Long-term report: How is our hybrid Volvo estate car working out?
James Baggott reports on life with Volvo’s high-performance and environmentally friendly Volvo V90 T8
I may have started my first long term report on the Volvo V90 with a bold ‘best car on sale’ statement and while a lot of that could be attributed to the fact I’d just picked it up, I stand by the high praise I lavished on the hybrid.
Yes, as time as gone by and the miles have increased, there are a few minor things that have had me either scratching my head with bewilderment or raised my blood pressure slightly, but they’re still minor enough for me to stand by my proclamation.
Around six weeks ago I swapped a diesel V90 for this T8 twin-engine hybrid version. It has the benefits of a plug-in battery unit that can provide 25 miles of propulsion before it needs to use the 2.0-litre petrol engine. Together they provide an impressive 390bhp and can push the car to 60mph in just five seconds.
Sadly, I can’t vouch for any of that because I find myself driving the Volvo like Miss Daisy. You see the problem is, if you put your foot down too hard the petrol engine kicks in and when you want to use the electricity you’ve so carefully planned to top it up with, that just feels rather wrong. So, I treat the throttle with egg-shell like handling skills, carefully feeding in the power so as not to wake the polar bear-killing powerplant from its slumber.
I’ve been trying to top it up every day, either at work using a three-pin plug (five hours) or at home on the 3kW home charger (three hours). At first, it annoyed me that sometimes no matter how hard I tried to drive carefully, the petrol engine would randomly kick in – even when I’d selected pure driving mode in the settings. This, Volvo says, is when the car senses it needs to use the engine – but when you’re used to the silence of an EV, the traditional engine feels very intrusive when it starts up.
I drive very few miles on a daily basis, not usually exhausting the 25 miles of range before I can top up again, but the odd longer drive when the petrol unit has been needed has resulted in an overall 33.5mpg. I was getting 35mpg out of the diesel V90, but that was far more polluting. It’ll be interesting to see how the hybrid’s figure improves over the few months I have with the car.
I adore the way the V90 drives. The suspension is compliant, the steering perfect, the seating position spot-on and the quality of the fit and finish on a par with the very best cars on sale today. Yes, this may be an eye-watering £71k car and you’d expect quality for that – but it’s unlikely buyers will be disappointed. I’m seeing more and more V90s on the road these days too, and with the competitive lease deals available on them that’s hardly surprising. It’s probably helped Volvo a lot with its increase in sales in 2018 by an impressive nine per cent.
But, to those frustrations. I hoped the V90 would benefit from fast charging so I could use the motorway service station charging points to top the 25 miles back up while I had a coffee, but sadly it can’t cope with those. Volvo said the maximum charge rate it can take is 3.5kW – so even higher-powered 7kW home chargers won’t be of use, let alone the powerful ones you’ll find on the road network.
I’ve also found the V90 has an incredibly over-sensitive accident warning system. Driving around town, even today, caused it to trigger twice. It can’t seem to understand right-hand bends in the road, thinking you’re going to have a huge head-on crash with a parked car you’ve yet to steer around. It’s probably gone off around a dozen times in the six weeks I’ve had it – only proving of use once when a car slammed its brakes on to dodge a cat, which I was a little too slow to spot.
Ok, some will argue that alone is worth leaving it on, but I’m finding the flashing warning light on the head-up display and beeping a little annoying in its frequency, especially as it slightly taps the brakes as a warning too. Perhaps there’s a setting that can be dialled back, which I’ll look into.
On the plus side, I’ve found the cavernous boot, especially with the seats down, is amazingly useful. A recent trip to Ikea and a flat-pack purchase that would worry most estate car owners was swallowed with room to spare. Yes, it did mean my daughter lost most of her leg room in the front seat, but I still can’t believe it all fit in.
I’m a huge fan of the Volvo On Call app too. I’ve used it to warm the car on cold mornings, open the car when someone has needed to get something out of it and I’m nowhere nearby, and it tells me more often than I care to admit that I’ve left it unlocked, and then lets me lock it from my phone. My favourite part, though, is the fact it tells me if it’s charging correctly and when it will be fully charged by – incredibly useful when planning my day.
Next up for the Volvo is my annual pilgrimage to the cold white stuff in the French Alps. My daughter and I will be tackling the 1,500-mile round trip, mostly I expect under petrol power, but also putting the AWD to the test. Both could ruin my mpg figures forever, but we shall see.
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