Volvo makes cars that encompass the compelling characteristics of Scandinavian design — simplicity, minimalism and functionality. The 2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge T8 Inscription oozes with automotive modernism.
A three-row, midsized luxury SUV offered for two decades, the XC90 is available in T5, T6 or Recharge (T8) options. The powertrains are mated to trim levels with marketing wizards’ think session wordplay. Momentum (called Inscription Expression for the Recharge powertrain), R-Design and Inscription.
The 2021 offerings are largely carryovers from last year, with a few keen changes, for the second edition that debuted in 2016. The T8 plug-in hybrid model is now known as Recharge. The standard features list throughout the lineup is further extensive.
Every Volvo model now had front parking sensors, LED headlights that turn with the steering wheel, high-pressure headlight washers, wireless charging, two USB-C ports on the back of the center console Care Key. It allows an owner to set limitations on the vehicle’s top speed. Adaptive headlights, a wireless charging pad and front parking sensors are also newly standard features.
2021 Volvo XC90: EV Oddity
Other updates include the addition of Savile Grey metallic paint and new wheel options. Updated speaker cones come with Bowers & Wilkins sound system. Volvo’s signature waterfall grille has also been re-sculpted with a concave design.
The XC90 Recharge is the top-line model. The plug-in hybrid combines a gas engine matched with an electric motor to produce 400 horsepower. It’s the only puzzling feature of the SUV. The EV range is 18 miles, which seems like nothing more than an afterthought.
All XC90 have eight-speed automatic transmission and are rated with 5,000-pound towing capacities. Gas mile mileage is 25 miles per gallon in city driving, 39 mpg on the highway with gas and 73 MPGe. Acceleration from 0-60 miles per hour in 4.9 seconds.
Volvo scrapped its boxy exterior design years ago for a modern European look. The XC90 received the best of it, which the carmaker knew was necessary. Competition includes: Audi RS Q8, BMW X5, BMW X6, Genesis GV80 and Porsche Cayenne. The Volvo XC90 Recharge T8 Inscription’s $75,000 price positions it in the middle of a stellar group.
The XC90 is the segment leader in driving comfort and aesthetics. The cabin is dominated by soft leather, complemented with matted wood and black trim. Metal strips are also part of the trim, resulting in the XC90’s interior resembling a Scandinavian furniture store showroom on a small scale. A cabin-length panoramic sunroof further adds to the comfort.
Starting, spotting and shifting the Volvo is all about finesse. The Volvo starts and stops with the slight turn of a console knob. The translucent shifter is Orrefors crystal. It operates with gentle flicks, never shifts.
Every model has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. A mobile Wi-Fi hotspot is optional. True to its minimalism, the XC90 has few control buttons, knobs and switches.
Safety has always been a Volvo priority. The 2021 XC90 comes standard with myriad safety features grouped into the Volvo Pilot Assist system. It includes adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane keep assist and rear cross-traffic alert.
Two minor squabbles: Volvo makes heavy vehicles. The Volvo XC90 weighs more than 5,000 pounds, and with its soft brakes, more distance is needed to appropriate stop. The driver’s view through the passenger side window is partially obscured by a wide pillar.
Regardless, the 2021 Volvo XC90 doesn’t get the same attention as much of its competition. But it’s as worthy as all of its German rivals. Only its latest competitor, the Genesis GV80, offers a better value.
Article Last Updated: July 27, 2021.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.