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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge: Big Volvo hybrid crossover is a winning outlier

Buyers shopping three-row crossovers face a staggering number of choices, but not a lot of variety. Most CUVs are cut from the same cloth. 

There’s always room for an outlier, though. Especially in the luxury classes where makers get to stretch out and show their stuff. 

Outlier status has always served Volvo. Historically, its Scandinavian roots have played out in a focus on safety, comfort and utility. Even before the widespread adoption of front- and all-wheel-drive, Volvo was a favorite among snow country drivers.

Expanded brief

Lately, Volvo has expanded its brief to include design, cabin tech and efficiency. It’s now building cars that are among the market’s most modern and most elegant efforts.

Take today’s tester. The 2021 Volvo XC90 is a midsize, three-row crossover. Its clean lines, minimal ornamentation and uncomplicated functionality embody Swedish design. 

Its 10.5 inches of ground clearance rivals the luxury segments’ best but Volvo places greater focus on comfort and balance than on off-road capabilities.

And, though it’s not easy pitching a $50,000 crossover as a value play, the XC90 qualifies. It is as well-equipped as any of its (mostly) European rivals — but with pricing that substantially undercuts theirs.

Just this year, Volvo adds several new standard features, including adaptive LED headlights, a wireless charging pad and front parking sensors.

Standard driver-assist features include forward-collision mitigation; blind-spot monitor; adaptive cruise control; lane-keeping assist; rear cross-traffic alert and rear automatic braking.

Three powertrain choices

XC90 is available in three trims — Momentum ($46,695), R-Design ($56, 295) and Inscription ($63,945). 

All XC90s are equipped with four-zone automatic climate control; faux (or real) leather seating surfaces; a 9-inch touchscreen; navigation; 10-speaker audio system and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s a wireless charging pad; a panoramic sunroof and a hands-free liftgate. Headlights are adaptive LEDs.

There are three powertrain choices, all based on the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and designated T5, T6 and Recharge T8.

The T5 is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four that makes 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The T6 adds a supercharger and makes 316 hp and 295 lb-ft. 

Recharge is Volvo’s name for the electrified portion of its fleet. The XC90 Recharge is a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) that makes 400 total system horsepower. It’s available in R-Design ($69,845) and Inscription Expression ($63,450) trims.

Fast, not engaging

It motivates the Recharge from 0-60 in 4.9 seconds. It offers up to 18 miles of driving on battery power alone and earns an EPA estimated 55 MPGe and 27 mpg in combined driving.

Properly equipped, the XC90 can tow up to 5,000 pounds.

All XC90s come with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The T5 comes standard with FWD, with available AWD. AWD is standard on the rest

The XC90 Recharge is fast but not engaging. It’s fairly responsive and handles corners with restrained body lean. Steering is nicely weighted and builds resistance with speed. 

A soft on-center groove allows a bit of in-lane wandering and some sloppiness on winding roads. 

Firm suspension settings produce a stiff ride that is eased somewhat with the addition of an $1,800 air suspension. 

Attention to detail

There’s the grand sweep of a tiered and uncluttered dashboard and the obsessive attention to detail that manifests in knurled knobs and switchgear, in the precision of a grated speaker cover, in the exacting blend of texture, shape and color. 

The cabin’s visual centerpiece of the cabin is its large, tablet-style infotainment touchscreen with phone-style swipe and pinch-to-zoom functions. It looks great and, once mastered, works fine. It’s far from intuitive, though, and serves to remind that sometimes a button or a knob works better than a virtual interface.

There are abundant small-storage options.

Terrific seats hold out the promise of longterm comfort. Ergonomics are first-rate and thin roof pillars produce exceptional visibility from the driver’s seat.

The optional second-row captain’s chairs are nicely contoured and perfectly suited to adults. Volvo even offers built-in child safety seats.  

Aside from some roughness that emanates from the over-achieving four-cylinder engine under acceleration, the cabin is quiet and restful.

As always, we note that Volvo is not currently represented in the Spokane area. The nearest dealership is in Puget Sound. Maintenance and warranty work can be handled in Spokane by Spokane Land Rover/Jaguar.

Questions or comments? Contact Don at

2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge Inscription
Vehicle base price: $46,695
Trim level base price: $69,750
As tested: $81,690 (includes destination and handling)
Options: massaging front-seat backrests; heated windshield wiper blades; heated rear seats; heated steering wheel; graphical head-up display; 360 surround view camera; metallic paint; integrated child booster seat; Bowers and Wilkins audio; air suspension; air quality with advanced filter; 21-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels
Tow rating: 5,000 pounds
EPA rating: 55 MPGe/27 mpg combined
Premium gasoline specified

Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.