Review: 2022 Volvo XC90 Recharge T8 Inscription

Matthew Tierney

Especially in the SUV world, luxury is often communicated through association, whether to a famous motorsports division (M or AMG) or to off-roading cahones (Land Rover). Crossovers billed under such legendary nameplates often possess split identities—part cushy family hauler, part chest-thumping performance vehicle. In the sub-$100K sector, it’s rare to find a posh SUV that is confident enough to eschew such pretentions and stand on luxury alone. Genesis’ GV80 is a recent example of this focused approach, but there’s another, more established contender in the three-row segment: the Volvo XC90.

Though the second-generation XC90 is now in its seventh year on the market, the biggest of Volvo’s three SUVs had its best-ever year in 2021, with 38,657 sales in the U.S. alone. You may find its Chinese ownership distasteful, but a glance at sales numbers shows that Geely’s corporate parenting has been kind to Volvo, sold off by a desperate Ford in 2010: U.S. sales leaped in 2018 with the arrival of the second-gen XC60, the XC90’s smaller SUV brother, from 81K to nearly 98K units. In 2021, Volvo posted its best-ever year here, with 123,242 overall sales. For the 2022 model year, Volvo has wisely decided not to fix what ain’t broke, boosting the all-electric range and overall output of its plug-in models, designated “Recharge,” including the XC90 featured here. We’ll break down those mechanical changes in a moment, but the most immediate advantage for buyers is that plug-in XC90s now qualify for the full $7500 federal tax credit.

plug-in XC90s
Matthew Tierney

Consider that rebate your license to spec the single most expensive option on the XC90’s order sheet, the $3200 Bowers & Wilkins stereo. (More details later; it’s a true treat on a sub-$100K vehicle.) The 8000 dollars’ worth of additional options on our $84,090 test vehicle testifies to the lavishness of Volvo’s catalog. Not every add-on is equally worth its price, of course. The $1700 Lounge package, which adds a suede headliner and a massaging feature to the front chairs, is unnecessary, in your author’s opinion, if only because the front seats are so good as-is. The $1650 Advanced Package is a no-brainer if you want a head-up display and a 360-degree camera, which is helpful for parking this rather large vehicle. Jury’s out on the $1800 air suspension, if only because the glamorous 22-inch wheels with their skinny sidewalls like to ruin the cushy party.

Our tester was an Inscription model, the ritzy, $6300 upgrade from the base Inscription Expression ($66,990). Both trims are bechromed alternatives to the edgier, black-accented R-Design model ($72,690). Unless your budget is strictly sub-$70K, you’ll want to upgrade to the full-fledged Inscription model, which decks out the handsome, clean contours of the SUV’s cabin in light shades of rich materials—grey ash wood and cream-colored Nappa leather. Along with the mid-tier Harman Kardon audio upgrade and highly adjustable front seats, the Inscription trim even adds a crystal shift knob lit from the bottom with a tiny bulb. At first we rolled our eyes—what was this, grandma’s curio cabinet?—but the unusually hard, cool material proved mesmerizing after a few days.

volvo interior
Compared to Mercedes’ 64-color ambient lighting array or its active fragrance packages, Volvo’s one concession to glitz is arguably restrained. Matthew Tierney

The airy simplicity of the cabin is disarming, an impression countermanded by the excessively light steering. This is a big SUV that, unlike Kia’s thousands-cheaper Telluride, does without any trick blind-spot video feeds. Thanks to the vehicle’s boxy, upright construction, visibility is good enough that you’ll learn to compensate, but we wish the wheel communicated a little more heft up front.

The powertrain is certainly beefy enough: 2022 brings an extended range option that yields 455 combined hp and a whopping 523 lb-ft of torque from a turbo four and a rear-mounted electric motor. At $1000, the upgrade is a no-brainer, bringing battery-only range to between 35 and 41 miles thanks to a third layer of cells in the pack and supplying the rear wheels with another 55 hp and 51 lb-ft of torque thanks to a re-tune of the electric motor. The eight-speed transmission is hardly motorsports-tuned, but give it a second to gather its skirts and this 5000-pound SUV will hustle. Wind noise is well-controlled, making the XC90 a remarkably pleasant highway cruiser—as long as pavement is smooth. The larger, 20-inch wheels are wrapped in tires with very skinny (40-section) sidewalls, and at high speed impacts are both noisy and mildly jarring. The optional air suspension absorbed sharp bumps well at lower speeds—say, below 35 mph—but above that couldn’t quite keep up. We’d be curious to drive a car without the $1800 suspension upgrade, since our tester displayed a bobbly personality. Drive it chauffeur-smooth, and you won’t notice, but roundabouts require early and concentrated braking. If you’re looking to tow with your XC90, allow us to direct you to this hauling-specific review.

Volvo driving
All kinds of funny noises filter through the cowl: hisses, whirs, whistles, and a few chugs—all muted of course, but undisguisable. Matthew Tierney

As with most of Volvo’s products, the one major hiccup is the slow-to-wake infotainment. That said, if you have any sort of water-in-cupholder, phone-in-cubby, purse-in-passenger-seat routine, you won’t be bothered. It’s also equipped with an antiquated on-board navigation system that won’t let you simply key in a street address beginning with street number and ending with zip code. The system doesn’t support wireless CarPlay, either—not a hassle, given the included (and leather-wrapped) USB to Lightning cords, except for on the sixth day of our test, when the system inexplicably refused to recognize either a second-gen iPhone SE or an XR via the hard-wired connection. Twenty minutes later, the issue resolved itself. Just Swedish things? We hope not.

All such frustrations are forgotten once you crank the Bowers & Wilkins audio system, the highest of the three available for this model. Its 1400W, 12-channel amplifier drives 19 speakers; to put that in perspective, those specs exceed those of most mid-range home theaters. Astonishingly clear and powerful, it’s a delight at low or high volume. A single, rear-facing tweeter mounted in the center of the dash, rather than one in each A-pillar, minimizes reflective noise and keeps trebles from ice-picking one of your ears at close range. Even the bass can punch through a Cory Wong single at three-quarter shout without inducing a migraine. For a family hauler, yes, such a $3500 system is over the top—but the XC90 is a luxury vehicle. That’s the point.

Spacious and efficient (the EPA rates the Recharge model at 55 MPGe combined), the XC90 is a worthy flagship for 21st century Volvo. (Don’t blame Geely for dropping the gorgeous and more traditionally Volvo V90 wagon from the U.S. lineup, either; we simply weren’t buying it.) It satisfies the needs and desires of the U.S. crowd well, which speaks to the attentiveness of Volvo’s product planners, considering that the states comprised barely one sixth of Volvo’s banner, 600K-unit sales year in 2021. Surprisingly, the XC90’s understated, luxe personality wins more customers from the usual German suspects (X5, Cayenne, Q5) than Land Rover’s cool-kid Discovery, which sold just 4398 units in 2021.

Volvo in the age of Geely has long abandoned the dry humor, frugal pricing, and professorial aesthetic of yesteryear, but even this 240 lover can admit that Gothenburg’s favorite manufacturer is better for the leadership change. As of 2022, U.S.-market XC90 will be built exclusively in South Carolina, too. For those indifferent to the German luxury aesthetic, it’s time to ditch the prejudice and enjoy the good life.

Volvo XC90 driving
The XC90 can’t rival a wagon for easy load height, but even with the third row up, the rear cargo area is generous enough for a trip to Costco. Matthew Tierney




2022 Volvo XC90 Recharge T8 Inscription

Price: $72,195 / $84,090 (base / as-tested)

Highs: Robust sound system, handsome interior executed in high-end materials, efficient powertrain, little pretention to high performance on- or off-road.

Lows: Lack of sidewall, sleepy infotainment with antiquated navigation.

Summary: A U.S.-built SUV whose understated luxury will charm those willing to look past the usual Germans.

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