► XC90 gains mild hybrid options
► Electrified powertrains growing
► Seven-seat SUV updated for 2020
Volvo’s commitment to a rapidly electrified line-up is progressing apace. Not yet in the form of full electric production models, but with a bigger and better choice of hybrids. That includes various mild-hybrid versions of the XC60, while the smaller XC40 will be taking the plug-in hybrid route, in T4 and T5 forms.
And the range-topping seven-seat XC90 gets this car, the B5, a mild hybrid diesel replacing the D5 diesel. There will also be a petrol mild hybrid, again badged B5 (those crazy Swedes just thrive on chaos), and a B6 petrol mild hybrid.
Meanwhile, the familiar XC90 T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid has had its electric-only range boosted.
As well as all these improvements under the skin, the XC90 also gets a visual nip and tuck: new grille, bumper and air intakes, and in the case of the R-Design version there’s new all-black trim.
There have been slight upgrades across the board to the level of standard trim, more than offsetting some modest price rises.
Hang on – what sort of mild hybrid is this?
You’re right to be cautious, as ‘mild hybrid’ is a term that isn’t used in the same way by everybody. But the good news is that Volvo means exactly the same as Mercedes does when it employs the label: a largely conventional combustion engine is combined with a 48-volt battery, a kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) and an integrated starter-generator (ISG).
When you brake or take your foot off the throttle, the KERS captures surplus energy and stores it as electricity in the extra battery in the boot. That bonus electricity can be used to boost the engine if required when accelerating; and restart it using the ISG after it’s been paused; and power ancillary functions.
The idea is to make the engine more efficient via smoother transitions between driving, cruising and resting, not to offer periods of electric-only driving. The claims are modest but worthwhile: an improvement of up to 15 per cent in fuel economy. Aiding all this is a revised automatic gearbox and Volvo’s first brake-by-wire system.
The even better news is that you don’t need to know any of this. The technology is so seamlessly incorporated into the diesel engine and eight-speed auto that you could happily go about your day in the B5 entirely unaware that it has any sort of hybrid element. You aren’t required to look at any fancy graphics or press any buttons or go to special pumps or plug anything in. You just drive it like you would a D5, but with a better chance of your final destination not being eternal damnation.
So no big surprises…
If you’ve ever driven any big Volvo 4x4 this will feel entirely familiar. If you notice anything different at all, it will be that this is a particularly well-sorted XC90. At a time when so many big diesels have an infuriating lag built in to the throttle response, and gearing designed to encourage sedate progress, the Volvo is refreshingly smooth, seamless and brisk.
It’s no performance car, but the engine makes a very good job of responding instantly to your inputs, and lets you forget what a big, heavy car this is. It steers and rides nicely too, in a big SUV kind of way.
What do you get for your money?
The XC90 range now starts at £52,235, and the B5 is available (in Momentum trim) for £53,285; our B5 R-Design is £56,585. The most expensive XC90 is a T8 in Inscription Pro spec, which is £71,945. So, broadly speaking, that’s slightly more than a Land Rover Discovery across the board.
All XC90s come with seven seats and a long list of standard features including voice-activated infotainment, LED headlights, a rear parking camera, a nine-inch central touchscreen and immense quantities of electronic safety equipment. Entry-level Momentum really is all you need, but stepping up to R-Design gives a slightly sharper edge to the styling and a sportier feel to the interior, while Inscription and Inscription Pro go full luxury.
Extras can be bought individually or in packs, so you end up with the Volvo you want – and who really wants crystal gearknobs and illuminated rear footwells? – at the risk of also ending up with a big bill.
Volvo XC90 B5: verdict
Compared to the D5 diesel it replaces, the B5 is slightly more expensive, slightly more economical, slightly more powerful, with slightly less space in the still massive boot.
It’s reassuringly normal to look at and to operate. You’ve come to the wrong place if you want something as radical as a Prius, let alone a Tesla. But if you were thinking of going for an old-school petrol or diesel, then this is not only slightly greener, it’s also every bit as good to drive and very easy to live with. This is an exceptionally smooth and refined diesel. The mild-hybrid technology has been employed not to make a statement but to offer a slightly more efficient and sustainable version of a regular car – a big, heavy regular car.
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