I came to review the Volvo XC90 Recharge through slightly unusual circumstances: while I've driven dozens of hybrid vehicles over the years for testing, in mid-March I was set to undertake a charity cycling sportive in South Africa. Turns out that getting two wheels into a bike box and then into the back of a four-wheeler inevitably requires space. A lot of space, in fact. Space that I did not possess.
Volvo to the rescue, then, with the XC90 Recharge, here in its T8 AWD Plus format, an obvious choice for capacity reasons. Hello bike box carrier, or for most other people it'll be hello 7-seat capacity, or 5-seat with dog crate, which is one of this Volvo's most prominent selling points: there's a boatload of room for the whole family.
I've driven plenty of the XC90's alternatives, too, such as the Audi Q7 TFSi e, and when I first received the Volvo it only cemented into my mind that, visually speaking, there's a certain handsomeness and, daresay, non-German aesthetic appeal that's distinctive and stands it apart from the obvious BMW et al choices.
Not only that, the XC90 Recharge is sensibly priced to compete with its mainstay luxury German rivals, while still offering plenty of luxe SUV features of its own – I'm close to calling it 'station wagon SUV', frankly, given the sheer size – that'll give it appealing balance for prospective purchasers.
But while the XC90 Recharge is a very 'sensible' car, not least for its hybrid plug-in format (the EX90 is incoming in 2024, which is the fully electric equivalent), there's a sense of 'wild card' about it too which, for me, makes it an all-round ace choice in this market sector.
How much is the Volvo XC90 Recharge?
But first thing's first, let's talk price. The XC90 Recharge starts at £61,990 on the road. The more powerful T8 AWD model reviewed here is £77,240. No, it's not cheap, but with the BMW X5 and Audi Q7 starting circa £65K+ and levelling up to around and even above the six-figure mark, I think Volvo's offering is well balanced considering that competition.
But those are the raw figures. Where I think the XC90 is going to impress anyone who has a company car option attached to their job is in the benefit-in-kind (BIK) rate. Because of the plug-in and therefore better CO2 emissions than a pure fuel equivalent, plus the electric-only potential of 41 miles, the BIK rate is 8% at the time of writing. The straight petrol equivalent XC90 has a massive 37% BIK rate. So the benefit of the Recharge is clear, although what you will pay per month will depend on your income and tax bracket.
Of course company car fleets are a less common occurrence these days, which is where Volvo's own system comes into play. Called Volvo Care, the manufacturer will offer you the XC90 Recharge T8 AWD at £1,069 per month on subscription, no downpayment required. That's a fair chunk of cash, of course, but it includes everything: insurance, road-side assistance, warranty, even delivery and car-swap options (the last with due notice).
What's the XC90 Recharge like inside?
Step up and into the XC90 Recharge – and on these giant 20-inch wheels, it really does feel like a high rider – and you're welcomed by a suite of comfort and tech. I love it inside this cabin: it's got comfortable seating, including electronic adjustment and heating; while the centre console hosts a built-in Google infotainment system.
I'm an avid user of the best Android phones, so this Google setup is ideal for me. No, it's not got Android Auto, as you simply don't need it, you just log into Google on the system. Apple user? There's a CarPlay app right on the dashboard of this system, which I didn't test out, but you should be covered in that regard.
Starting the car is rather unusual: there's a central rotational square dial to switch everything on or off. In front of that there's an easy-to-use automatic gear adjustment, making Reverse and Drive easy to select from; there's also 'B' for one-pedal driving with auto-braking and enhanced regen (the severity of which can be adjusted via controls on the steering wheel).
While super-comfortable in the front, the second row also get plenty of room and comfort too. There's some adjustable aircon back here, just as there is up front, and you'll have no trouble with five leggy adults inside this car. Go back to row three, however, and it's a fair bit tighter, so one for smaller kiddos rather than fully-grown adults expecting to do long journeys.
As I said up top, I spent the majority of the time driving the XC90 Recharge fully laden, all the rear seats dropped down to flat to accommodate two massive tri bike boxes, two suitcases, and a couple of backpacks. While said bike boxes (at 90cm tall) were too tall to stand upright, that being a downside of the battery taking up some rear space, a quick flip and spin meant this big ol' beast would easily accommodate everything.
Of course a full Volvo means a poor rear-view situation, so parking this almost-5-metre-long SUV would be perilous. Fortunately with this model fully laden with kit options, the inclusion of top-down 3D camera mapping made light work of being able to position and park with ease, even without seeing out of the back. The stuff dreams are made of.
How does the XC90 Recharge drive?
Just because the XC90 Recharge is a 7-seat SUV with a weight around 2.3 tonnes doesn't mean it's a slouch. Far from it, the hybrid T8 model combines an electric and petrol powertrain which work in harmony to output 455hp, which can accelerate you from 0-62mph in 5.3 seconds. That's faster than a Tesla Model Y. You'll feel it, too, it's got plenty of pull, even if the engine can be a bit rorty.
However, combine that kind of power and this kind of scale and weight and if you're going to propel the XC90 Recharge around country lanes at pace then it can feel a little wallowy in the corners. Hardly a surprise for something so spritely. But no matter: drive it nice and smooth and the experience is lush and comfortable. For most drivers carting their family about that'll be the more meaningful side of things. That plus the assuredness that you can overtake without having to second-guess it.
I find the way in which you can dig into the XC90 Recharge's drive settings is a little fiddly, as it resets to default after turning the engine off each time. But there are plenty of options: you can select between Power (fuel), Hybrid (fuel + electric), Pure (electric); then there are Constant AWD (all-wheel drive) and Off-road options too. But once I knew where to go, I was toggling the way in which I drove this Volvo depending on what I was doing.
That's because the built-in battery is good for a claimed 41 miles. It doesn't achieve this, mind, but you'll get in the mid 30s with sensible driving. And that's really, genuinely useful. Driving in 'B' model also regens really well, to the point that I doubt many will ever bother plugging this hybrid into a wall socket (it's slow and, by and large, probably not worth it).
The regen to the battery is effective in hybrid mode too. I'd forgotten to change driving modes on a motorway drive and, naturally, the battery level drains to around zero. Once I'd realised, however, I switched the mode up and some 10 miles after I'd come off the motorway I'd also added 10 miles of electric-only range back into the battery. On the reverse journey the next day I did the opposite, building it to 20 miles of pure EV availability in little time. It's a great addition, although you'll get much greater EV-only distances from the likes of the BMW X5 plug-in or Mercedes GLE.
Should I buy the Volvo XC90 Recharge?
All in all I love the Volvo XC90 Recharge. It's got an appealing benefit-in-kind rate for company car drivers who aren't looking to go fully electric just yet. No, its electric-only range isn't class-leading, but it's still commute-covering, and the battery is really easy to regenerate without the need for plugging in (which you can also do if you wish).
The real reason to want an XC90 Recharge, but of course, is for the sheer amount of space. It's the precise reason why I coincided this review for when I knew I could test that by carting giant bike boxes about the land. And even when fully laden the sheer amount of pep available from this hybrid powertrain doesn't even slightly wince under the strain of it all. It's actually still fun to drive.
Add in oodles of tech and comfort, especially if you're a Google fan given the built-in system, and I think those seeking a 7-seat SUV will find lots of appeal in the XC90 Recharge. Sure, the competition is strong, but then the BMW X5 and Audi Q7 can easily cost potentially even more and, from my perspective, don't offer the distinctive handsomeness of Volvo's luxury SUV. It's a stellar 7-seat hybrid SUV.