2020 Volvo XC90 T8 E-AWD Inscription Review

Volvo's Top-Tier 3-Row SUV stays fresh


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Truly refined inside and out, top-notch cabin materials and styling, excellent front seats, strong acceleration from the 400-hp combined powertrain.
Negatives: Third row space is cramped for full-sized adults, engine can sound clunky at times, big infotainment screen lags badly on startup, too much piano black plastic trim inside.
Bottom Line: The XC90 T8 E-AWD is one of the best luxury SUVs in the business. It's quick, well-appointed, beautifully designed, and tech-laden. The pricey PHEV powertrain, however, makes it a bit expensive. We'd steer buyers to the already quick XC90 T6.
We've loved the refined XC90 since it bowed in 2017. Now, in its 4th year of production, the biggest Volvo gets refreshed and upgraded. The fascia has been tweaked, while all trims get the fantastic 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster that's a pleasure to view. Some safety tech has been upgraded, and there's a new 6-passenger configuration for both Momentum and Inscription models thanks to second-row captain's chairs. The T8 PHEV also gets a larger 11.6-kWh battery. Sadly, the top trim Excellence luxury version is gone due to lack of sales. We tested the T8 E-AWD PHEV for a week to see how the changes have affected Volvo's three-row SUV. Read on for the full review.
 

Driving Experience

8.9

 

The XC90 T8 is an enjoyable drive in many capacities. It provides a smooth ride, robust power, and good handling. It's a superb all-arounder, and customers will find it very satisfying to helm.

Ride Quality: The XC90 is smooth over just about all surfaces, especially when outfitted with the optional air suspension. It's never cosseting and not too firm. It strikes a good balance and feels solid.

Acceleration: 400 horses at the ready make the T8 super quick. 0-60 comes in five seconds flat, a remarkable figure for something this big. There's no real lag to speak of thanks to the supercharger and the electric motor.

Braking: The brakes are excellent in the T8 AWD and provide good stopping distances and pedal feel.

Steering: The precision and the effort are both pretty good for a vehicle this size. We were able to place it in corners with no problem, and it was on-center at high speeds.

Handling: The heavy T8 E-AWD Inscription manages to keep body roll in check. It felt balanced, but you do notice the weight when taking turns at higher speeds.

Technology

7.7

 

We love the way the infotainment system looks in Volvos, but they still have some kinks to work out. Granted, for a largely on-screen control experience, it is a fresh and attractive approach. The lag, however, is frustrating upon startup. The now standard 12.3" digital gauge cluster is stunning with perhaps the best fonts and graphics in the industry.

Infotainment System: The vivid 9" touchscreen sometimes fails to respond to inputs quickly, and we noticed that it takes about 3 seconds for the drive mode selector to move on the screen just after starting the engine. "Dynamic mode, dammit!" emerged from our lips more than once.

Controls: Vehicle controls like climate, infotainment, etc. are operated solely through the touchscreen, which can be frustrating. It's a good thing there are physical audio controls and great steering wheel buttons. The gearshift knob can be frustrating to use, since you have to actuate it twice to move into drive or reverse. It's safety-minded but annoying. Likewise, the fancy, knurled drive mode selector is hard to rotate because the diamater is small, and the knurling isn't grippy enough.

Styling

9

 

The XC90 strikes the right balance between boldness and sophistication. It seems Volvo has taken the time to give it a timeless look that still has the right modern cues of distinct headlights, a large (but not overly large grille) without making it look trendy.

Front: Small changes to the grille make it look more upscale, and the bumper is now tweaked to look sharper than before. Not many will notice the specific changes, but it does look even better than last year.

Rear: The big D-shaped Volvo taillights and the smooth tailgate surface look great together. We just wish the glass was wider. The XC90 still looks pretty tall from the back.

Profile: In silver with the huge 21" wheels, the XC90 T8 looks very upscale. While it's a more conventional shape from the side, it still looks handsome after four years.

Cabin: We're not fans of the piano black on the steering wheel and center console, but the rest of the XC90 is lush with premium materials and original styling that doesn't copy the Germans. The stitched dash, fine matte wood, and the perforated leather seats are all sublime.

Comfort

9.2

 

What a wonderful place to experience the road. The XC90's cabin is one of the best we've experienced in terms of occupant comfort. The fact that an artful cabin can also feel this good is an achievement.

Front Seats: The perforated and very soft Nappa leather give top-notch support and cushioning. We love the thigh bolster and the excellent 10-way adjustability.

Rear Seats: The second row seats are good for full-sized adults and provide great support. Third row seats are less accommodating and only good for children or shorter/average adults.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The XC90 is quiet and solidly built. The 4-cylinder engine can sound a bit clunky at times, but it's not overbearing. The XC90 is hushed at highway speeds, making quiet conversation easy and road trips less tiring.

Visibility: There's big glass all around, and the 360-degree cameras work beautifully for those busy parking lots.

Climate: We found the heating and cooling in the XC90 excellent. The big bladed vents provide large volumes of air, and the heated/ventilated seats work like a charm.

Safety

9.2

 

The XC90 is one of the best SUVs you can buy in terms of safety. It's moved up in the ranks over the years, and owners should feel totally at peace thanks to the great crash safety ratings and tech.

IIHS Rating: The Volvo XC90 is a Top Safety Pick+ for 2020 with “good” ratings in all crashworthiness testing and a “superior” rating in crash avoidance and mitigation testing. Only the headlights and LATCH ease of use received "acceptable".

NHTSA Rating: The feds gave the XC90 five full stars in crash tests. Its only demerit was four stars in rollover risk.

Standard Tech: The standard list is a long one and now includes improved operation of the rear cross-traffic alert feature and added active-steering support for City Safety driver-assistance.

Optional Tech: Our tester came with Visual Park Assist, Park Assist Pilot that helps you maneuver while parking or exiting parking, a Graphical Head-Up Display, a 360 Surround View Camera, and automatic high beams.

Storage/Cargo

8

 

There had to be some sacrifices due to the beautiful interior design, and that was some small item storage space. The boot is large enough for long trips, thankfully.

Storage Space: The armrest isn't huge, but it can hold smaller items and a phone. The small bin in the center console is dinky, but at least the cupholders work for more than just beverages.

Cargo Room: There's a small-ish 12.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind row three, but it opens up to 65.5 cubic feet with the seats folded flat. The less pricey but almost as fancy Kia Telluride eclipses it with 21 and 87 cubes, respectively.

Fuel Economy

7.7

 

While we wouldn't call it miserly, the T8 E-AWD does a bit better than its gas-engine only T6 counterpart. We drove it in Dynamic mode most of the time and primarily on local roads, so our numbers were a bit compromised. More conservative driving should result in hitting the EPA estimate of 27 mpg combined.

Observed: 15.3 mpg.

Distance Driven: 163 miles.

Audio

9.5

 

Our systems was seriously upgraded from the already excellent 14-speaker Harman Kardon system to a pricey ($3,200) Bowers & Wilkins system that's one of the best around. For an SUV this nice, it's the perfect fit. Sound is big, crisp, and full of bass. The adjustability is also superb.



Final Thoughts

It's hard to stomach a $90K Volvo, but the XC90 T8 E-AWD Inscription is commensurately fancy. All the trim bits look and feel great (except for the piano black trim inside), and the level of comfort is stratospheric. As much as the verve of the powertrain is great to have, the price tag is too high for our tastes. You lose a second and-a-half when you downgrade to the T6, but that's still plenty quick for a three-row SUV. The T6 Inscription is the one we'd go for especially since the interior is just as nice as the T8's.

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