Can there be too much of a good thing? Perhaps so in the case of the 2016 Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design, longhand for the plug-in hybrid version of the Swedish automaker’s flagship SUV. There is much to recommend for the XC90, which won the prestigious North American Truck/Utility of the Year award. It’s handsome inside and out, with high tech features including a larger center touchscreen that rivals the Tesla Model S unit for cool factor. And there’s the useful and well-appointed interior with 3-row seating that can accommodate up to 7 passengers.

The T8 R-Design boasts decidedly non-SUV fuel economy numbers. The EPA gives it a 58 mpg-e rating for its ability to drive up to 14 miles in pure EV mode and 25 mpg for its 2.0-liter 4-cylinder gas engine. But lurking beneath this handsome exterior is a combined 400 horsepower output from the combination of the 313-horsepower engine, 87-horsepower electric motors and 9.2 kWh lithium ion battery pack. Adding to the mechanical edge are adjustable driver modes, steering wheel paddle shifters and R-Design appearance features that include a lower front spoiler, 22-inch alloy wheels, silk-metal trim and interior leather coverings on the seats, steering wheel and even the key fob.

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Split personality

It is this conundrum of efficiency and performance wrapped in luxury that leads to the feeling that perhaps Volvo is trying to be a bit too ambitious here. And, unfortunately, what suffers is basic drivability. It starts with the Orrefors crystal shifter that needs to be pushed twice to engage either drive or reverse—you do eventually adapt to it, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying especially when you’re trying to quickly maneuver the vehicle around a parking lot with people waiting.

In motion, the XC90 also doesn’t seem to know if it’s supposed to be a fuel-sipper or a road-ripper. Depending on throttle tip in it either wants to ease away from a stop in EV mode or jump off the line by rousing the engine from its stop/start slumber. In any event, it’s neither as seamless nor predictable as other dual power vehicles on the market. The same goes for the braking. Depending on the aggressiveness of the regen braking, finding a consistent, linear pedal feel is difficult. More than once, I found myself having to really jam on the binders for that last bit of stopping power. Switching from Eco to Normal modes didn’t seem to have much effect on the predictability of the braking effort.

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Lap of luxury

Aside from this economy versus performance dichotomy, Volvo certainly got the luxury part of the equation right. The seats are comfortable, the interior trappings are of high quality and well put-together, and even though there are sporting pretensions to the T8 package, the ride is comfortable and well controlled. And the vehicle simply looks stunning, especially in the optional $560 metallic white paint scheme. Of course, as Volvo moves up into the top end of luxury realm, it’s also commanding higher prices. Base MSRP on the 2016 XC90 T8 is $68,100, the R-Design package adds another $1,900 and the vision package with blind-spot and cross-traffic alert and surround view camera adds another $1,800. The vehicle also include a climate package with heated rear seats and a head-up display for $1,700 and an $1,800 convenience package includes park assist, adaptive cruise and lane keeping assist (which was a bit too aggressive for my tastes). Other big ticket options included the $1,000 22-inch wheels, $2,500 for the premium sound system and $1,800 for air suspension. Add in $995 for delivery and our test model netted out at $82,405. As much as I like the standard XC90, the new plug-in for all its promise of fuel efficiency and performance, may be a bridge too far in a world where gas is somewhere between $2 and $3 per gallon.


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