2020 Volvo XC90 Inscription T8 eAWD Review

The Volvo XC90, first debuted in 2015, was the car that kick started the revamp of the entire Volvo lineup to its excellent existence today. The clean exterior and elegant exterior were built on Volvo’s new Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform. The SPA platform is stronger, lighter, and allows the brand to rapidly develop a whole line of excellent vehicles.

Now in its mid cycle, the 2020 XC90 comes with a refreshed exterior, a larger 11.6 kwh battery for the T8 plug-in hybrid model, a standard 12.3” digital gauge cluster, and a new six-seat configuration.

Thanks to Volvo Canada, I had the T8 plug-in hybrid version for one week to test drive. Below is my unbiased review.

The exterior of the XC90 ages incredibly well. Even without any changes, the XC90 would still be one of the best looking 3-row SUVs on the road. The front fascia receives a new waterfall grille that is slightly concave. The center of the grille is decorated by the Volvo Iron Mark logo that is 3 dimensional and black in the middle. The Signature Thor’s hammer headlights that were first introduced with the 2015 XC90 still look incredibly modern. The lower bumper is packed with an array of air intakes. Thick chrome trims highlight the two side air intakes for a more contemporary, premium look.

The side profile of the XC90 looks clean, elegant, and showcases that minimalist Scandinavian design. Volvo has updated the 19” wheels with black and aluminum alloy finishes. The selective use of chrome trims highlights the daylight opening of the car. As a result, the XC90 looks sharp and focused from the side.

The LED taillight design is one of my favorites. It is visible from both the side and the back. The curvature of the taillights follows the side profile of the car. Rising through the D pillars to meet with the roof spoiler, the taillights look clean and distinctive. The licence plate is located at the center of the liftgate instead of the lower bumper. This gives the lower bumper a continuous look that is emphasized by long matte metal trims. The lower metal trim also houses the dual rectangular exhaust tips.

The exterior of the Volvo XC90 has been one of its strongest selling points. By incrementally updating the look each year, Volvo keeps the XC90 looking fresh and modern throughout the years.

The interior of the XC90 looks very similar to that of the V90 CC that we have test driven recently. The taller dash makes the interior space feel less busy. Premium materials are appointed throughout the cabin. They include black ash wood decor inlays, Orrefors Crystals gear lever, leather dash surface, and aluminum speaker grilles. The combination of black ash wood panels and aluminum speaker grilles is simply breathtaking to look at.

I find the crystal gear lever too glamorous for my taste, but it is certainly something different. Speaking of being different, our tester comes with a new non-leather seat option called Tailored Wool. These ultra-cool seats look like they belong in your living room instead of being in a car. They are heated and nicely contoured to provide great lumbar support. The aggressive side bolsters might be somewhat restrictive, but they keep you in the center of the seat in those tight corners.

The mid-cabin of the XC90 is a very comfortable place to be in. While the 2020 XC90 comes with a 6 seat configuration, I actually prefer the 7 seat configuration that comes with our tester. Yes, reaching the 3rd row seats through the middle of the 2nd row might be easier, but there are some major drawbacks. First, there is the fact that you do lose one seat. Second, the 2nd row bucket seats in the 6 seat configuration don’t come with center armrests. Third, the cupholders are mounted on the floor beneath the rear climate control unit in the 6 seat version. Not only are they harder to reach, but they also obstruct part of the passthrough.

The 2nd row windows come with privacy screens. Passengers also enjoy a dedicated climate system with air vents located on the B pillars and behind the front center console. There are coat hanger sockets, side map lights, and an expansive panoramic sunroof up top.

Reaching the 3rd row cabin is relatively easy even without the center passthrough. With the flick
of a lever, the 2nd row seat slides forward and reveals a sufficiently large opening to the rear cabin. There are only two bench seats in the back, and they are best reserved for children or teenageers. Thoughtful features include seat belt retainer clips, cup holders, and side storage bins.

With exceptional craftsmanship and beautiful materials, the interior of the XC90 is certainly befitting of a luxury vehicle. Moreover, the unique Scandinavian design makes the inside of the XC90 feel more like the livingroom of a high end condon than the cabin of a moving vehicle.

The Volvo XC90 boasts the same excellent "Sensus" infotainment system we saw in the V60 CC. The iPad style 9.3” portrait screen is its centerpiece. Swiping left and right reveals additional menus, and swiping down from the top allows access to vehicle settings and the owner’s manual. There is a dedicated home button at the bottom of the screen, just like an iPad. The home menu provides five basic options: Navigation, media, connectivity, sound settings, and climate settings. Alternatively, passengers can swipe left to access built-in applications such as Spotify, Pandora, Baidu or TuneIn. Swiping right on the other hand, allows access for numerous car functions such as lane-keeping assist, park assist, and the start-stop system. Android Auto and Apple Carplay are available through the provided USB ports. The portrait style screen leaves some real estate for the car functions while the Android Auto, or Apple Carplay are in use.

The 12.3” digital instrument cluster is large and easy to read. Two analog looking dials display vehicle speed and engine rpm. The middle portion is reserved for either media information or the navigational map. Only a small portion of the display can be controlled via the buttons on the steering wheel. It is not the most intuitive design and lacks many of the custom options we are used to seeing in other luxury vehicles.

The Bowers & Wilkins audio system that comes with our tester sounds truly amazing. There is a 12-channel amplifier that delivers 1400 watt of sound through 19 speakers. The subwoofer is built into the subframe, and the front facing tweeter is positioned high for a better sound quality. The slight yellow hue of the Kevlar mids is visible through the speaker grilles. Something you see in high end audio equipment.

Safety and Driver Assistance
In terms of active safety technology, the Volvo XC90 comes with the followings:

  • Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) and Cross Traffic Alert
  • City Safety Collision Avoidance Technology
  • Pilot Assist Drive System w/Adaptive Cruise Control
  • Lane Keeping Aid
  • Road Sign Information
  • Rear Collision Warning
  • Driver Alert Control

The City Safety with Autobrake is still the only system on the market to recognise pedestrians, cyclists and large animals.

The Oncoming Lane Mitigation system first introduced on the XC60 is now also available on XC90, while the Cross Traffic Alert technology now also offers autobrake.

I must also commend the 360 camera system of the XC90. It is one of the easiest to use, and the high camera angle gives the driver a wider view. Each of the individual cameras can be selected for a more closed up view. The system makes parking a big car like this easy. And if you are still having trouble parallel parking the XC90, the onboard automatic parking assist can get the job done for you.

Since the 2020 XC90 is mechanically the same as the 2019 model, the safety rating should remain unchanged. For 2019, it earned Top Safety Pick from IIHS and 5 star safety rating from NHTSA.

The XC90 comes in three variations, all of them based on the same 2.0L turbocharged four cylinder engine. The base model features the 250 hp turbocharged T5 engine. The more powerful T6 version adds supercharging to the turbocharging system to deliver 316 hp of power. The T8 plug-in hybrid starts with the T6 powertrain and adds two electric motors to achieve 400hp of total power. All of them utilized the same 8 speed automatic transmission with the T5 available as front-wheel drive and the rest as all-wheel drive.

Our T8 PHEV tester is equipped with the upsized 11.6Kwh battery (from 10.4Kwh) that is located in the center of the car. The charging port is located at the front driver fender. There is no DC fast charge with the T8, but the it can be fully charged in 2.5 hours using a level 2 charger. The car also comes with a 3.5kW, 16 amp charger. It takes about 7 hours to fully charge the car from a standard 110-volt outlet. The T8 can run for approximately 45km with electric power alone, but we are only able to reach about 30km during our one week winter test drive. 30km of range is still very usable for most drivers. It won’t eliminate your trips to the gas station, but should reduce the frequency significantly. As an option, you can also choose to reserve the battery for city traffic, and to replenish the battery with the gasoline engine.

While many plug-in hybrid vehicles prioritize fuel efficiency over performance, the Volvo XC90 T8 is not one of them. The two electric motors add another 175 lb.ft. of torque to the T6 drivetrain to achieve a combined 472 lb.ft. of torque. It goes from 0-100km/hr in under 6 seconds, very fast for a car this size. The electric motor and battery does add 550 pounds of weight to the XC90. This is best compensated by the optional air suspension, which adds Eco, Comfort, Off Road, and Dynamic drive modes along with individually customizable suspension settings. The air suspension provides a smooth ride on most road surfaces, even with the larger 21” tires.

Like most plug-ins, the XC90 provides several electric related drive modes. The default Hybrid mode fades power between the engine and electric motors for maximum energy efficiency. Pure mode tries to utilize the electric motors as much as possible, but still uses the gasoline engine when the accelerator is pushed hard. Both Power and AWD modes uses all the available power to deliver maximum performance. I find that there is a slight power dip whenever the gasoline engine is forced to turn on in Pure mode. For that reason, I left the car in the default Hybrid mode most of the time.

The XC90 handles well for such a big car. The suspension might be on the softer side, but still manages to control body rolls in corners to an acceptable level. The steering is precise and relaxed. There isn’t a whole lot of feedback from the steering wheel, but it is nicely weighted for stability. For 2020, Volvo replaced the vacuum brake system with an electronic solenoid controlled hydraulic system. Not only does it improve braking performance, but it also provides a smoother transition between regenerative and friction based braking.

The XC90 is very fuel efficient for its size and weight. The T5 FWD version is the most fuel efficient at 9.4L/100km combined. Our T8 tester is rated for 4 L/100km (equivalent) and 8.7 L/100km combined when the battery is depleted.

Cargo Space & Storage
Volvo engineers managed to increase the capacity of the battery with chemistry magic alone. The overall size of the battery remains the same, so it doesn’t reduce passenger or cargo space. With all three rows of seats up, there is 436L of cargo space. With the third row seats down, the capacity is increased to a respectable 1183L. With the second row seats also folded, the total cargo capacity is increased to 2426L, among the leaders in its class. There is also no spare tire under the trunk floor, just a tire repair kit and a storage tray for the charging cable. There are straps and trays on each side of the trunk to stow smaller items, and the power liftgate can be foot activated.

In cabin storage options are plentiful. 3rd row passengers get their own cup holders and storage trays. The 2nd row passengers enjoy side door pockets, mesh pockets behind the front seats, and the integrated cup holders in the center folding armrest. The glove compartment and the center console storage bin are on the smaller side, but there are plenty of small trays throughout the cabin for smaller items.

The 2020 XC90 adds refinements to an already excellent vehicle. It is a perfect family SUV that combines utility, safety, comfort, fuel efficiency, and performance. The upsized battery in the 2020 T8 should save you a few trips to the gas stations, and the new electronic controlled hydraulic braking system feels much more refined. What really sets the XC90 apart though, is its no-nonsense Scandinavian interior and exterior design. I bet for many buyers those will be the first things they fall in love with.

Test Vehicle
2020 Volvo XC90 Inscription 7-Seat T8 eAWD

$98,800 CAD as tested

Thunder Grey


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