WHEN hybrid cars came on the scene there was a feeling they would be popular among commuting types in city cars.
After all, with a limited range in electric mode it would make sense for people with, say, 20-mile trips to work and back.
But the real rush for hybrid power has been among the huge 4x4s such as the Volvo XC90 tested here.
Driving such a chunky SUV is normally so expensive that sales would be limited to the super-rich. But if you add the benefit of hybrid motoring, these desirable vehicles suddenly start to make financial sense.
Take the XC90. It’s a very decent alternative to a Range Rover or an Audi Q7 and it is incredibly hi-tech. In fact, it’s one of the most sophisticated cars on the road.
It’s also one of the sportiest, given its size, for it manages 143mph and 0 to 60mph in 5.6 seconds.
But this 3,010kg monster will return up to 134mpg, provided you recharge the electric motor. Even in petrol-only mode it will give you just short of 50mpg. No wonder Volvo call it the first SUV without compromise.
These things don’t come cheap, of course. The XC90 starts at £46,850 and the test model is £60,455 for the 2.0 T8 AWD Momentum hybrid. Sounds a lot? Well, the Range Rover is at least £75,000 and the Audi Q7 starts at more than £48,000.
So, how does the XC90 rate? Well, it’s a huge vehicle - equal in size to the Q7 and Range Rover - yet it feels quite compact and lithe. The reversing cameras and sensors are useful given the vehicle’s bulk.
It isn’t a perfect car, though. There is some wind noise and the petrol engine can be noisier than expected at times, while the sophisticated gadgetry can be a little too much. You may love it; I found most of it interesting, but some aspects were just a touch too fussy. Turning the engine on, for example, requires you to choose from several power options on a computer screen after turning on a button.
Having said that, I loved the screen options for satellite navigation and ride options such as economy and sports. I also adored the engine which was both flexible and powerful.
Accommodation is great, too, with five main seats and two usable extra seats in the boot making it a proper seven-seater.
The XC90 has a lot of rivals such as Q7, Range Rover, Land Rover Discovery and BMW X5, while pricier versions also compete with the Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne. But few are as good all-round as the XC90
The cabin is the XC90’s strong point putting even German rivals in the shade, while the eight-speed automatic gearbox is terrific. Even the comparatively heavy T8 with its extra batteries onboard manages to remain comfortable.
Being a Volvo, safety is paramount. This car features a flood of excellent features such as lane departure warnings and automatic braking if the driver turns in front of an oncoming car.
Add to that admirable luxury such as fantastic stereo and excellent air conditioning, and you can see why Volvo say the XC90 marks the reinvention of the marque.
Volvo XC90 2.0 T8 AWD Momentum hybrid
PRICE: £60,455 on the road. Range starts at £46,850
ENGINE: A 1,969cc petrol engine and electric motor combining to offer 395bhp
PERFORMANCE: Top speed 143mph and 0 to 60mph in 5.6 seconds
COSTS: 134mpg from fully charged
WARRANTY: Three years, 60,000 miles