Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: June 13, 2018
Volvo is putting all their chips into electrification and wants every one of their vehicles to have some sort of hybrid or electric motor by 2019. It may seem like a daunting task but the XC90 already comes in a plug-in hybrid form and now their sedan flagship, the S90 T8, joins the fray.
The T8 moniker may fool you into thinking there are eight cylinders, when in fact the powertrain consists of a 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder that powers the front wheels, and an 87-hp electric motor and 10.4 kWh battery pack that power the rear wheels. Total output is quoted at 400 hp and 472 lb-ft, and the marriage in propulsion makes this S90 technically all-wheel drive as well. 0-100 km/h comes in 4.5 seconds, and you also get a green license plate for driving in the HOV (car pool) lane with only one person in the vehicle.
For 2018, the S90 comes standard in long wheelbase form (thank China for that), and adds 12 centimetres straight to rear seat legroom. That makes it just as spacious as a standard wheelbase BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Add to that a beefed up center armrest, electric rear and side sunshades, and a standard panoramic sunroof, and the S90 T8 becomes even more intriguing.
But I am sure what you really want to know is how effective the S90 T8 really is in the realm of emission-free driving. Volvo quotes the total electric-only range to be 34 km, which isn’t a lot and the cold of Canadian winters won’t do much favour to the batteries either. Over our time with the S90, we averaged roughly 30 kms on city driving alone with regenerative braking added to the mix. Keep in mind that the battery won’t drain right to “zero”, as it will keep some juice in reserve for the start/stop system and in case it needs to go into AWD.
Still, that’s not a whole lot of driving range, and you will probably have to charge this puppy every night depending on how much you drive. From a standard household outlet, it took us roughly 8 hours for a full charge. Other PHEVs on the market have considerably more attractive ranges like the BMW 530e (45 km), Honda Clarity PHEV (76 km), and Hyundai Sonata PHEV (43 km). The Ontario government will offer a $7,000 rebate off the total MSRP, knocking it down from its steep $74,950 starting price, and putting it only a few thousand more than the combustion-only T6 model.
So is the T8 the S90 to have? Perhaps. The S90 T8 weighs 250 kg more than the T6, and you certainly feel that added bulk. The S90 puts out impressive numbers but it feels porky and hesitant to move. It is not as spritely or nearly as fun as the BMW 530e, which you should definitely check out if you want a solid chassis and dynamic driving experience.
The S90’s steering, which goes for most modern Volvos this side of Polestar, provides uneven rotation that loads up at times but feels overly and artificially light at other times. Sure, it’s easy to steer and not too difficult to place the front wheels where you want them, but sometimes I feel like I’m guessing and it’s not very confidence inspiring. The brakes are a tad spongy, as with most PHEVs that utilize regenerative braking, and feedback on the pedal is not linear at all. The last eight-tenths of the brake pedal is incredibly springy, meaning it’s difficult to come to a slow and gradual stop without jerking the passengers forward. Keeping your foot on the bouncy brake pedal when halted also takes considerably more leg strength than the S90 without regenerative braking.
The rest of the S90 T8 is rather sublime and that also goes for how seamless the transitions are between combustion and electric usage. You can barely hear the engine start up once it tags in, and any rattles in the chassis are not felt either. The 8-speed automatic transmission is buttery smooth and ride quality is exceptional. Our S90 tester adorned the optional air suspension ($2,350) and is well worth it in my opinion. It provides a cosseting ride that may be shy of an S-Class, but will be comfortable enough for most drivers.
The interior is refreshing and a great place to spend time in. Volvo adopts an entirely different design language than the traditional German cabins, and offers charm and simplicity in one package. The touchscreen is massive and a focal point of the interior. It may be fingerprint laden, but offers a vibrant screen and one of the crispiest 360-degree camera view displays in the business. The dashboard is a little too “flat” and “shelf-like” for my taste, but the Bowers and Wilkins tweeter neatly perched on the dash does add some appeal, as does the naked wood complimenting the soft leather touches.
The seats envelop your body in comfort and massage, and can be lowered very close to the floor bed offering a low and sporty driving position if you so choose. Specific to top-end Volvo models is the crystal gear knob made by a Swedish company named Orrefors. The quarter-circle obelisk looks larger than it really is in photographs, and is quite miniature in person. It’s soft and nice to behold, and changes up how you shift into gear. Alongside the actual Park button, you tap the shifter up twice to hit Reverse, and tap the shifter down twice to hit Drive.
The Volvo S90 T8 is an intriguing offer in the plug-in sedan segment. It may not offer the most range but it does serve as part of the Swedish vanguard into full electrification. The S90 itself is a brilliant four-door sedan that delivers a world class ride with a simplistic but charming interior. The addition of an electric motor only adds to the appeal. The marriage in powertrains is exceptional but the brake pedal and steering still needs some fine tuning. That being said, the government rebates for this hybrid are insanely attractive and depending on your everyday commute, the S90 T8 just may be the one to have.
Model: 2018 Volvo S90 T8 Inscription AWD
Paint Type: Crystal White Metallic
Base Price: $74,950
Price as Tested: $91,850 (before government incentives)
Powertrain: 2.0L turbocharged & supercharged inline-four + electric motor
Horsepower: 313 hp @ 6,000 rpm + 87 hp @ 7,000 rpm = 400 hp (combined)
Torque: 472 lb-ft @ 2,200 - 5,400 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Electric only Range: 34 km