out of this world. It’s a large, luxurious metal cocoon on wheels.

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