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2017 Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription fails to meet journalist's expectations

Volvo’s Hybrid SUV flagship comes standard with a steep learning curve, and it’s pricey. Granted while not for everyone, even the well heeled of Volvo’s discriminating loyal, may find that this hybrid fails to meet individual "superior hybrid" expectations.

I’m proficient at sorting out Tech. 2017 Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription hybrid has me just a bit befuddled. In short, Volvo’s state of the art plug-in electric/gasoline hybrid SUV is just a tad complicated, and comes standard equipped with a doable, yet steep learning curve. Our friends at Volvo tell us that their touchscreen interface becomes second nature with practice. Certainly...

Frankly, after a week behind the wheel, I find the much-awarded XC90 T6 to be the superior purchase value of the two. But then again, that's a very personal assessment. Read my latest XC90 T6 drive review here.

There’s a reason why you’ll find a digitized owner’s manual, accessed via touchscreen, on one of, if not the finest segmented, dash mounted monitors in the luxury SUV segment -- you’ll need it. Volvo’s flagship hybrid SUV remains a mystery as to what’s gained here by combining the very fuel efficient engine found in this car, with an 80 horsepower electric motor. Certainly, the gained combined horsepower and torque is a given, however, the advantage of combining a very responsive, fuel efficient engine with a high-torque output electric motor does not translate to segment topping fuel efficiency.

Unfortunately on the drive experience side of this equation XC90 T8’s steering feels dead center, and largely non responsive, handles a bit nose heavy on the downhill, and comes standard equipped with a very unique regenerative brake pedal response.

My week in the seat began with a bit of an MPG mystery

Looking to the average MPG fuel efficiency of the delivery run up from Los Angeles, I noted 21, a tad low for this state of the art plug-in gasoline/electric motivated 3-row SUV.

But then again, I didn’t drive the 800 mile (+) journey from Los Angeles to Eugene, Oregon, and couldn’t attest to weather conditions, average speed, or the delivery driver’s driving style. Nonetheless, I’d spent ample seat time in the non hybrid XC90 T6, and had bettered the T8’s hybrid MPG by 4. What was going on here? Was there any fuel efficiency advantage found in Volvo’s 3-row hybrid flagship? Note: (A well equipped entry level T8 comes to market with a beginning MSRP of $68,900 +.) I was hoping to better the Los Angeles trip MPG average.2017_Volvo_XC90_T6

Our XC90 T8 Inscription tester was initially delivered without the dual mode 110/220 Volt charge cord. So, on arrival, Volvo’s flagship hybrid SUV showed ZERO battery reserve on the electric side of the equation. I was convinced that ZERo electric charge reserve factored into the relatively low MPG. Don’t need an SUV but want near autonomous driving and safety features, read my S90 T6 drive review here on the back roads of Oregon. Volvo_S90_McCantsA beautiful example of Swedish engineering, visually stunning!

Looking to the art-of-the-line that may arguably be the ‘best looking’ 3-row SUV in existence, 2017 Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription is formidable, well balanced of exterior design, and just opulent enough to announce one’s arrival into the upper crust of the Asian, European SUV segment.

Volvo’s flagship SUV breaches a rarefied environment dominated by Audi, Mercedes, Porsche, Volkswagen and the like -- with Acura and Lexus vying for supremacy through tech-driven near autonomous driving, seamless person to car connectivity, concert hall entertainment systems, static touch screens the size of small T.V. monitors, motivated by engine power and fuel efficiency once reserved for premium sport sedans. It’s a brave new world.

Unfortunately, 2017 XC90 T8 does not live up to this journalist's "exceptional hybrid" expectations

As I wipe a tear from my keyboard, I join a group of esteemed Volvo aficionados and automotive news journalist, NOT taken aback by Volvo’s grand exercise in SUV electric/gasoline hybridization. Unfortunately, what this vehicle gains in combined horsepower and torque, is lost in road handling and any measurable increase in fuel efficiency. Volvo's hybrid flagship SUV may fail in convincing even the most die hard hybrid fan, to put pen to paper when signing away, in our case, $83,000 for the fully optioned XC90 T8 Inscription.

After spending a week in the seat of Volvo’s stellar S90 Sedan and then XC90 T6 Inscription on the streets of Los Angeles, I fully expected to be blown away by the driving attributes, combined engine power, and fuel efficiency found behind the wheel of the second most expensive vehicle found in Volvo’s North American lineup. Forgive me Volvo, I was not.

Here’s the problem Volvo. Well, there’s a couple

1. The driver door opening in relation to a seat positioned for a taller driver remains awkward.

2. The driver’s seat while infinitely adjustable, remains at times painfully uncomfortable -- it is too mechanized -- and suffers from internal component stiffness and bulging.

3. Electric-only-range is redundantly short when weighed against the required charge time. The best we experienced was 8 miles, at 50 to 60 MPH, on flat roads. * Volvo stated: Up to 20 miles electric only.

4. As experienced by Road & Track and others, our combined fuel efficiency found in mixed driving failed to exceed 21 MPG. The increased horsepower and torque gained by this twin motor technology failed to outweigh the downside of the increased curb weight of the vehicle. Outside of the exceptional highway ride quality, this SUV failed to handle.

5. I found the truck-like quality of the control pedals, carpeting and floor mats to be less than acceptable in this luxury-segment, and appropriately priced SUV. Again, it failed to impress. I'd like to see an uptick here as to visual quality, in line with the balance of the vehicle.

In short, while I appreciate Volvo's foray into the rarefied yet rapidly expanding world of light truck electrification, knowing Volvo as I do, I believe that Volvo XC90 T8 could, and will be better as to electric-only drive range, general road handling, and regenerative brake feel. As it is, Volvo's hybrid SUV is very formidable, world-class safe, and near autonomous. It's luxury SUV redefined with a hybrid twist.

For those of you that appreciate the understated Nordic elegance that is 2017 Volvo XC90, I find the greatest purchase and ownership value to rest with the lower non-hybrid trim levels -- they’re priced appropriately, and the fuel efficiency rests at the top of the segment. As to wood trimmed, leather rich accouterments, it's pure-Volvo-understated-luxury.


Parks McCants    February 7, 2017 - 3:02PM

In reply to by Benson (not verified)

Welcome Benson. No, my daily driver is a Volvo S80 T6 sedan and an old-school Chrysler Pacifica AWD. I suggest you drop into your local Volvo dealership and drive the SUV lineup. Hey! The XC90 T8 Inscription may be the perfect car for you. Cheers!

Mavi57 (not verified)    February 8, 2017 - 2:07AM

As a T8 owner for about 3 months now and 4000 miles driven I disagree completely with this review. With an average of 56 miles per gallon I certainly can't complain. 90 percent of my commute is done electrically with an average electric range of 15 miles in this cold weather. When I test rode the T8 in the late spring last year I had a range of 20 miles.

Parks McCants    February 8, 2017 - 1:32PM

In reply to by Mavi57 (not verified)

Welcome Mavi57. I'm not quite catching your math here. So you're stating that your average daily commute is no more than 18 miles or so. and that you've burned no more than 70 gallons in 3 months? Or. are you plugging in at the office and returning home on electric? You purchased the perfect vehicle for your specific application. Please get back to us when you take an extended road trip in the T8 with real-world-extended-driving-MPG figures. Enjoy!

Joshua (not verified)    February 2, 2019 - 10:27PM

In reply to by Mavi57 (not verified)

Completely agree, as the owner of a T8 it's like I'm reading about a completely different vehicle. So far my T8 delivers great mpg when asked for and power available as required.

Stacey Allesandro (not verified)    December 28, 2017 - 8:54PM

“XC90 T8 plug-in, pricey but worth every penny.”. Copied straight from your T6 review. What changed between that article and this one?

Parks McCants    December 29, 2017 - 12:10PM

In reply to by Stacey Allesandro (not verified)

Electric-only drive range. Volvo has consistently touted 12 miles+ for XC90 T8. after an overnight charge, I was hard pressed to find 6. Don't read me wrong. XC90 T8 is a fantastic vehicle. Volvo engineering targets electrification for increased combined horsepower and torque. The residual may be greater fuel efficiency. It all comes down to what you want or need from your next SUV. And yes, looking to the $, the XC90 T8 is at the top of the premium SUV food chain. However, it is a very dynamic, comfortable and road worthy full size 3-row luxury SUV. Note: Volvo promises greater electric-only range in future generations.