Review: 2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription PHEV, beast with a kind heart [+Video]

The replacement for Volvo’s ageing XC90 couldn’t come any sooner, but it’s not an easy task when Volvo was going through a rocky phase after being put up for sale by its then-parent company Ford six years after the debut of the XC90 in 2002. Thankfully, its new owner Geely invested some $11 billion for the development of new Volvo models, and this all-new XC90 is the first vehicle to emerge out of it.

Built upon Volvo’s new Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform, the XC90 is brimming with tech that not only makes it safer than before but also kinder to the environment. For our Malaysian market, the XC90 offered here is the T8 Inscription trim, which is the top-of-the-line plug-in hybrid all-wheel-drive variant and armed to the teeth. Qualified with the EEV status, the fully-imported XC90 T8 was initially priced at RM454k, but now that it’s being assembled locally, RM50k has been lopped off that price tag.2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Review in Malaysia -


Name Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription PHEV
Engine 1,969cc; supercharged & turbocharged inline-four, with electric motor
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Max Power 407 hp (combined output)
Max Torque 640 Nm (combined output)
Price (OTR without insurance) RM403,888


It’s not too far a departure from the previous XC90, the new one has evolved into a classier chariot with clean and crisp lines fringing the soft curvy edges. The styling is rather conservative than futuristic, and personally I find the XC90 is more understated than the brash Range Rover, in a good way.2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Review in Malaysia -

It’s far from bland though, the flashy bits are there but they don’t pop out too much from the rest of the vehicle. Look closely and you’ll notice the chrome slashes on the front side intakes and on the lower edge of the doors, as well as matte silver bumper valance and roof rails. A roof spoiler and dual rectangular tailpipes are integrated discreetly and tastefully, although I do find the wheels a tad underwhelming given its actual 20-inch diameter.2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Review in Malaysia -

However, the items that do stand out are the oversized grille, and obviously the full-LED headlamps with Thor’s hammer DRLs. Love it or loathe it you’re going to see more of them on future Volvo models as the DRL is now part of their new design language, so it will be easier for anyone to spot a Volvo from miles away. But I doubt that anyone will miss the sight of the new XC90. It eclipses its predecessor by quite a bit, and at its tallest suspension setting the new XC90 cuts an imposing figure on the road.


The interior is a quantum leap over the button-fest predecessor and yet, for a vehicle so high-tech the interior is a zen paradise. The choice of materials and build quality can’t be faulted, from the supple nappa leather that covers the seats to the open-pored walnut inlays, the cabin is beautifully constructed as anyone would hope for. Above it all, Volvo has commissioned the Swedish glass maker Orrefors to produce a crystal gearknob to take centerpiece in the cabin. It even lights up at night. Beat that, S-Class!2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Review in Malaysia -

Button count has dropped dramatically on the dashboard, leaving a few controls for the audio underneath the huge tablet-like display. No prize for guessing where the remaining buttons went; they’re all grouped inside the Sensus Connect system accessed via the vertical screen. Unfortunately this includes the controls for the air-conditioning, which I find a screen tap too many when all I want to do is just to adjust the fan speed.2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Review in Malaysia -

You can do almost everything from the central screen, be it reading the manual (yes the driver’s manual is digitised), surfing the net, as well as adjusting the front passenger seat. Another digital display is used for the instrument panel. While you’re given the preset options to change the theme and layout of the screen, it’s not the best-looking in terms of appearance although the clarity is top notch.

Like its predecessor, the new XC90 is a seven seater, and the rearmost pair of seats will accommodate adults at a pinch, with limited headroom. They disappear into the floor when not in use, revealing 451 litres worth of boot space, and if the second row of seats are folded down there’s enough space for two to camp in.2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Review in Malaysia -

The second row seats slide and recline individually and, just like any modern Volvos, there’s a built-in booster seat in the middle seat. As a kid I would imagine it’s the best seat in the house, as you’re in the centre of everything and you also get a nice view out from the panoramic glass roof.

We don’t recommend you bringing many items into the XC90 if you have a memory of a goldfish, because you’ll lose them in no time. There are loads of storage spaces on every row, and even the boot has sub-storage compartments. Access to the boot is very practical too, while the new XC90 may have lost the split tailgate, the single-piece tailgate does open wider than before and it swings up automatically by waving your foot under the rear bumper.


A typical Volvo owner doesn’t brag about his ride but with power figures that reads 407 hp and 640 Nm, it’s like reading from a spec sheet of a performance car. Remember that 911 Carrera with its new 3.0-litre bi-turbo flat-six? That car delivers just 370 hp and 450 Nm. But then again Volvo’s 2.0-litre inline-four DriveE is no ordinary four-banger.2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Review in Malaysia -

The DriveE unit that powers the front wheels is turbocharged and supercharged to deliver 320 hp and 400 Nm of torque as seen in the XC60 T6, but it’s further boosted by an 87 hp and 240 Nm electric motor that propels the rear wheels, making it an all-wheel drive vehicle. With an eight-speed automatic transmission, the XC90 T8 gets from 0 to 100 km/h in 5.6 seconds and to a top speed of 230km/h. It’s claimed to sip just 2.1 litres of petrol over 100km.

The electric motor plays a huge role in that, and power comes from 9.2kWh battery that charges while you coast or brake, but you won’t be able to fully charge the battery by doing just that. To get the battery up to 100 percent, you need to plug it into the wall socket. A full charge takes around 3.5 hours but a charging station will do it in 2.5 hours.


It’s awfully quiet in the XC90, after you twist the ignition knob to the right only to be greeted with an eerie silence. Unless you’re ferrying noisy passengers or have the stereos blasted out loud, the XC90 is as quiet as a library, as if the occupants are vacuum-sealed for freshness inside the cabin. And they do stay fresh thanks to Volvo’s Cleanzone that maintains interior air quality.2016 Volvo XC90 Twin Engine Review -

By default, the XC90 T8 switches on in Hybrid mode, emphasising the use of the electric motor upon starting and only fires up the engine when needed. Under normal circumstances the XC90 T8 will waft along quietly using the electric motor alone. It’s like driving a giant luxurious golf cart with a cosseting ride from its air suspension, masking most of the road imperfections to ensure your sleeping child doesn’t get awakened on the way to the kindergarten.

A quick trip to the neighbourhood grocer without burning a single drop of petrol is possible, as the motor has a maximum quoted range of 43km. But realistically you’re looking at two thirds of that before it runs out of juice. But if you still have some juice left you should give it the beans, that’s when the petrol engine comes into life to unleash the full 407 hp and 640 Nm of torque.

In straight line the acceleration is pretty surreal for a behemoth with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine under its bonnet, but to fully utilise both the internal combustion engine and the electric motor you need to keep it in Power Mode. The throttle and gearbox mapping switches to sports setting, the steering gets heavier, and the air suspension lowers the car closer to the ground.2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Review in Malaysia -

Even so, don’t expect the XC90 T8 to out-handle a Cayenne. The handling is pretty much safe and predictable with a rather vague steering feel, more suited for a relaxed drive with steady throttle input. Forget about manually swapping the cogs, no shift paddles can be found behind the steering wheel, but the eight-speed auto does work smoothly on its own in the background. The brakes however, need a little time to get use to. It’s tied to the regenerative braking system which will harvest braking (kinetic) energy to charge the battery. It feels like stepping on a dead pedal and when you stand on it, it bites hard. Really hard. But eventually you will adjust yourself to it.

Long distance highway jaunts can be done with little effort, and this includes the driver too. Set the adaptive cruise control to follow the vehicle in front, and the XC90 will brake and accelerate itself according to the vehicle in front. Meanwhile, Pilot Assist takes it to another level. Apart from accelerating and braking it will also steer itself, as long as the road markers are visible. Not only that, parking this beast can also be done automatically using the Park Assist Pilot.2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Review in Malaysia -

Of course you can still drive the car yourself normally, but just in case, the XC90 is fitted with all-round sensors and 360 degrees camera so you’re aware of what’s happening around. Yours truly find the bird’s eye view camera a blessing when treading along narrow streets, and it helped me a lot when it comes to guessing whether a gap is wide enough for the XC90 to pass through.


Existing XC90 owners who have been loyal to their steeds, it’s high time to reward yourself with the new XC90 after being so long refraining from getting a German alternative to replace your old but gold XC90. It does live up to its name, offering plenty of space and practicality in one easy-to-drive yet safe vehicle. But if you are seeking a more involving drive in an SUV, you might want to skip this. And those who think plug-in hybrids are just plain gimmicky might want to check out this XC90 T8, the effortless pull from the hybrid powertrain could well change your perception.


Shortly after Volvo announced the CKD version of the XC90 T8, BMW responded with their version of a plug-in hybrid SUV, the X5 xDrive40e. Like the XC90, the X5 is locally assembled and benefits from the EEV tax breaks, granting it an attractive sticker price that’s even cheaper than the XC90 by RM15k. However it’s two seats less than the XC90, but with all the seats up the X5 has a bigger boot space than the Volvo.2016-BMW-X5-xDrive40e-Launch-Malaysia-002

Initial impressions after a brief drive from KLCC to Bukit Jalil and back via MEX highway during the launch proved that the Bavarian contender is the driver’s choice. Even though it’s down on power and torque compared to the XC90 T8, the X5 xDrive40e has a better low-end pull, and it doesn’t roll as much in high-speed sweeping corners. The cabin might not be as posh as the XC90 but it’s as quiet and refined as the Swedish contender.

Volvo XC90 T8
BMW X5 xDrive40e
Type inline-4, DOHC, supercharged & turbocharged with electric motor inline-4, DOHC, turbocharged with electric motor
Displacement cc 1,969cc 1,997cc
Max Power hp 407 308
Max Torque Nm 640 450
Type Electronic Power Steering Electronic Power Steering
Transmission 8-speed automatic 8-speed automatic
Front Double Wishbone Double Wishbone
Rear Multi-link Multi-link
Front Ventilated Disc Ventilated Disc
Rear Ventilated Disc Ventilated Disc
Tyre 275/45 R20 255/50 R19 (front), 285/45 R19 (rear)
Wheels 20-inch Alloy 19-inch Alloy
Overall Length mm 4,950mm 4,886mm
Overall Width mm 1,958mm 1,938mm
Overall Height mm 1,776mm 1,762mm
Wheelbase mm 2,984mm 2,933mm
Max Kerb Weight kg 2,343 kg 2,305 kg
Luggage Capacity (VDA) Litres 451 litres 500 litres
Tank Capacity Litres 50 litres 85 litres
Consumption litres per 100km 2.1 litres 3.3 litres
Max Speed km/h 230 210
0 to 100 km/h sec 5.6 6.8
Price RM RM403,888.00 RM388,800.00

2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Review in Malaysia -


If I’m a family man, I wouldn’t mind having the XC90 T8 as the only car in my garage. It looks good in any setting, has loads of cabin space, safe as a vault, and more importantly it has plenty of poke yet remain frugal thanks to the hybrid powertrain. Volvo’s DriveE approach proves that you don’t need a bigger engine than a 2.0-litre four-cylinder under the bonnet of a 2,000kg car, and so far the only downside that I can think of is the absence of a stirring engine note. The XC90 T8 may not offer an engaging drive, but I still rate it as one of the most sensible SUVs on sale right now. You’re never gonna look better saving the polar bears.