2021 Volvo S90 Recharge First Test Review: Super Solid Swede

Volvo S90 Full Overview

It’s somewhat embarrassing now to think back to a little more than a decade ago, when plenty of us questioned Volvo’s fate after Ford sold the Swedish marque to China’s Geely conglomerate. But for years now we’ve been big fans of Volvo’s modern lineup of stylish, airy, and comfortable SUVs, wagons, and sedans. And when talking about the latter, the flagship S90 is where it’s at. We jumped into a 2021 Volvo S90 Recharge T8 Inscription, the plug-in hybrid version of the executive cruiser, for a test drive after Volvo executed a midcycle upgrade this year. (The S90 went on sale originally for the 2017 model year, and we praised it from the jump.)

2021 Volvo S90 Recharge: What Is It?

Volvo has for a while now offered the S90 in plug-in hybrid form. The powertrain consists of a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter I-4 engine, which makes 313 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, combined with a rear electric motor rated for 87 hp and 177 lb-ft. Not only does the rear motor give the S90 its all-wheel-drive capability and (limited) electric-power-only range (a lot more on this in a moment), the motor teams with the gasoline engine to produce claimed total peak outputs of 400 hp and 472 lb-ft (which we’ll agree might be possible in the lower gears).

Along with an eight-speed Aisin automatic gearbox, the engine/e-motor combo makes for a quick executive sedan despite the car’s 4,699-pound curb weight. We tested its acceleration and found it makes the 0-60-mph run in 4.7 seconds and covers the quarter mile in 13.3 seconds at 104.2 mph. It also stops well, coming to rest from 60 mph in 110 feet.

The 2021 Volvo S90 Recharge benefits from the same upgrades the company deployed across its entire vehicle lineup for this model year. Blind-spot monitoring, hands-free keyless entry, rear cross-traffic alert, and curve-adaptive LED headlights with automatic high-beams are now standard, as are LED foglights and power-folding auto-dimming side mirrors. Additionally, Volvo’s 90-series vehicles benefit from freshly revised looks, thanks to new front and rear fascias, taillights, wheel designs, and a rear spoiler.

2021 Volvo S90 Recharge: How Does It Drive?

Very well overall, thank you. Our test car came equipped with the optional ($1,200) Four C adaptive air suspension, and it’s tuned in an interesting comfort/sport manner for a luxury car.

The first thing we noticed about the ride: The 2021 Volvo S90 Recharge feels relatively firmly damped. The upside to this shock-absorber setup is good body control in virtually all conditions; you never feel like the car floats over the road, instead giving you an impression of being tied solidly to the pavement. And it never beats you up. On the flip side, the ride might be slightly too firm for people who equate luxury with absolute isolation from the forces at play between road, tire, suspension, and chassis.

Given Volvo’s desire to build comfortable but not mushy-feeling cars, and considering the S90’s weight, dialing back the damping to any meaningful degree might improve first impressions of comfort. But it would also likely introduce a level of annoying, wallowing chassis behavior not worth the trade-off in day-after-day driving. Volvo ultimately has this equation mostly right, and if we’re the customer, we’re sticking with the standard 19-inch wheels rather than the heavier optional 20-inchers our test model carried, as this simple change alone provides noticeably more compliance.

Wholly unrelated to the above, we have two minor gripes for Volvo to rectify: We felt a surprising amount of drivetrain vibration through the steering wheel when stopped at red lights with the combustion engine running. It’s not an issue most of the time, because you’ll likely have the auto stop/start function activated and the engine will be off once you come to a halt. But it’s rather irritating when it does happen, enough so that you find yourself taking your hands off of the wheel in response.

We’re also not fans of—and Volvo is not the only manufacturer to feature this trait—the gear-select lever functioning like a sequential shifter, with no way to shift quickly to the drive setting you desire. For example, imagine the car is in park. Want to back up? You have to push the lever forward once and release it to get neutral, then do it again for reverse. Once you’re finished backing out of your driveway or a parking space, you have to pull the lever back toward you and cycle again through neutral before you can select drive. The cumbersome process exists for safety—”But I didn’t know I was in reverse, officer!”—but it’s aggravating.

2021 Volvo S90 Recharge: About That Plug-In Capability

Yes, the presence of an electric motor is welcome: You get more power and torque and reasonable overall mileage along with it for such a large, heavy car: 28/31/30 mpg city/highway/combined after the 11.6-kWh battery is depleted. You also benefit from rear-wheel-drive motivation enabling all-wheel drive, especially in climates where rain and snow are common. But as we tested the 2021 Volvo S90 Recharge T8 Inscription, we also wanted to know how it functions on battery power alone.

If you think to yourself, “I usually commute 20 miles or so per day, so I should be able to experience the S90 Recharge as an electric car thanks to its 23-mile all-electric range,” well, you’re correct. And incorrect. The S90 Recharge’s usability in this way depends hugely upon your driving style and the roads you typically travel.

After charging the battery fully from zero—using a standard 12-V plug, it takes about 6.5 hours; using a 220V outlet will get the job done in about 4—I embarked on a drive to see if reality matched the battery display’s estimate of 23 miles of pure-electric potential. Lo and behold, using the trip odometer as a record keeper, the S90 Recharge covered just more than 23 miles before the four-cylinder engine fired up to keep the car rolling.

My route included 15 miles of driving on California’s infamous I-405 freeway, and while I managed to remain in electric-only mode the entire way, it’s not something you’ll want to do as habit. The small electric motor’s paltry output often turns you into a rolling roadblock, the S90 taking a long time to accelerate and struggling to reach, let alone exceed, 70 mph.

Officially, Volvo says 78 mph is achievable on electric power, and we managed to crack 80, especially when heading slightly downhill and coasting. But you’ll need to play with the car, read the road, and at times switch between EV and hybrid modes to maximize performance. If you don’t, you’ll hit a virtual wall when you encounter any noticeable upward grade. When this happens, the Volvo struggles to crack 60 mph, and when you instinctively respond by pushing the pedal dead to the floor, the gasoline engine kicks in and ends your EV fantasy.

You can, however, absolutely live easily in electric mode on flat city streets. Need to make a Saturday run to the Target a few miles away, then to the bank, and maybe another destination or two on your way home? It’s doable without burning a drop of gasoline, as long as your full trip doesn’t exceed 20 miles, give or take. In the big picture, though, the Volvo S90 Recharge will spend 95 percent or more of its life operating in hybrid mode with its electric motor acting as a performance-boosting aid and not as the principal source of propulsion.

2021 Volvo S90 Recharge: Overall

Use the S90 Recharge as intended, and it’s a fantastic long-wheelbase luxury sedan. Its design and styling are Tier 1 inside and out—especially inside, where the cabin is almost mesmerizingly clean and relaxing in its appearance. The powertrain has enough mojo to satisfy anyone who doesn’t come into it looking for AMG- or M-performance levels, which only a fool would do.

Regardless, you’ll find loads of private-jet-like room in front and in back, along with correspondingly attractive and tactile trimmings to match. Our 2021 Volvo S90 T8 Inscription test car carried $9,645 of optional equipment, including nap-inducing massaging front seats, heated and ventilated rear seats, and a window-smashing Bowers & Wilkins sound system. Scratch all the extras off the build sheet, and we’re still impressed with the S90 Recharge, as we remain with Volvo overall today. If the S90 can find the formula for gifting its suspension setups a smidge more compliance without paying a price in terms of body control, it’ll really hit the luxury-sedan Powerball. If not, it’s still a big winner.

2021 Volvo S90 Recharge T8 Inscription Pros

  • Beautiful inside and out, but especially inside
  • Plenty of standard safety equipment and tech features
  • Good value within the segment

2021 Volvo S90 Recharge T8 Inscription Cons

Looks good! More details?

  • Ride might be too firm for some luxury buyers
  • Drivers looking for a true sports sedan should look elsewhere
  • Annoying vibration at idle, annoying gear selector
2021 Volvo S90 T8 AWD Recharge
BASE PRICE $61,095
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/313-hp/295-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4, plus 87-hp/177-lb-ft elec motors; 400 hp (comb)
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,699 lb (54/46%)
WHEELBASE 120.5 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 200.4 x 74.4 x 57.1 in
0-60 MPH 4.7 sec
QUARTER MILE 13.3 sec @ 104.2 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 110 ft
MT FIGURE EIGHT 25.6 sec @ 0.73 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 28/31/30 mpg (gas), 58/64/60 mpg-e (gas+elec)
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 120/109 (gas), 58/53 (gas + elec) kWh/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.66 (gas), 0.32 (gas+elec) lb/mile

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