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  5. 2021 Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription Test Drive Review

Exterior view of the Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription

For much of its existence, Volvo has been something of a niche brand, buoyed by its focus on safety and beloved by academics and hipsters alike. But recent years have seen the Swedish company up the ante in regards to both performance, green-aspirations, and luxury -- and the bet has paid off in a big way. Because despite the challenges of the global pandemic, Volvo is on course to have its best sales year in history.     

The XC90 is Volvo's entrant in the hyper-competitive mid-size SUV segment, and aims to take on the likes of the Audi Q5, Cadillac XT6, and Porsche Cayenne. After styling refresh for the 2020 model year, the XC90 carries over mostly unchanged, though a wireless charging pad, adaptive headlights, and front parking sensors are now standard.


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2021 Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription Exterior

Exterior view of the Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription

The exterior of the XC90 is best described as smooth and stately. There aren't loads of vents or sharp angles, and the concave slats, along with the diagonal slash and Volvo's emblem make it clear what you're looking at. The flashiest bits are the chrome accents at the bottom of the front fascia, and around the windows, which highlight the inward curve at the beltline and the large greenhouse. 

My tester was also fitted with 21-inch eight spoke alloys, which fleshed out the wheel wells nicely. Out back, I particularly liked how the giant taillights - a Volvo signature - climbed all the way up the liftgate, and punctuated just below the integrated spoiler.


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2021 Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription Interior

Interior view of the Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription

Simply put, the cabin of the XC90 is a lovely place to be. There's loads of room in both the front and rear chairs, and excepting obvious elements like the crystal gear selector, every touchpoint feels carefully considered, buttery soft and ultra-luxurious. The third-row seats, however, are best left to kids. As you'd expect from Swedish designers, there's little bombast or flashiness at play. But details like the elegantly contoured seats, textured inland wood trim, organic, flowing nature of the dashboard, and fantastic build quality mean nothing needs to shout to be appreciated.  

That said, the 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system will shout quite well if asked. This is a must-have option for audiophiles, as the legendary British company is responsible for some of the finest in-car audio available on the market today. This should come as no surprise, as back in the 1960s, it was tapped to craft the monitors at the Beatles' legendary Abbey Road studio. Fortunately, even with the volume turned all the way down, the metal speaker grilles on the doors and dashboard look incredible. 

Infotainment-wise, anyone who has used a tablet will be immediately comfortable with the XC90's setup. Just as I experienced with the Volvo T6 AWD, the menus are well organized, so vital settings are never too far out of reach, and while I'd have appreciated physical buttons for the heated seats, they're always present at the bottom of the home screen. 

Behind the third-row seats, there's 15.8 cubic feet of space, which climbs to 41.8 cubic feet with the third row folded, and a whopping 85.7 cubic feet with all the seating stowed.


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2021 Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription Performance

Engine bay of the Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription

The engine under the hood of the XC90 T8 only has two liters of displacement, which is relatively small for a vehicle this size. But Volvo's engineers compensated for the combustion chambers by both supercharging and turbocharging the little mill, a setup that's unique in today's automotive landscape. Then, they added two electric motors, which brings the total power on tap up to a robust 400 horsepower and 472 lb-ft of torque.     

All that poke, and the instantly available torque from the electric motors make the XC90 feel quite quick around town, even if the force-fed engine really sounds like it's working in the upper registers of the rev range. While the air suspension is mostly quite smooth, on the nastier bits of Seattle's less-than-ideal pavement, some of the imperfections translated to a rougher ride than I expected. That said, this isn't anything I would consider a dealbreaker, and would likely be mitigated by staying with the stock 20-inch wheels, as opposed to the sexy 21-inch alloy wheels fitted to my tester. At its core, this Volvo is a comfortable cruiser, and handled city driving and extended high-speed jaunts on the highway with high marks overall.    

The plug-in hybrid system means the XC90 T8 is rated at 55 MPGe, which drops to a rating of 27 combined when the drivetrain is running on gas only. In all-electric mode, the T8 has a range of 18 miles, and can be plugged in to charge at a standard 110 or 220-volt outlet. When properly equipped, the XC90 T8 can tow up to 5,000 pounds.


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2021 Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription Safety

Infotainment screen of the Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription

As you'd expect from the company that invented the three-point seat belt, the Volvo XC90 puts an emphasis on safety. In testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the XC90 earned a 5-Star overall rating, the agency's highest. 

Along with those results, the XC90 also comes loaded with standard safety features, including Blind Spot Information System with Steer Assist, Collision Avoidance with Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection, Adaptive Cruise Control, Driver Alert Monitor, Lane Departure Warning, Land Keeping Assist, and Cross Traffic Alert with Auto Braking. My tester was also equipped with a 360-degree camera and a heads-up display.


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2021 Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription Overall

Exterior view of the Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription

The XC90 is a stately styled SUV with great tech, a gorgeously appointed cabin, and in the   case of the T8 model, a snappy plug-in powertrain. Plus, its 5-Star NHTSA rating means it also lives up to Volvo's reputation for safety. So while it might not offer the engaging driving dynamics of its German rivals, there's plenty to love about this Swedish sled. 

The base price from my Inscription model was $69,750, but a host of other options, including the Lounge Package ($1,700), which includes massaging front seats and a Nubuck headliner, and the Advanced Package ($1,500), which includes a heads-up display and a 360-degree camera bumped that price up a bit. Other big ticket items included the Air Suspension ($1,800) and the glorious Bowers & Wilkins sound system ($3,200), and the 21-inch wheels ($800), which meant the as-tested price of this XC90 came in at $81,690.

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John Coyle | May 20, 2021

2021 Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription Specs


4-door, 5-passenger, 4x4


Twin-charged 2.0L
Electric Motor
400 hp, 472 lb-ft
Eight-speed auto


55 MPGe
27 Combined (gas only)

NHTSA Rating

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AutoNation Drive Test Drive Review: ★ ★ ★ ★

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*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.

**Based on EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending on specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.