2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 First Test: Hybrid Hype

Volvo XC60 Full Overview

“I’ve loved being in this thing,” I heard over my shoulder as we made the trek down Highway 1 after a short weekend getaway. That comment came from my high school friend, Luke, who was riding in the back seat of the 2021 Volvo XC60 T8 Recharge. Our little trip was planned to mark a couple of occasions. One, our friend was getting married. Two, with the coronavirus pandemic finally starting to release its stranglehold on, well, everything, it was high time to take a vacation with my brothers from other mothers.

As sedans and sports cars fade ever further out of view, and SUVs and electric vehicles lurk ever closer, the XC60 Recharge T8 serves as a happy medium between the “right now” and the “eventually.” Its mix of gasoline-electric hybrid power and understated luxury was deemed ideal for the journey from the sprawl of Los Angeles to the more hoity-toity surroundings of Paso Robles, California. And while Luke and the gang might have thought the Volvo was simply a nice treat courtesy of MotorTrend, our ultimate goal was to give the XC60 Recharge a thorough going over along the way.

The XC60’s Shot At Redemption

The last plug-in hybrid XC60 we tested was a Polestar guise. Admittedly, we couldn’t quite come to grips with it. Despite its promise of both performance and luxury, we found that version of the XC60 to be “discombobulated.” It left us wanting more. A holistic package, the XC60 Polestar was not. But this version of the XC60—dubbed “Recharge T8” to denote its plug-in-hybrid powertrain—doesn’t present as a performance machine.

It lacks the Polestar’s Akebono brakes, its powertrain makes ever-so-slightly-less power, and it ditches the manually adjustable Öhlins dampers in favor of a set of air springs. This might sound like a loss, but the XC60 Recharge is all the better for it. As neat as a fully adjustable set of coil-overs are in concept, such a setup is impractical in practice since few owners will actually bother to crawl underneath the vehicle to adjust each unit.

Besides, it’s far too easy to mismatch the setup of the Polestar’s shocks. One shock might be firmer or softer than the other three, which ultimately leads to far too much fiddling. Letting Volvo’s level-control system handle the XC60’s ride height and comfort level is much less of a head-scratcher and means less time worrying about ride comfort and more time in the driver’s seat.

As different in aim as these two XC60 hybrids may be, there are some similarities between this Recharge T8 and its Polestar stablemate. The most obvious are the two XC60 trims’ handsome sheetmetal (minus all the gilded accoutrements) and the swanky interior (minus a bit of suede). Underneath all that lies essentially the same super- and turbocharged 2.0-liter I-4 engine. In the Recharge T8, the engine works in combination with an 87-hp electric motor that’s fed power by way of an 11.6-kWh battery pack to produce a total of 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque—15 horses and 22 lb-ft of twist less than the Polestar.

The XC60 Is Still a Pretty Hot Hybrid

The T8 Recharge’s plug-in hybrid powertrain means it’s capable of performing as either a standard hybrid—which combines an electric motor and an internal combustion engine—or as an electric vehicle. The latter use, however, is best for short jaunts, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates the XC60 Recharge T8’s battery-electric driving range at just 18 miles.

Despite being down on power compared to the Polestar, the Recharge performed admirably on the drag strip. A side-step launch helped scoot the XC60 from 0 to 60 mph in 5.0 seconds and through the quarter mile at 13.6 seconds with a trap speed of 101.6 mph. Blistering? Not quite. But it was 0.1 second quicker to 60 mph than the more performance-oriented Polestar. The Recharge T8 even had a slightly higher trap speed through the quarter mile, although the Polestar matched its 13.6-second trot to the 1,320-foot mark.

Where the Polestar’s performance bits make a difference, however, is in the braking zones and in corners. Stopping from 60 mph took this all-season-clad Denim Blue XC60 114 feet. By comparison, the XC60 Polestar did the same deed in 106 feet. Credit the Polestar’s summer-rated Pirelli P Zero rubber, as well as its aforementioned Akebono brakes and golden calipers. Even so, the XC60 Recharge T8 lands right in the middle of its segment, just behind that of our summer-rubber-equipped 2018 BMW X3 M40i long-term test vehicle that needed 112 feet, but four feet in front of an all-season-wearing 2020 Lincoln Corsair 2.3T Reserve we tested.

Around our figure-eight course, the XC60 Recharge T8 posted a tidy 26.3-second lap at an average of 0.69 g. Road test editor Chris Walton noted the extra pep from the electric motor and complimented the car’s talkative brake pedal. Dig too deep into the brakes, though, and the Volvo’s seat belts tighten quickly to restrain passengers in the event of an impending collision. Even though that might be an alarming first-time experience for the driver, safety features like this are part of the reason the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) designates the XC60 a Top Safety Pick Plus winner, while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awards Volvo’s compact SUV a five-star overall crash rating.

Though Walton said this Volvo was on the sportier end of his SUV barometer, the Polestar was still quicker through the figure eight. With its bigger wheels, stickier rubber, better brakes, and extra power, it managed a time of 25.5 seconds at an average of 0.72 g. So all that extra go-faster kit buys you almost
a second around what is a very small road course. That’s well worth it if you’re seeking performance from your Volvo, but the BMW X3M and Mercedes-AMG GLC63 are still better bets if an SUV with some real kick is on your wishlist.

This Isn’t a Performance SUV, and That’s Okay

If you aren’t looking for something with 500 hp and 200-treadwear rubber, and instead want something supple that cossets you and your family while also being both safe and—relatively—environmentally friendly, then the XC60 T8 Recharge deserves a look. On the journey up from L.A., the Volvo’s air suspension and luxurious cabin meant the miles tumbled like perfectly stacked dominos. Soaking up every lump and bump on the way, the Volvo turned what could have been a taxing three-hour drive into 180 minutes of quality time spent with some of our oldest friends.

The Volvo’s “Power” mode was used to get the max out of the gas engine when we needed a little passing power, and EV mode was there when we were simply cruising along and taking in California’s verdant coastline. Hybrid mode, the default setting, intelligently switched between the SUV’s two power sources.

According to the EPA, the XC60 Recharge T8 returns 57 mpg-e if you regularly plug it in to keep the battery charged, or 27 mpg combined if you avoid the electric-only drive mode and exclusively go the hybrid route. We averaged 21-mpg (without any charging whatsoever), which struck us as a rather admirable figure given we burdened this 4,747-pound Volvo with the additional mass of four fully grown men and their associated luggage.

Excellent Execution, Inside and Out

We appreciated other thoughtful touches about the XC60 Recharge T8, as well. Volvo’s standard blind-spot monitoring kept us on the straight and narrow, cooled seats (“A/Ceats,” as they came to be known on our journey) helped us stay comfortable, and the crystal gear selector was simply nice to look at. Whatever was asked of the XC60, it happily obliged and asked for nothing but one fuel stop in return.

After four days, everyone who rode in the XC60 Recharge was in perfect agreement—a rare occurrence among an opinionated group of friends. The consensus? This 2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 is an excellent place to spend a lot of seat time. Even with its somewhat steep starting price of $62,095, it’s hard to do much better than this stellar Swede.

Looks good! More details?

SPECIFICATIONS 2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 AWD (Inscription)
BASE PRICE $62,095
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, rear motor, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/313-hp/295-lb-ft turbo + supercharged DOHC 16-valve I-4, plus 87-hp/177-lb-ft elec motor; 328-hp/430-lb-ft (comb)
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,747 lb (54/46%)
WHEELBASE 112.8 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 184.6 x 74.9 x 65.3 in
0-60 MPH 5.0 sec
QUARTER MILE 13.6 sec @ 101.6 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 114 ft
MT FIGURE EIGHT 26.3 sec @ 0.69 g (avg)
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 60/59 kWh/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.34 lb/mile
*EPA blended-PHEV (charge-depleting) mode testing, with vehicles set to their default drive and brake-regeneration modes.