Volvo XC90 T8

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A 2-litre four-pot with greater poke than a V8

You can imagine a meeting of marketing folk. Volvo has a new flagship for which it is charging commensurate money as it goes into battle against the best in the world. Now and as ever the critical market is the United States. The last XC90 you offered them had a thundering 4.4-litre V8 under the bonnet. Now you have a 2-litre four. How on earth do you spin the fact it has less than half the engine of the car it’s replacing?

Simple: tell the world it has two engines, in fact call it the XC90 ‘Twin Engine’. That ought to do it.

We will see about that in a minute, but in the meantime Volvo does actually have a point of sorts. The 2-litre four only sounds puny until you realise that it’s supercharged, turbocharged and puts out 314bhp before you factor in the hybrid electric drive (hence the other engine) that takes the figure up past 400bhp, far more than the old V8 could have dreamt of producing.

Installed in the attractive XC90 body, you will barely believe how fast a powertrain based on a 2-litre four can make a massively heavy (2343kg) car go. Performance is strong from idle and, even though there’s not quite that effortless low-down surge you find in cars like the Range Rover Sport V8 diesel, few will find the ultimate performance anything less than exhilarating, especially for a car like this. All it cannot do is sound the part: there’s no growl, snarl, rumble or bark here. It sounds like a car powered by a rather small four-cylinder petrol engine, because that’s what it is.

It does puncture somewhat the aura of sophistication this car otherwise creates. Given the price, positioning and competitor set, we increasingly expect limousine levels of powertrain refinement from such cars. While the XC90 does well, it cannot escape entirely the consequences of Volvo’s decision never to build another car with more than four cylinders or a capacity of greater than two litres.

Otherwise, the XC90 is as previously reported. Conspicuously attractive inside and out, technologically state of the art, spacious, airy and accommodating, it exists close to the top of its class. Were its ergonomics easier to fathom and its handling just a little more engaging it would have a great chance of dislodging the Range Rover Sport from its current undisputed position as the best seven-seat SUV.

In the UK the Twin Engine XC90 will likely remain a minority interest despite the clear tax advantages conveyed by its ludicrously implausible CO2 figure. And anyone who buys one believing a car this heavy and powerful really can return more 130mpg in normal driving, as claimed, will discover somewhat rudely that the estimate is not only out, but by approximately 100mpg.

Even so I like the Twin Engine XC90, but then again I like the XC90. It’s an impressive plug-in hybrid in a field where such beasts are rare, but unless you really can make the numbers stack up in your favour, I suspect that – unlike in the US – most British buyers will be better served by the excellent diesel versions.

Factfile

£60,455

Engine 2.0 litres, 4 cylinders, turbo and supercharged

Power [email protected] rpm

Torque 424lb [email protected] rpm

Transmission eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive

Weight

2343kg  

Power to Weight

171bhp per tonne

0-62mph 5.5sec

Top speed 143mph  

Economy 134mpg

CO2 49g/km