Volvo's 2020 XC90 is a crisp and zippy ride

The first time we test-drove a Volvo XC90, in 2008, we were unimpressed despite having owned three Volvos spanning more than 20 years. The XC90 was fairly big and felt bigger. Our old Volvo 740 wagon, with a turbocharged engine and stick shift, was almost as versatile — lacking only off-road capability — and a lot more fun to drive.

Volvo has persevered with the XC90 since 2003. The overall shape, size and look haven’t changed much, but it’s a vastly improved luxury SUV in terms of technology, drivability and comfort. It also costs a lot more money, but that’s only to be expected; the market demands more than it did 12 years ago.

Our 2020 XC90 T8 E-AWD Inscription was priced, before options, at $67,500. Several option packages brought the sticker price to a princely $86,990. The V-8-powered XC90 we test-drove in 2008 had a sticker price of $54,592.

The first thing we noticed about the 2020 model — based on a 2016 redesign — was that the fun-to-drive factor is much improved. Maybe we’ve finally come to terms with the character and capabilities of SUVs over the years, but this Volvo handled crisply and competently. While the T8 designation is misleading — this Volvo is powered not by a turbocharged V-8, but by an inline 4-cylinder engine with a supercharger and turbocharger — its combined gasoline-electric horsepower rating is 400, with 472 pound-feet of torque. It’s quite fast.

Our test car was a true flagship for Volvo, with a vast array of luxury features, plug-in-hybrid fuel-efficiency and maximum all-electric range of 28 miles. The hybrid system comes with a 100,000-mile warranty.

The XC90 competes with SUVs by Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Land Rover from Europe; Acura, Infiniti and Lexus from Japan, and Cadillac and Lincoln from America. Volvo narrows the field somewhat by offering the plug-in-hybrid system, available from some but not all of its competitors.

The hybrid system best serves drivers who travel relatively short distances between recharges. People who drive longer stretches are better served by an XC90 in T5 or T6 trim. These models are less powerful than the T8 and lack hybrid technology, but cost much less — $48,350 for the 250-horsepower, front-wheel-drive T5, and $56,800 for the all-wheel drive, 311-horsepower T6.

Inside the cabin, the XC90 has an appealingly simple control panel that includes a very large 9-inch touch-screen.

As we’ve noted with other luxury SUVs, true luxury may require some extra dollars. Our XC90’s standard equipment did not include a head-up display, heated rear seats and heated steering wheel. All were part of $19,000 worth of options. But Volvo buyers demand safety, and the XC90 comes with the full package, including blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, pedestrian detection, run-off-road protection and mitigation, lane-keeping and oncoming lane mitigation, and rear parking assist and camera.

The XC90 is one of the few cars we’ve tested that had 5-star crash-protection ratings across the board, and it has been rated a Top Safety Pick Plus by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Steven Macoy ( is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.

2020 Volvo XC90 T8 E-AWD Inscription

Price: $86,990

Engine: 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged inline Four with electric motor, combined 400 horsepower, 472 lb-ft. torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Weight: 5,068 lb.

Ground clearance: 8.9 in.

Suspension: 4-wheel independent, air

Wheels: 21-in. 8 multi-spoke

Tires: 275/40R21 all-season

Seating capacity: 6

Luggage capacity: 15.8 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 85.7 cu. ft.

Towing capacity: 5,000 lb.

Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons

Fuel economy: 58 combined mpge

Fuel type: premium unleaded gasoline (recommended)