It might have battle-cruiser styling, but the new Volvo XC90 T8 is just as safe and even more fuel-efficient than its popular predecessor, finds Charles Rangeley-Wilson.

With the first XC90, Volvo conjured, through some strange alchemy, the acceptable incarnation of unacceptable, large SUV motoring and thus cornered a useful part of the market: people who wouldn’t otherwise be seen dead in a big, fuel-hungry SUV.

Urban(e) liberals who have an uneasy relationship with motoring full stop, let alone motoring in expensive four-wheel-drive vehicles, found, in the XC90, a car that could just about square the circle of their ethics and their practical needs. But what really set the XC90 apart was its Swedish designer interior, Volvo’s reputation for safety and the car’s soft and friendly styling.

As a result, when the new model was unveiled, I was surprised to see that Volvo had gone to the dark side with intimidating, battle- cruiser styling. ‘They’ll have trouble shifting this in Hampstead,’ I thought. The new XC90 weighs 2½ tons and is more than 16ft long. The styling changes are all part of Volvo’s assault on the top end of the luxury-car market, but vast and imperious though the new XC90 may be, it has no intention of losing the market its forerunner captured.

Enter the T8 stage right. This is Volvo’s showcase, a 407bhp flagship that will propel its occupants from 0 to 62mph in less than six seconds and, although none of that sounds overly politically correct, 135 miles to the gallon and CO2 output of 49g per kilometre very much is. How on earth? Well, a four-cylinder turbo and super- charged petrol engine delivers 320 of those horses to the front wheels and an electric motor sends 87-odd to the rear.

Inside, it’s still very much a Volvo: the Swedes build car interiors as welcoming as a firelit, log cabin on a foggy night in Lapland. The XC90s leather is especially sumptuous, the seats are generous and cosseting: the levers, dials and buttons are Apple touchy-feely. There’s so much space. The sound system is unbelievable, you have Apple CarPlay, a wi-fi hot spot and the crystal gear-stick is like something off a mantelpiece.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Volvo without a few pioneering safety features: the XC90 will warn you and slow down when you’re too close to cars ahead, it won’t let you drift from lane to lane and it will auto-brake at junctions.

On the move, the XC90 drives surprisingly well, for a Swedish architect’s house—the air suspension keeps everything tidy and, overall, it’s an effortless drive. Effortless, that is, until you try to get close to those fuel-consumption and performance statistics. The car’s otherworldly combination of speed and frugality is technically possible, but, day to day, the XC90 morphs into another large SUV that likes its drink.

On battery alone, the car will travel 27 miles, which is fine for a short commute. Combine the battery with the engine in hybrid and the batteries will eke out their charge for a few more miles, during which the car will deliver 75 or so mpg. Soon enough, however, the battery runs down, after which hybrid becomes a regime of energy recovery under braking and energy spend under acceleration, with about 34mpg—if you’re light-footed.

Unless you really need hybrid tech, you’d be better off, I feel, with a larger six-cylinder diesel engine because the four-cylinder engine in this T8 is too crude for an otherwise sumptuous luxury car. For laudable eco reasons, Volvo has elected to power every new XC90 variant with a two-litre four-cylinder diesel or petrol engine, but four cylinders will always struggle to give the primary balance and effortless oomph a heavy, posh car requires.

The T8 is a remarkable motor in every respect but its engine. Which is how I felt about the last one, so what do I know?

On the road: Volvo XC90 T8
Price: From £60,455
Annual Road Fund Licence: £0
Combined fuel consumption: 134.5mpg
Electric-only range: 27 miles
Power: 407bhp
0–62mph: 5.6 seconds
Top speed: 140mph