Review: 2023 Volvo XC90 T8 - 7 years on, still showing competitors how luxury is done
Arvind · Apr 8, 2023 10:00 AM
As the saying goes, if something ain't broke don't fix it - but does that apply to the 2023 Volvo XC90, a car that has been around for more than seven years?
At the outset, the XC90 was the first of an entirely new generation of Volvos – it introduced Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform an entirely new range of hybrid powertrains and a timeless Scandinavian design language that has inspired every Volvo model that came after it.
But in truth, the 2023 XC90 is a substantially different car from the one launched eight years ago.
Having received numerous updates, and at the tail end of its lifespan. Does the swansong 2023 XC90 T8 Recharge Ultimate (to give its full name) feel a little too long in the tooth, or does this 7-seater SUV still have some fight left in it?
First launched at the tail end of 2015, the XC90 has gone through several running changes throughout its lifespan, including a mid-life facelift model, which was launched here in 2019.
Throughout these updates, the XC90 has continually received improved equipment, different trim packages and updates to the powertrain, most recently in mid-2022 when it received a larger battery.
Note that the XC90’s battery has been upgraded twice during its lifespan – initially with 9.2 kWh (2015 – 2019), then the 11.6 kWh (2019 – 2022) and now the 18.8 kWh battery from May 2022 (T8 Inscription Plus variant) onwards.
It’s the same with power, with all models between 2015 – 2022 producing 407 PS and 640 Nm, until the introduction of the 2022 T8 Inscription Plus variant which delivered 462 PS and a whopping 709 Nm of torque, courtesy of a more powerful 145 PS rear-axle motor.
In addition to 2022’s updates, the 2023 XC90 Recharge T8 Ultimate gets now the latest generation Google built-in infotainment system. Yes, we know Volvo’s variant names are a mouthful, so here’s a handy spec sheet for the 2023 XC90:
Overview: 2023 Volvo XC90 Recharge T8 Ultimate
7-seater luxury SUV
2.0-litre turbocharged, 4-cyl, PHEV
77 km (claimed)
CKD, Shah Alam
Besides the XC90 T8 Ultimate, buyers can also opt for the cheaper (RM 416,888) XC90 B5 Ultimate (AWD) which features a 2.0-litre mild hybrid delivering 263 PS and 390 Nm of torque.
If you're looking for 7 seats, then both the GLE and XC90 will offer third-row seating.
Although the X5 (RM 492k) and GLE (RM 516k) are newer, the XC90 by some margin has the cheapest retail price tag. Besides this, the XC90 also offers substantially more power at 462 PS, versus the X5's 394 PS and GLE's 367 PS.
Having been around for a while, and still managing to look classy after all these years just goes to show how well-designed the 2023 XC90 is.
In 2019, with the facelift, the XC90 received minor design updates which included a revised front bumper and revised front grille which now features a concaved insert instead of the flat-fascia pre-facelift unit, and that's about it.
As for the 2023 XC90 Ultimate, it is offered in 4 colour options - Onyx Black, Denim Blue, Crystal White and Bright Dusk as featured here.
Personally, I love how the Bright Dusk Hue and contrasting 20-inch dual-tone alloys marry together beautifully - looking brilliantly distinguished yet with a touch of sportiness.
If there's one word that describes the XC90's interior - it's exquisite, and given its simplicity and functionality, has aged beautifully over the years.
An example of this is the warm ambient light that floods the cabin at night, the Merc has thousands of colours, but as opposed to a nightclub, I appreciate the classy cigar lounge feel of the Volvo.
The revised second-generation Google built-in infotainment has improved on all the shortfalls of the first-generation unit - featuring better layouts and crisper graphics, offering a better user experience, much like Volvo's proprietary Sensus Connect system from a few years ago.
So yes, the GLE and X5 offer more va-va-voom, but the XC90 excels where it matters, by having an ergonomic layout, user-friendly technology and beautiful contrast of quality materials and textures all over the cabin.
The seats likewise are cossetting in all three rows. With ample adjustability at the front and rear, the XC90 offers superb thigh, back and shoulder support even for taller passengers.
With sublime refinement, a silent engine and double-glazed windows (all-round), the 2023 XC90 Ultimate is about as quiet as a library even at speeds of up to 90 km/h. Some tyre and wind noise does creep in at around 110 km/h, but one could hardly call it intrusive.
Having been privileged to be the first journo in Malaysia to drive the original XC90 in 2015 - I'd have to say the XC90 has come a long way since then, thanks to the progressive updates during its lifetime.
It is easy to get in, get comfortable and start driving, however, it's a large SUV, and though visibility is great, it never fails to remind you just how big its footprint is.
Thus, whilst the XC90 is easy to steer and manoeuvrable, it isn't the easiest to weave through traffic or tighter roads, less so than the similarly sized X5 or GLE in any case, which tend to wrap around you after a while.
Once on the roads though, the suspension is sublime.
Fitted with Active Chassis Air Suspension, the XC90 irons out evens the roughest of roads with superb poise.
Sparingly, the active suspension does get caught out if you go fast over sharper speedbumps (due to a delay in rebound), but despite riding on huge 20-inch wheels, the suspension does well to isolate you from practicality every road irregularity.
Besides a further EV range (of 77 km), the new 18.8 kWh battery and new 145 PS rear motor have pushed the performance envelope and drivability of the XC90 further.
Now, the transition between electric and engine power is almost seamless, making it impossible to tell unless you're looking at the digital cluster display.
The same is true even under braking, when the powertrain moves from power or coasting, into a braking phase. The regenerative braking comes on urgently but predictably, recouping as much energy almost as soon as you start to slow down.
However, don't be fooled that the XC90 is just about efficiency, plant your foot and the XC90 will pin you to the seats as it pivots to the sky and starts flying down the road.
With adequate battery charge and the open road, the XC90 will race to 110 km/h as fast as some sports cars, making light work of cruising on the highway or overtaking.
For some perspective, in our 0-100 km/h test, the XC90 delivered a best time of 5.76 seconds, beating the 275 PS / 350 NmSubaru WRX's time (tested on the same day) by almost a second.
But in truth, you'd rarely be blasting your way down the road. The 2023 XC90 is at its sweet spot when driven with calm composure - simply put on a great tune and waft along to your destination.
In testing the 2023 XC90, we perhaps conducted our most comprehensive economy test for a PHEV.
Starting with a brimmed tank and 100 percent battery charge, the XC90 travelled approximately 60 km before the batteries were depleted, maximising the electric driving range. Not very far off from the claimed 77 km on a full battery charge.
Over a 60/40 mix of highway and city driving, the 2023 XC90 returned an average fuel consumption of 6.7-litre/100 km.
The trip computer displayed a rather optimistic 4.5-litre/100 km, however, even the tested economy figures are pretty impressive for a 2-tonne SUV that delivers 462 PS of power on tap.
Seven years on, the 2023 XC90 remains a charming option for buyers who want an accommodating luxury 7-seater SUV.
Though the Merc GLE and BMW X5 are newer and snazzier, the 2023 XC90 still commands a substantial price and power advantage, and that's even before we get to its top-notch safety features, cossetting interior and brilliant sound system.
Thus, it's the SUV for the thinking buyer, who appreciates value and understated style, again proving that if something ain't broke, don't fix it, well at least, until the all-new XC90 comes our way.
Arvind can't remember a time when he didn't wheel around a HotWheels car. This love evolved into an interest in Tamiya and RC cars and finally the real deal 1:1 scale stuff. Passion finally lead to formal training in Mechanical Engineering. Instead of the bigger picture, he obsesses with the final drive ratio and spring rates of cars and spends the weekends wondering why a Perodua Myvi is so fast.