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Is Volvo's new XC90 T8 Plug-in the wave of the future?

New Volvo SUV offers the best of all worlds in terms of powertrain tchnology

Published: December 8, 2014, 9:05 PM
Updated: December 1, 2017, 6:01 PM

2015 Volvo XC90 T8

Downsized engines, turbochargers, superchargers, hybrids, plug-in electrics – they're all being touted as ways to meet future fuel-consumption regulations while maintaining customer-acceptable levels of performance.

They all have some merit but they all, individually, have their own shortcomings as well.

So why not put them all in one car to capitalize on the best traits of each for different driving conditions? That's exactly what Volvo has done with its all-new XC90 T8.

Designed from the ground up for plug-in/electrification compatibility, the XC90 T8 is said to deliver all the performance of a luxury SUV, but with emissions and fuel-consumption levels that even small hybrid cars struggle to match.

It's a seven-seat, all-wheel-drive SUV that delivers 400 horsepower and 472 lb-ft of torque combined with ultra-low CO2 emissions (59g/km) and high fuel efficiency (2.5 L/100km).  

“The XC90 T8 is a plug-in electric car, hybrid car and high-performance car rolled into one,” says Dr Peter Mertens, Volvo's senior vice-president, Research and Development.

It can accelerate from 0-to-100km/h in 5.9 seconds, validating its performance creds. But performance is only one aspect of its persona.The car has five different driving modes that deliver a range of performance and efficiency-enhancing characteristics.

Using either a scroll wheel on the centre console or a touchscreen on the instrument panel, drivers can choose from:

Hybrid mode: This is the default mode, suitable for everyday use. Here, the vehicle will automatically alternate between drawing power from the 2-litre, 4-cylinder Drive-E engine and the electric motor to deliver the best overall fuel consumption.

Pure electric mode: When the high-voltage battery is fully charged, it serves as the car’s sole energy source, powering the electric motor over the rear axle. The pure-electric range is more than 40 km. If more power is needed, the Drive-E combustion engine starts up automatically.

 Power mode: Drivers get the combined performance of the combustion engine and the electric motor. On start-up, the SUV takes advantage of the electric motor’s superior response and instant torque curve, while the combustion engine gets up to speed. This combination offers greater torque at low speeds, equivalent to that of a larger displacement V-8 engine.

AWD: All-wheel drive is always available automatically on demand. The advantage of being able to select AWD manually is that the driver can use it when needed, or choose to save energy for later.

Save: If the battery is charged, the 'Save' mode allows the driver to 'freeze' the battery level and save it for later use with Pure Electric drive. If the battery is low, the driver can use the combustion engine to charge the battery to a certain level for later use with Pure Electric drive.

With all these features combined, the Volvo XC90 T8 may be the most flexible vehicle in the world in terms of powertrain. And it may well represent the wave of the future in terms of its powertrain design.