Five Features I Loved in the Volvo XC90 Recharge Plug-In Hybrid T8 R-Design

The Volvo Xc90 Is Everything You Didn'T Know You Needed In A Car. Photo Cred: Ciaran
The Volvo XC90 is everything you didn't know you needed in a car. Photo cred: Ciaran

These make the 2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge a luxurious safe haven.

My test drive of the 2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge T8 R-Design was a day long. I jumped right in and hit the road. From the ocean, to the mountains, on crowded freeways and in tricky parking garages, I put the XC90 through a similar gauntlet to what I experience in my daily life. 

At the top end of the Volvo spectrum, the XC90 Recharge is priced at $69,150 ($79,690 as equipped). This SUV is certainly very luxurious, but it is a restrained type of luxury. Nothing feels flashy, frivolous or overdone. Every feature is well thought out and purposeful. The attention to detail is impeccable and visible throughout the trim and features.  The XC90 Recharge is a plug-in hybrid, which means it has an electric motor paired with a 4-cylinder engine. While I didn’t have the opportunity to experience charging the car,  it was cool to experience some of my test miles on an electric charge. 

My initial impression was one of warm welcome, and a big hug. I felt safe, protected and seen, from the moment I sat down in the driver’s seat and turned the dial to start the engine. Little did I know that the short duration of my test drive would really show me some standout features in this hybrid SUV from Volvo.

Related: The Luxury Hybrid That Has It All: The 3-Row Volvo XC90 R-Design

Apple Carplay Connects Wirelessly And Easily. Photo: Ciaran Blumenfield

Apple Carplay connects wirelessly and easily. Photo: Ciaran Blumenfield

1. An Instant Connection with the Apple CarPlay App…And it’s Standard

I picked up the XC90 from an airport parking garage. In a hurry to get to my next destination, there was no time to futz around and pair my phone.  I’d already pulled up the directions to my hotel and was prepared to make my way “old school” style, with my phone alerting my watch to turns. Not realizing there was wireless charging available,  I quickly plugged my phone in to keep my battery  topped up. And then the magic happened. From the moment I plugged my phone in, the Apple CarPlay app did it’s thing. Navigation was fast and easy. Later in the day, I would learn that connecting via bluetooth was also seamless and intuitive. 

Living in the LA area means spending a lot of time on the freeway in stop and go or standstill traffic. It’s tempting to peek at your phone when parked on the 405 but I have a hard and fast rule about texting and driving. It’s not ok. It is ok, however, when your vehicle reads the text to you, and waits for your response. Volvo and Apple CarPlay enabled me to have a handle on what was going on in my life, but not be distracted by it.

Not every car tech system makes it easy to stay connected, but Volvo has worked out the kinks and manages to show both vital car system info AND phone info on the split screen so you don’t have to choose or toggle. 

Between the streaming audio, playing my favorite playlists, the ability to respond to texts and take calls with ease, and the simplicity of connecting my phone aka my lifeline to the Volvo XC90, I could see myself driving towards sigalert (sudden, unanticipated heavy) traffic every once in a while, instead of away. Turning traffic jams into “me time” is a magical trick. 

Related: Apple CarPlay: Why I Love It and Why You Need It

Volvo Third Row Seating. Photo: Ciaran Blumenfeld

Volvo Third Row Seating. Photo: Ciaran Blumenfeld

2. Sumptuous Seating Throughout the XC-90 Recharge

Sure the front seats are supportive and comfortable, but what was a surprise and delight to me, was the spaciousness in all three rows of this SUV. Since my kids started driving, we don’t use all three rows as frequently as we once did. But when we do, we use all three rows with a 6”5” teenager in tow. That’s a lot of legroom required. I climbed into the third row of the XC90 and was pleased to find that it wasn’t uncomfortable back there. If I had to buckle in a toddler, or sit back there for a shorter drive, I would be fine with it. It wouldn’t be an issue for me or my now grown kids. 

Related: The 2020 Volvo XC90 Luxury 3 Row SUV Just Got More Elegant

Volvo Xc90 Seating. Photo: Sara Lacey

Volvo XC90 Seating. Photo: Sara Lacey

This was a huge selling point for me because as a mom I can assure you, your kids are not likely to get smaller as time passes. It’s a good idea to think about who will be sitting in that third row a few years down the line. 

An integrated center booster seat option was also a nice touch, making the seating more flexible and versatile, without adding in accessories that can be cumbersome to attach and detach. 

3. 4-Corner Air Suspension

The optional 4-corner air suspension feature costs an additional $1800 and adjusts the car’s height and suspension for different driving conditions. This allows you to raise the vehicle’s clearance for off-road driving and lower it for highway conditions. I love the versatility that this adds but will admit it’s not just the ability to adjust the vehicle for different driving conditions that appeals to me. I frequently drive with my 90-something mom in the car and it’s difficult for her to get in and out of a properly lifted SUV. 

Getting in and out of a tall vehicle can be difficult for young children as well. Lifting small children in and out of SUVs is difficult for my back. When shopping for an SUV, entry height is always on my mind. 

Certainly the ability to adjust the height of the vehicle for the conditions on the road is a boon. But being able to adjust the height of the vehicle in the parking lot, is also a huge win for me. Even a couple of inches makes a difference. Finally I can have my big SUV without having to worry about how my elderly mom is going to get in and out when I need to take her to the doctor. 

Related: Volvo XC90 Review: The Luxury SUV That Makes the Carpool Less Painful

Volvo Xc90 Front Angle. Photo: Ciaran Blumenfeld

Volvo XC90 Front Angle. Photo: Ciaran Blumenfeld

4. LED Headlights with Active Bending Lights

I hate night driving. I don’t have the best night vision and not seeing what’s around the bend makes me incredibly nervous. The Volvo XC90’s bright LED headlights turn with you, illuminating curves in the road and increasing visibility.  The ability to see what’s coming inspires confidence and makes the experience of night driving so much safer and more comfortable. 

If dark and winding roads are not your favorite thing ever, then the XC90’s ABL headlights are sure to be one of your favorite features, as well as mine. This is possibly my favorite feature overall. And guess what? It’s a standard feature. Nice!

Related: What You Need to Know About Headlights

5. 360 Surround View Camera

When it came time to park the car in a crowded lot I was super grateful for the 360 Surround View Camera. This camera is part of the $1500 Advanced Package, but was worth it because it allowed me to see exactly where within the lines I was, and exactly how close to the front of the spot I was. 

I can only dream of having this feature for parking at home as well. When I back out of my courtyard driveway, I am always stopping and checking. Rearview cameras are great, but they don’t catch everything coming from the sides that might cross my path. Kids sitting on skateboards, whizzing down the sidewalk, for example.  Or escapee pets dashing across my lawn, towards my driveway. The 360 Surround View Camera gave me the eyes in the back of my head that I’ve always wished I had. 

Ciaran And The Xc90. Photo: Ciaran Blumenfeld

Ciaran and the XC90. Photo: Ciaran Blumenfeld

The Perfect Balance of Safety and Luxury 

The Volvo XC90 Recharge T8 R-Design is like a balm for the crazy and tense driving conditions that a busy mom faces on a daily basis. When I was behind the wheel, I had a sense of calm not unlike the feeling I had as a passenger when I was a child, and had little to worry about beyond whether my brother was making a face at me. I felt safe and taken care of in the car as a kid, and I felt similar in the Volvo.

It’s hard to say which feature was my favorite, because they all add up, layer and intermingle to create that experience of calm, confident control. For the first time in a long time, I found driving across LA to be a complete pleasure.  The XC90 was there for me; it was a supportive, reactive and capable partner in an otherwise unpredictable and crazy world. 

Disclosure: Volvo provided the 2021 XC90 for my review. All opinions and impressions are my own.

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