2023 Volvo XC90 Recharge AWD Ultimate: Bright theme review
Apparently it’s time for me to adjust my thinking on where luxury SUV prices begin and end, especially end.
Volvo, long the bastion of safe, solid wagons, has made the transition to SUVs easily as it already knew how to make big family-haulers and so a taller version with AWD wasn’t a huge stretch.
Lucky for our eyeballs, it also got away from its box-on-wheels styling to create handsome SUVs with some distinction to their nose and tail. Yes, the logo is large up front, but the grille not as retina crushing as most and its T-shaped headlight add some zest, as does its tall vertical taillights.
Now, it adds hybrid power to its large luxury SUV lineup. The XC90 has everything from a mild-hybrid 48-volt system that aids in smoothing out the now requisite stop-start function to a plug-in hybrid. The tested XC90 Recharge AWD Ultimate (almost top tier) Bright themed seven-seater was just that, a PHEV. That’s a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle for those that don’t know.
The good news for any plug-in, excuse me, PHEV, is that the midsize SUV can run on electric power for the first 20-30 miles, or as a driver chooses. That means around town where the SUV is most likely to gulp high-octane petrol, it can be both more fuel efficient and non-polluting.
A gorgeous dark metallic blue XC90 arrived in my drive with about 25 miles of electric range. Note that 36 is the predicted maximum plug-in range when fully charged. Sadly, this one didn’t have an adapter that fit my garage’s ancient 110/120 volt outlet, so I couldn’t add to its range. Still, there was enough to learn that the power delivery is smooth and pretty seamless when it kicked over to the gas-powered unit.
All XC90s have a turbocharged I4 linked to a silky eight-speed automatic. With electric power supplementing the ICE (internal combustion engine) that makes 455 horses with a torque rating of 523. On its own, the ICE makes 312 horses and in mid-level B6 models that have 295 horses. Entry-level B5 models boast 247 horses, still not shabby.
So power is generous, and will kick the XC90 to highway speeds in a hurry. A quick trip to the northern Chicago burbs and back was comfy and smooth. The interior is quiet, the ride is mostly well-controlled and the handling predictable and easy. Cruising at 75 on the freeway is where the XC90 excels.
An optional $1,800 air suspension also improved ride quality quite a bit.
Another plus: AWD is standard, so when the highway got a bit slippery the Volvo remained sure-footed, like a soccer player shod in cleats.
The test XC90 was the Bright themed version though a Dark version is also available. That means that this one had chrome exterior trim including the grille, roof rails and window trim. Guess what the Dark edition features? Yes, blackened chrome grille, etc.
Inside, Volvo has mastered the look of luxury and elegant simplicity with a strong Swedish accent.
In this model, fine gray wool blend seats were substituted for the usual leather.
This looked and felt divine on a cold day as it wasn’t as chill as leather. Yet the seats and steering wheel where heated, although controlled through the info screen. The second row seats also are heated, but not the third, which is (like most third rows) tight for anyone older than 13, mainly short of knee room.
Volvo’s seats are well padded and shaped too, with excellent side bolsters and a natural bevy of power adjustments for the driver like three areas, lumbar, back and leg cushions. You do this with a button on the seat’s side, but see the changes registered on the infotainment screen. There are three memory settings for the driver’s seat too.
Oddly this high-end Volvo still does not have a power tilt/telescope steering wheel, but it did have a monster panoramic sunroof. Manual sun shades grace the side windows.
Other amenities include lights over the rear doors and on exterior door handles. There’s also a mighty 1,400-watt Bower & Wilkins stereo with 19 speakers that will blast loud enough to wake the dead or any hungover New Year’s revelers. It runs $3,200.
Volvo also includes an SOS system among its bevy of electronic safety devices. Prime is Volvo’s Pilot Assist program that helps make this a semi-autonomous driver. It also includes lane departure warning with a tug to center the Volvo in its lane, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, cross-traffic alert that detects pedestrians, automatic braking for said obstacles and collision avoidance.
Volvo continues with its nine-inch vertical info screen, but adds a new 12-inch wide digital instrument panel that’s easy to read. The info screen is certainly readable too, but one must press the home button and then slide the screen about to find other functions a driver may want. It’s hard to use while driving, but not that tough to figure out when parked, so adjust it before you head out on the road.
Other stylish trim inside includes black wood accents on the doors and dash with satin chrome door releases and shiny chrome around the screen that’s trimmed in gloss black. The console-mounted shifter also features an Orrefors crystal shift knob, something more high-end makes seem to be employing. There’s a spiffy elegance to it all.
In the back under the power hatch is modest cargo space when the third-row seats are in place, but fold those down and storage room increases to 65.8 cubic feet, or lower rows two and three and that hits 85.7 cu.ft. Note too that the XC90 will tow up to 5,000 pounds, so a fishing boat and trailer or a couple trailered snowmobiles will be no problem.
When coupled with the plug-in electric power, the Volvo is estimated to get 58 MPGe in the city and 55 highway, but once that is used up you’re back to the mid-20 mpg range. I got 27 mpg in about 70% highway driving, and that’s not bad for a seven-person AWD SUV or van. That’s also the EPA estimate for the XC90.
Pricing cuts a wide swath, starting at $57,000 for the base Core model with its lesser content, lower power, no leather interior and a 4,000-pound tow rating. A Recharge PHEV model starts at $73,000 and the tested Ultimate lists at $80,495, including delivery. With the added fancy stereo and air suspension this one hit $85,495.
One imagines a full-electric XC90 must be in the works now that the mild hybrid system is in place on lower levels and the PHEV is the top trim. For now, this will satisfy a family’s hybrid luxury SUV needs, while looking great inside and handsome outside.
FAST STATS: 2023 Volvo XC90 Recharge AWD Ultimate: Bright theme
Hits: Good looks, excellent electric power, precise handling and full-time AWD. Big sunroof, heated wheel and front and second row seats, big touchscreen, quality stereo, a stylish luxury interior, plus a full bevy of safety equipment.
Misses: Touchscreen (beyond main screen) is distracting to use while driving and no power tilt/telescope steering wheel.
Made in: Gothenburg, Sweden
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4 w/plug-in electric motor, 455 hp/523 torque
Transmission: 8-speed Geartronic, automatic
Weight: 5,194 lbs.
Wheelbase: 117.5 in.
Length: 195.0 in.
Range: 36 miles per plug-in
Cargo: 15.8/65.5/85.7 cu.ft.
Tow: 5,000 lbs.
MPG: 27 (gas only)
Base Price: $80,495 (includes delivery)
4-corner air suspension, $1,800
Bowers & Wilkins premium sound, $3,200
Test vehicle: $85,495
Sources: Volvo, www.kbb.com