Electric and hybrid versions used to be considered closer to the basic than to the most powerful engines of the same model. Volvo is changing this, starting with the hybrid T8 Twin Engine.

The process of testing new cars has been more or less the same for years. You fly into a city, rent a car at the airport and drive off. Well, it mostly goes like this, but there are exceptions.

The first journalists flocked to Barcelona in mid-February, but it was test drivers who were waiting for us at the airport, instead of test cars. The new Volvo XC90 is not a regular car, so the first journalists didn't test it in a regular way. A friendly and talkative hotel chauffeur drove me from the airport. Not in his car, naturally, but in the Volvo XC90. Sitting in the back seat, I was thinking how spacious and likeable this car was, and how interesting its design. Clearly, this was the XC90 of the previous generation.

My thoughts were interrupted by the chauffeur's voice asking me if my trip had been problem-free. During our conversation, he confided in me that he came from former Yugoslavia, but he had lived and worked in Spain for over twenty years. He worked as a chauffeur and earned enough to be more than pleased with his life. At the same time, he quickly commended the hotel. It was supposedly beautiful and located right on the beach. Indeed, the Le Meridien Ra Hotel, located halfway between Barcelona and Taragona, is enthralling, with outstanding architecture and a striking location, right next to the sea. But this time, the hotel was not at the forefront of my mind. All my attention was caught by the new XC90, about which Volvo says that it is not only new, but also the herald of a new era for the entire brand. How could it not it be, since Volvo does not only think about the car, but also (along with the driver) about the passengers and other road users? The new Volvo XC90 prides itself on numerous new technologies developed by Volvo's experts. They are among the reasons for the beginning of a new era at Volvo.

The XC90 T8 is immediately enchanting. It is an impressive purebred crossover, just under five meters long, with the best drag coefficient in its category.

However, it seems that the new XC90 T8 is even more amazing inside. Sophisticated lines and carefully-chosen materials, such as Swedish crystal and Scandinavian wood, conjure nobility in the true meaning of the word. But the materials are not the only impressive thing about it, there is also the contents. The information on the completely digital gauges is clearly readable. Standing out is its center console—it is so uncluttered, with only eight buttons and a large upright screen. You do not even have to touch it to move left and right or up and down across the menus, which means that you can use anything, even your fingers warmly wrapped up in gloves. In addition, its upright position turns out to be a good idea in practice—the screen can show more extensive menus (several lines) and a bigger navigational map, and some virtual buttons are larger. So its designers did a great job, and smartphone users will feel right at home in the XC90.

Virtually all the systems in the car, including the audio, can be operated from the screen (but this is not the only option, as the buttons on the steering wheel can also be used to set and/or operate things). This can, by no means, be ignored, since the Bowers & Wilkins sound system creates an excellent audio backdrop, from electronic music studio to a traditional concert hall. Sheer aural pleasure. It is needless to say, of course, that music can also be played from a USB stick or via Bluetooth.

The new Volvo XC90 was built on a completely new SPA (Scalable Platform Architecture) platform. The name itself shows that its basic advantage is that it is scalable. It will, therefore, be used for all new Volvo models. Thanks to this platform, the XC90 prides itself on short bodywork overhangs which, together with air suspension, decisively contribute to the car's good positioning. There is little oscillation of the bodywork, and even less tilting in turns. The speed must be really high, and the turning of the steering wheel must be jerky, in order for drivers (and especially passengers) to realize that they are sitting in a large crossover.

High speeds need a powerful engine. Unlike some, the hybrid version of the XC90 is also the most powerful. The drivetrain is composed of the gasoline-powered T6 engine with a very healthy 238 kW, and an electric motor with 60 kW, which means that Volvo's new plugin hybrid offers a total of 298 kW of system output. The gaspowered engine propels the front wheels, and the electric motor propels those in the rear (therefore, it has fourwheel drive). You can drive up to 40 kilometers on pure electricity, and with but moderate pressure on the gas pedal.

The 9.2 kWh lithiumion batteries must be charged for at least two and a half hours, depending on the capacity of the electric grid and the outside temperature. However, it is difficult to resist driving fast with this hybrid. Its power is just too tempting. The acceleration is assertive, and the system operation excellent. Drivers may choose from several driving modes. The hybrid is intended for daily use. Its system chooses the drive for itself, and ensures the best capacity and fuel consumption. The name of the "pure electric" mode indicates that this driving mode is completely electric, with a range of at least 40 kilometers (which should be sufficient for average daily needs). The power mode promptly provides all available power, and AWD provides constant fourwheel drive, while in the "save" mode, energy may be saved for later use, if the battery is full. If the battery is empty, switching this mode on lets the gas-powered engine know it needs to fill up the batteries.

The main problem with hybrid cars is the weight of the batteries, an issue which has been smoothly resolved by Volvo, by placing them in the center tunnel, which not only ensures the ideal distribution of mass, but also means the volume of the trunk does not have to be reduced because of batteries.

Despite its hybrid drive, the new Volvo XC90 T8 is an impressive and powerful machine. However, it can also be "gentle," since it only needs 2.1 liters of fuel to travel 100 kilometers.

Oct. 30, 2015 Driving photo: Volvo, Saša Kapetanovič

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