Clarkson's most popular review: 2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine

Thor’s family chariot can race a Ferrari

This article was first published on April 19, 2016. Of all Clarkson’s reviews published on in the last decade, it’s the one that has been read the most.

The Range Rover is an excellent car; fast, luxurious, well made and capable of bumping smoothly over a grouse moor. It’s so excellent in fact that shortly after you take delivery, it will be stolen.

The problem has reached such epidemic proportions that whenever the police in London are not investigating former MPs and army officers for no reason at all, they are apparently under orders to pull over every Range Rover they see. Because chances are the man at the wheel is on his way to Albania.

I suspect this would take the sheen off the ownership experience; coming out of your house in the morning to find your car isn’t there. Or finding it is there and being pulled over every hundred yards by a policeman who will assume you are rich and that therefore you must at some point have done some inappropriate touching.

So if you are not going to buy a Range Rover, what other choices do you have? Well, only one, I’m afraid. And it’s the new Volvo XC90. And now your shoulders have sagged and you are thinking that if that’s the only other option, you may as well commit suicide.

I get that. As a small boy you didn’t lie in bed at night dreaming of the day you could own a Volvo. It’s something you buy for practical reasons, like a pair of gardening gloves. It’s what you do when you are old and everything stops working down there. It’s just somewhere to sit while you wait for the Grim Reaper to pop his head round the corner and say: “Ready?”

The old XC90 was a little different and in some ways even worse because this was a car you bought because it was a safe and practical space for your children. Which meant that it was always bought with just a hint of resentment. You weren’t old enough for a Volvo. You still had fire in your loins. You could still ski and scuba dive, and at parties, women still found you attractive. You wanted a BMW M3.

But you had to have a Volvo because you needed seven seats for your kids. And it was the most practical seven-seater of them all. And it had to be a diesel, really.

This side of a Rolls-Royce Phantom, it’s the nicest interior you’ll find anywhere.

The new XC90, however, is different. Yes, it’s still a Volvo and, yes, it’s still the most practical and sensible seven-seater of them all. But, oh my God, it’s a nice place to sit. It feels like you’re lounging around in one of those Scandinavian furniture shops where everything is beautiful and pale and a chair costs £2,500.

There’s a diamond-cut starter button and a crystal glass gearlever and detailing on the dials that makes the detailing on an IWC watch look like something you’d find on a proud parent’s fridge door. The central command screen is like an iPad and the roof is glass and it’s protected by a cool and crisp electric sunshade made from what looks like white calico.

Every other car in the world feels like the inside of a German’s washbag. They’re all a symphony of dark greys with red detailing. The Volvo is not like that at all. It’s better. This side of a Rolls-Royce Phantom, it’s the nicest interior you’ll find anywhere.

And unlike a Danish chair, it’s not that expensive. Prices for the entry-level all-wheel-drive diesel start at less than £47,000. And so that’s that then. Or is it?

Because the car you see in the pictures this morning is a new version of the XC90. It has the same enormous body and the same spacious and wonderful interior. But this one, says Volvo, can do 134.5 miles to the gallon.

That’s not a misprint. It is actually claiming that this car, which is almost five metres (more than 16ft) long and weighs 2 1/2 tons, can travel from London to Nottingham on less than eight pints of petrol. And that’s not a misprint either. Petrol. Not diesel.

Oh, and just in case you are thinking that it must be fitted with the sort of engine that you’d normally expect to find in a tin opener, consider this: it’ll do 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds. It’s as fast off the line, therefore, as a Ferrari 348.

So what we have here is a large and sensible seven-seater estate car, with an excellent Scandi interior, that can keep up with a Ferrari but do 134.5mpg. Drooling yet?

Well, obviously, there are a few things I need to point out before you rush off to the Volvo dealer. First of all, it can only do 134.5mpg in theory. You’ll never manage that figure in real life. And certainly not if you go from 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds. Oh, and the car I tested, which had a few extras fitted, costs more than £75,000.

It’d be fine in Houston, which is what Sven and Thor were thinking about when they said to one another: “Let’s make it enormous.”

The design is called the T8 Twin Engine, and I like that. Most car companies use the term “hybrid”, which is another word for “mongrel”, but Volvo has been honest and told us what’s what. The car has two engines.

There’s a 316bhp turbocharged and supercharged 2-litre four- cylinder petrol engine at the front that drives the front wheels. And then at the back, driving the rear wheels, there’s an 86bhp electric motor. In between, where you’d expect to find a prop shaft, is where the batteries live.

This car be charged from the mains, or by the petrol engine as you drive along. Either way, it is not going to be a vehicle you can service at home. Even if you have the Haynes manual.

There’s a button on the centre console that allows you to choose whether you’d like to use power made at a power station by burning Russian gas, or power made by crushed prawns to produce oil. Most of the time I used both.

Volvo says you can travel about 27 miles on electric power, but I didn’t get that far. I engaged silent drive while in the multistorey car park at Selfridges and I’d only gone down one level before a woman ran out of the shop and right in front of me. She simply hadn’t heard me coming. I decided after that to use the petrol engine as well. Because that’s the thing about petrol, it’s not only brilliant and ecological but safe too.

Other things? Well, sitting on the optional air suspension the ride was smooth, the stereo was beyond brilliant, the seats were comfortable, the handling was better than I expected and while I didn’t understand all the readouts on the dash, I did enjoy looking at the graphics.

Drawbacks? A couple. The petrol engine is not what you’d call refined. It sounds like a diesel and this is a sound that has no place in a £75,000 car. And the gearlever has to be nudged twice before it engages a gear.

And the size, I’ll be honest, can be a nuisance. It’d be fine in Houston, which is what Sven and Thor were thinking about when they said to one another: “Let’s make it enormous.” But it can be a bloody nuisance in Britain.

You’d have this issue with a Range Rover, too, of course. And that brings me back to the original question. Which is best? Well, for refinement and imperiousness, the Range Rover, of course. But in every other way, it has to be the Volvo. Especially the way it will always be where you left it. Because who in their right mind would ever want to steal it?

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