Confessions of a Volvo XC90 PHEV owner

After seven months of ownership, we pose 10 questions to a Volvo XC90 T8 owner.

volvo_xc90_061) Why the XC90?

It fits my needs…a safety-first, spacious, efficient, comfy, occasional-7-seater SUV for weekends and road trips. In PHEV form, it’s good for daily city traffic chores too. My inner Chinaman was quite taken by the favourable pricing from tax breaks. It all added up to a very enticing option.

2) Would you describe yourself as someone who cares about the environment? If so, is that a significant factor in your decision to pick the Volvo?

We need to, don’t we? Our kids and their kids are depending on the decisions we make today. So we try to do what we can. Like waste separation and recycling…we’ve been doing that on our own for over 15 years despite the lack of infrastructure. Our cars were picked partly because they’re the most efficient in their class with the lowest reported emissions. Our next house will put power back into the grid and minimize its carbon footprint through design and materials. Within that context, the XC90 PHEV is inextricably linked to those decisions. While we need a large and therefore thirsty 7-seater, the only way that would make sense is if it’s somehow uncharacteristically efficient and clean.

Making peace with mother nature hinges on the decisions we make today, every bit counts.
3) Which other SUVs were in your basket of consideration? 

Not many. The BMW X5 (this was before the x5 PHEV launch) and Audi Q7. But coming from a diesel seven-seater, it was disappointing to slowly learn that the diesel narrative in Malaysia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, due to our fuel quality and the resulting compromises at the tailpipe. The efficiency is there, but the clean output isn’t quite. Also, the X5 and Q7, even in their latest iterations, don’t have great third rows. The Range Rover Discovery Sport was interesting but too cramped for seven-human duty, and has a disappointing interior and drivetrain.

The XC90’s third row usability is hard to beat, has space to fit adults.
4) Describe your ownership experience of the XC90 in your seven months of ownership?

A journey of extremes, to say the least!

Pre-sale to pre-delivery were awful, thanks to (surprisingly) the largest and most established Volvo dealer here. The missteps range from ignoring questions to outright misinformation, apathy to blame-shifting, subtle repugnance to sheer rudeness. It got so bad, we almost aborted. In the end, I’m glad we didn’t and thankfully Volvo Car Malaysia themselves stepped in to help sort out some of the dealer issues. We eventually took delivery after a protracted delay and I now go to Volvo’s one other independent dealer for after-sales which has been the polar opposite. Unfortunately, they only have one centre, but I’m willing to go out of my way to get stuff done there.

Air-suspension and steering response can be tailored for some rewards in handling.

The car itself has been great. It feels genuinely modern and is a nice place to be in, for all seven occupants. And not bad to drive too with the right pre-sets for the air suspension and steering response. But mine is clearly a first-batch unit of a very ambitious product. Annoyances have mostly been software-related, which unfortunately controls everything in a car like this. And as with all software, you’ve got to be a little philosophical about the infinite loop of bugs and fixes. Still, the good outweigh the bad, and while I’m not usually an early adopter, I guess this kind of thing goes with the territory of being one.

Interior decor of the XC90 exudes class and has a distinct Scandinavian identity.
5) Do you charge the XC90 daily? At home or in the public?

Yes, at home. Occasionally outside, which I wish was more often. The public charging network is still very limited and only one of our regular destinations has charging stations. The network is provided by ChargEV which has an ambitious roll-out plan for more stations. I’m their trial user #1 which means I’ve seen them at their measliest coverage, and they are making some headway. With more EV and PHEV owners, there should be more pressure on public building owners to play ball and let ChargEV install their stations. Building owners also need to maintain and police the usage of their charging bays much, much better.

On paper, a fully-charged XC90 T8 can offer 43km worth of electric range, based on NEDC measurement.
6) What has exceeded your expectations, and what hasn’t?


I think the car looks quite good. Initially, from photos, I thought it would look quite slab-sided and boring. But in the metal, it has an understated presence and gets a lot of appreciative stares which I never expected. As I said earlier, the handling is pretty decent too, for a big SUV with that hefty battery. Maybe I’ve learned to accept that even the “best-handling” SUVs can’t reverse the laws of physics and so the Volvo is quite acceptable to me, handling-wise.

volvo_xc90_15Didn’t exceed…

If you stay within a 5-10km radius of all your daily haunts, it’s quite possible to drive entirely electric on a single charge a day. Otherwise, you’ll need to invoke the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, which has bags of torque but doesn’t sound all that refined. I guarantee you’d want to charge the XC90 every chance you get, even if you don’t care about the environment, just to hear less of the combustion engine. Oh, and this 2.3 tonne behemoth needs bigger brakes.

Combined system output of the XC90 is rated at 407hp and 640Nm (when available); propels the 2.3-tonne SUV from idle to 100km/h in 5.6 seconds.
7) You’ve owned a few German cars before, what is it about a Volvo that sets it apart from the Germans?

Honestly, I think the car just happens to be very good. Maybe even the best of its kind, currently. Not because it is or isn’t German. I don’t buy the Herring vs. Bratwurst debate but I do recognise that the XC90 is a huge leap for Volvo, and a very promising one. It really doesn’t matter which geographic stereotype it was borne of. What’s more important is why the car was created and for whom. The end result either meets an individual’s needs or not. That’s all that really counts.

volvo_xc90_078) What is your view of the tablet-style centre touch screen?

Gimmicky. Sure, that visual real estate is nice, especially if Volvo would start using it properly, for instance if there were to be a Waze app that runs native on the car’s OS instead of on our small phone screens. That would be brilliant. But for the most part, it’s fussy and requires eyes away from road and a well-aimed index finger. Often both, back and forth in quick succession to accomplish one task. I still prefer a tactile iDrive or similar interface and seriously, what’s wrong with some hardware buttons and knobs for regularly used functions like the air-con or the 360-degree camera view?

Large, tablet-like 9-inch centre display requires well-aimed touch inputs.
9) What would you like to be improved on the XC90?

Not that much actually. I’ve covered all the niggles I can think of already. What I’d really like though, is for everything good about the XC90 T8 to trickle down to Volvo’s smaller cars. They’ve really got something going here, and it needs to get into other form factors for different applications and to touch more lives.

volvo_xc90_0210) Would you recommend the XC90 to your friends, if yes, what would you tell them?

Yes, for sure. Already have, to several new buyers! I’ll spare you the full-length evangelism. Summarised, it’s roughly, “Test drive the damn thing, but choose your dealer wisely.”

(Note: The images of this story shows a test vehicle that belongs to Volvo Car Malaysia, it has identical specifications as the vehicle owned by our interviewee, Mr. Chin).

Volvo XC90 T8 
Price: RM403,888 (w/o insurance)
Engine: 2.0-litre, turbocharged inline-4, All-Wheel-Drive
Output: 320hp @ 5,700rpm, 400Nm @ 2,200rpm
Electric output: 87hp @ 7,000rpm, 240Nm @ 0rpm
Transmission: 8-sp automatic
Performance: 0-100km/h in 5.6 seconds, top speed 230km/h
Fuel efficiency: 47.6 km/l (combined cycle)
Wheels/tyres: 20in alloys, 275/45 R20 (F/R)
Safety: 6-airbags, Electronic Stability Control, Front Collision Warning/Avoidance
Warranty: 5-year unlimited