2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge Range: Here’s How Far We Went on Electricity Alone

volvo xc90 recharge 2021 05 angle  angle exterior  blue  front jpg 2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

Volvo’s electrification strategy is particularly interesting. In some cases, you have full electric models, like the new 2021 XC40 Recharge. In other cases, you have hybridized models, all of which exist at the top of the regular model range, like the 2021 S90 Recharge T8 or this 2021 XC90 Recharge T8 (both plug-in hybrid models and previously known only as T8s). And if you want something related but just a little different, Volvo’s Chinese parent company, Zhejiang Geely, has started up an entirely new brand called Polestar, which sells pure electric vehicles based on shared platforms and components from Volvo models. 

Related: Volvo Amps Up 2020 XC90 With Mild-Hybrid Version

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2021 Volvo XC90 T5 Momentum
44,335 mi.
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34,240 mi.
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volvo xc90 recharge 2021 06 blue  charging port  exterior jpg 2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

The Ride

The plug-in hybrids like the XC90 I tested use a combination of gasoline and stored electricity to power the vehicle, enabling a mix of internal combustion and electric-motor systems or allowing for a full electric experience up to a limited speed and range. They feature a driver-selectable Pure setting that keeps the SUV in electric mode, even if you have the climate control running, with the idea of allowing you to commute to work in electric mode and then charge the battery overnight at home. It’s meant to offer the best of both worlds: pure EV power for your commute, but still retaining the gasoline engine in case your needs extend beyond commuting. As long as you keep filling the vehicle with gas, you can keep driving indefinitely, something that’s not as easy to do with a pure EV, which requires a longer recharge time with more limited range.

The 2021 XC90 Recharge T8 uses Volvo’s “Twin Engine” powertrain, a supercharged-and-turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s augmented by an 87-horsepower electric motor to generate a combined 400 hp and 472 pounds-feet of torque, making it the most powerful version of the XC90 you can buy. It’s also EPA-rated to go 18 miles on electricity alone before the gas engine kicks in, allowing you to go up to 520 miles before needing to put more gas in the tank. For 2020, Volvo updated this powertrain to include a kinetic energy-recovery braking system with brake-by-wire technology, which it says reduces fuel consumption and emissions. I wanted to see just how far this comfortable SUV, which can be outfitted to seat up to seven passengers, could go on just its battery power alone before the gas engine kicked in. 

volvo xc90 recharge 2021 04 center stack display  dashboard  front row  interior  touchscreen jpg 2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

The Route

Testing a plug-in hybrid in winter presents some challenges. My route doesn’t change: It’s a simple run from my driveway in Ann Arbor, Mich., to a barbecue restaurant in Dearborn, Mich., and back. The combination of city streets and higher-speed boulevards is a good mix of conditions to see just how far the vehicle can go on electric power alone. I keep the climate control off, since using it with air conditioning can drop range by a couple of miles, or in the winter it usually either activates the gas engine to generate heat or uses an electric heater that can sap range just as much as air conditioning. The windows are up, tires adjusted for proper pressure, and gas tank and battery both full. My driving style is calm and relaxed: Despite selecting the Pure mode to keep the XC90 Recharge in electric driving mode, too much accelerator pedal will punt you into gasoline mode because it uses the engine to help deliver more thrust than the electric motor can provide on its own.

The Results

The Volvo XC90 Recharge is rated to go 18 miles on electricity, but my testing turned in a total distance traveled of 20.8 miles before the gas engine kicked in — slightly more than advertised. This isn’t uncommon; I’ve found most plug-in hybrids can outperform their EPA-rated range when driven carefully. Recharging the XC90 Recharge can be done via the Level 2 plug in the front fender or by activating a mode in the touchscreen that runs the gasoline engine to recharge the battery over time. It’s not the most efficient way to recharge the battery (that would be plugging into an outlet), but if you need to recharge the battery on the way to a zero-emissions zone so you can enter it on EV power alone, the XC90 will let you. Admittedly, this is a much more common condition in European cities that have congestion charges for their inner-city regions, but such zones have been discussed for American cities as well.

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Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman has had over 25 years of experience in the auto industry as a journalist, analyst, purchasing agent and program manager. Bragman grew up around his father’s classic Triumph sports cars (which were all sold and gone when he turned 16, much to his frustration) and comes from a Detroit family where cars put food on tables as much as smiles on faces. Today, he’s a member of the Automotive Press Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. His pronouns are he/him, but his adjectives are fat/sassy. Email Aaron Bragman

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