Review update: 2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge plug-in hybrid deserves a closer look

It would be a mistake to overlook the 2021 Volvo XC60 crossover SUV. A friend in the market for a luxury-leaning five-seat crossover considered Tesla, Jaguar, and Lincoln, until I showed up in the 2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge plug-in hybrid. 

Volvo may lack the flash and cachet of its German rivals, yet it’s a cut above premium brands such as Cadillac and Lexus. That differentiator makes it stand out, even though the only significant changes to the 2021 XC60 and its high TCC Rating of 7.7 out of 10 are happening more on the brand level. 

In May, Volvo sales of plug-in models eclipsed 20% at a time when many other brands are pledging electrification without delivering on it. 

Volvo calls its electric and plug-in hybrid models Recharge, and its consumer site lists three types of vehicles: Electric Cars, Hybrid Cars, Other Cars. Not SUVs, wagons, sedans. By 2030, Volvo plans to have phased out the internal combustion engine and sell only electric vehicles

For now, its only full battery electric vehicle is the 2021 XC40 Recharge and a forthcoming coupe-like cousin, the 2022 Volvo C40 Recharge. The 2021 XC60 Recharge T8 represents that evolutionary bridge being crossed by the Swedish brand. 

Hit: Volvo style

2021 Volvo XC60

2021 Volvo XC60

2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 Inscription

2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 Inscription

2021 Volvo XC60

2021 Volvo XC60

2021 Volvo XC60

2021 Volvo XC60

Narrowing down his search, my friend expressed concern about the long-term reliability of the Jaguar F-Pace and initial build quality of the Tesla Model Y. I was getting in my tester as we talked. He stepped back from the car, then looked inside and said, “What’s this?”

The more he appraised it, the more he liked it. The classic two-box outline softens into curves on the corners, and features distinct lighting front and rear. Nothing stands out, but the overall statement is simplicity and elegance. 

His eyes really opened when he sat inside. The interior soothes eyes and hides alike with creamy nappa leather upholstery, driftwood trim, chrome accents, a spartan dash, a tidy infotainment interface, and a lack of all the high-gloss black plastic pieces cheapening too many luxury vehicles.

“Huh,” he said. “What’s this go for?”  

Miss: Confusing pricing

My test model officially was a 2021 XC60 Recharge T8 Inscription, but there are Inscriptions upon Inscriptions. There are three model variants for the XC60 Recharge. The base model Inscription costs $55,590, including destination. That’s a deal, considering the more potent 2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e costs $66,395. You could level up to the R-Design for sportier flair, or the Polestar Engineered version for the full performance treatment. 

Just don’t get that model confused with the electric subbrand now called Polestar. OK, simple enough.  

The base Inscription model can be had in either Inscription Expression or, for $7,500 more, Inscription. My tester, with a $61,995 starting price, was the Inscription model with upgraded Inscription trim. Upgrades over the base T8 Inscription Expression included 19-inch black alloy wheels (18s are standard), heated and cooled front power seats with thigh extenders, power folding rear headrests, Harman Kardon sound, navigation, and all the excellent standard safety features from the Inscription Expression. The tester added nearly another $10,000 in options, including an air suspension ($1,800) and a Bowers and Wilkins sound system ($3,200) that strains logic. 

Hit: Lovely seats

Lincoln and Volvo make the comfiest seats in cars today, but go about it differently. Lincoln’s have that plush La-Z-Boy vibe, with thick cushions and up to 30-way power adjustments with massagers. Volvo swivels to the Herman Miller side with smart, stylish, thinner thrones equally as comfortable for the long haul. My tester’s front seats had power thigh cushions, power lumbar support, power side bolsters, and three memory positions, but once I set it I didn’t adjust it the rest of the week. The support and comfort matches Lincoln but without the poofy padding, and when complemented by the spartan cabin design it looks and feels lovely. 

Hit: Built-in booster

2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 Inscription

2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 Inscription

2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 Inscription

2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 Inscription

2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 Inscription

2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 Inscription

2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 Inscription

2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 Inscription

In the back row of this five-seater, Volvo integrates child booster seats in the outboard positions. Ideal for involved grandparents or caregivers that don’t want to deal with booster seats, the integrated boosters pop up with the pull of a latch then lock into place with a button click. It’s super easy and raises the seat about four inches, and fits children who weigh between 33-80 pounds and are at least 37 inches tall. It was part of the $750 Climate Package that includes a heated steering wheel and wiper blades. 

Miss: Infotainment can be glitchy

A couple of times, Volvo’s sleek vertical 9.0-inch touchscreen froze up in shifting between radio modes. Some functions such as heating the seats or locking the battery to preserve the charge take a few swipes, and navigating the four stacked menu panels takes getting used to. So does going from full map view to the main menu items. These are minor gripes that would be remedied by minor tweaks.

Miss: More range

The range monitor may show 20 miles after a full night of charging on a standard 120-volt outlet, but the EPA caps the electric range at 19 miles on power from the 11.6-kwh battery and 87-hp electric motor on the rear wheels. A 50% increase in range to 30 miles or so would power most daily commutes and keep it competitive with other plug-in hybrids, ranging from the 31-mile BMW X5 PHEV to Toyota RAV4 Prime and its 42-mile range. While I’m wishing, I hope Volvo adds a power delivery display to the screen instead of just the gauge in the cluster. 

You can go through the battery’s charge quickly on the freeway, but people willing to switch back and forth between power sources will be rewarded. On a 25-mile trip averaging 48 mph in the default Hybrid mode, the XC60 averaged 30.5 mpg. I hit the battery save button entering and exiting the highway, and used five miles of range. Then on the return, I let the powertrain do its own thing, and averaged 59 mph. It used 11 miles of electric range and averaged 40.4 mpg. The all-electric Pure mode was ideal for around town, and Power mode packed a punch after I dropped off the kids. The EPA estimates an equivalent of 57 MPGe, or 27 mpg when the battery taps out.

For now, the 2021 XC60 Recharge fulfills Volvo’s mission of electrifying its lineup without abandoning the key characteristics of the brand. I’m not sure if my friend will buy one, but he said it’s worth a closer look. 

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2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 Inscription

Base price: $61,995

Price as tested: $71,340

Drivetrain: Supercharged 2.0-liter turbo-4 with 11.6-kwh battery and electric motor paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive

EPA fuel economy: 19-mile electric range, 57 MPGe, 27 mpg combined gas only 

The hits: Style, seats, built-in boosters

The misses: Pricing scheme, tech can misfire, small battery

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