The European standard for hybrid plug-in models gives them an incredible advantage by weighing their consumption against their electric autonomy. This is the case for the Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine and the BMW X5 xDrive 40e, which weigh over two tons and have more than 300 horsepower. At first glance, they appear to be ecological models, with their technical specifications indicating average fuel consumption of 2.1 l/100 km and 3.3 l/100 km, respectively, which exempts them from any ecological penalty. Quite impressive!
However, in real life, the only numbers that matter are the electric range and the consumption once the battery is depleted. By the power of electrons alone, the Volvo can cover about 25 km according to our observations, slightly better than its Bavarian competitor, which struggles to exceed 20 km. The BMW has the advantage once the gasoline engine starts: expect 10.6 l/100 km in the city, 10.3 l/100 km on the highway, and 9.7 l/100 km on the road. With the Volvo, you should count on 10.9 l/100 km, 10.5 l/100 km, and 11.1 l/100 km under the same conditions. Although these values are acceptable considering the size of these large SUVs, they are far from the promising figures of the European standard. Physics has its limits; even hybrids like these heavy and powerful 4x4s will inevitably require more fuel than a lighter city car covering the same distance.
Advantages of Hybrid Models
We have therefore understood that these hybrid models, compared to their Diesel counterparts, are more fuel-hungry on long journeys. They are primarily valuable for their tax advantage or for those who mostly drive short distances with frequent recharging. However, they also have their advantages in terms of comfort. The first and most obvious is the silence inside the cabin when starting the engine. The power of electricity allows them to move smoothly and quietly. In this game, the Volvo performs even better than the BMW. In the X5, the electric motor is integrated into the eight-speed automatic transmission (replacing the torque converter), resulting in noticeable gear changes. In contrast, the XC90, with its rear-mounted electric motor, has a fixed gear ratio. Moreover, the Swedish model has even better sound insulation than its competitor, making the engine noise almost inaudible.
The Indispensable Gasoline Engine
With peak powers of 88 hp for Volvo and 113 hp for BMW, the electric motors should only be considered as additional support during strong accelerations, where the combustion engines are engaged. In both cases, they are four-cylinder turbocharged gasoline engines. On the XC90, the engine is from the recent Drive-E family and can deliver 320 hp thanks to the supercharger that assists the turbocharger at low engine speeds. Surprisingly, the X5 uses the older N20 engine generation, producing 245 hp. Although less recent and less powerful, it is certainly not lacking in performance. Despite having a combined power of the combustion and electric motors that is lower (313 hp instead of 407 hp), the BMW does not appear to be less powerful than its lighter Swedish competitor. Furthermore, its ZF gearbox seems more responsive than the Aisin transmission in the XC90.
In terms of driving experience, the BMW stands out in terms of dynamics. While it may not be as agile as a ballerina, the X5 xDrive40e handles corners without hesitation. It maintains traction without any loss of grip, thanks to its rear-wheel-drive architecture. However, not everything is perfect, with a slightly vague steering feel (despite the absence of power-assisted steering) and a somewhat firm electronically controlled suspension. Even in comfort mode, the irregularities on the road are noticeable, causing the cabin to resonate and resulting in furniture-like noises in the center console, which is unacceptable at this price level.
In the Volvo, the suspension provides better filtering, even though the large 21-inch wheels on our test model cause some impact on small irregularities or speed bumps. However, dynamism is not its strong suit, as the vehicle’s weight of 2,137 kg reminds the driver of its presence during every turn, requiring a significant slowdown. This is especially troublesome as the brake pedal offers an artificial feel, unlike the X5. This partly explains the higher fuel consumption on the road, due to constant accelerations after every curve exit, whereas the BMW can better utilize its momentum. Finally, there is the issue of the front-wheel drive struggling to transfer power to the road surface, especially on wet roads.
Autonomy and Luxury
In terms of autonomy, the XC90 suffers from the choice of its front-wheel-drive architecture, despite being based on a completely new platform called SPA, which is also used in the new S90 and V90 models. This is in contrast to the BMW, which inherits the technical base of its predecessor launched in 2007. Another drawback of the Swedish model is its limited range, with a fuel tank capacity of only 50 liters, compared to 71 liters for the Diesel or gasoline versions. Given the vehicle’s highway consumption, the fuel level drops very quickly. With its reserve of 85 liters, the BMW seems better suited for long journeys.
Concerning the interior, the XC90 T8 Twin Engine comes with two additional seats in the trunk as standard, allowing it to accommodate seven passengers. The cargo space can carry 692 liters of luggage in five-seat configuration. Although slightly shorter (4.89 m vs. 4.95 m), the X5 xDrive40e can only accommodate five passengers, has a cargo volume of 500 liters, and slightly less rear seat room. This reduced functionality is partly due to the 9.2 kWh lithium-ion battery located under the rear floor, while it is positioned in the central tunnel in the Volvo, which is not possible for the BMW due to its drivetrain layout.
When it comes to the welcome experience, the XC90 impresses with its remarkable comfort. As usual with the Swedish manufacturer, the seats are exceptionally comfortable. Moreover, the interior finish is exceptional and warm, with a backlit crystal gear lever, raw wood or braided metal inlays, and perfectly applied leather upholstery. The optional Bower & Wilkins audio system delivers impressive sound quality, simulating the acoustics of the Gothenburg concert hall. In summary, this Volvo provides a true sense of luxury, approaching the segment of limousines like the BMW 7 Series rather than the premium sedan segment like the BMW 5 Series. The only downside is the nightmarish ergonomics of its infotainment system.
The BMW X5, although well-finished, cannot claim the same sense of luxury. Even with the optional stitched leather dashboard, plastic is more prevalent than in the XC90, and some may find the steering wheel design a bit outdated. Nevertheless, the assembly is precise, and the materials are quite pleasing. The controls are conveniently placed, and the range of driving assistance features is as extensive as those offered by Volvo, which already provides almost everything available on the market, including a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, and active lane-keeping assist. The equipment is therefore up to the claimed standard, provided you delve into the options catalog.
In conclusion, these two SUVs have their pros and cons. They offer relatively high-level performance, spacious cabins, and high-end features, but in practice, they cannot justify their claimed low-emission vehicle status. They are more fuel-hungry than their Diesel counterparts (especially the XC90) due to their heavy mass. Moreover, they have some notable shortcomings at this price level, such as furniture noises and imprecise steering in the case of the BMW, and significant inertia and complex ergonomics in the case of the Volvo.
In our opinion, the X5 achieves a more balanced synthesis and is more advantageous financially. It has lower consumption and a slightly more advantageous price-to-equipment ratio. Priced at €83,750 in the Exclusive trim, the X5 offers much more (heated electric seats, hands-free access, high-end audio system, leather dashboard, etc.) compared to the XC90, which is available in the Momentum trim for €81,000, albeit with quadrizone air conditioning. However, the Swedish SUV offers an incomparable charm that can alone justify choosing it.
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Today, it is obsolete and simplistic to refer to the central display of a car as a “GPS.” These interfaces control numerous functions related not only to navigation but also to vehicle settings, music selection, and even various connected applications accessed via the smartphone. BMW’s iDrive system, initially criticized when it was launched in the early 2000s, has now matured. It does not rely on a touchscreen but instead uses a rotary controller located behind the gear lever, surrounded by several shortcut buttons. The menus are clearly organized, with consistent submenus. Therefore, the system is easy to use, and its range of features is quite comprehensive.
Volvo’s philosophy is radically different. The Sensus Connect system combines all the vehicle’s functions (including climate control) through a touchscreen interface. Unlike a capacitive touchscreen, it utilizes an infrared panel, making it the only screen on the market that can be operated while wearing gloves. While the responsiveness is not an issue, the organization of the menus is less intuitive. For example, who would think of finding the interior ambient lighting control in the “Lights” menu, or the bass adjustment in a menu that has nothing to do with the “Sound Experience”? Additionally, selecting a radio station that is not in the predefined favorites is challenging since the received frequencies are not listed in alphabetical order. Another criticism is that voice commands are only available once a menu has been preselected manually. For instance, you cannot use voice commands to start navigation if the phone menu is displayed on the central screen. Furthermore, the steering wheel controls have different functionalities depending on what is displayed on the central screen. This high complexity, combined with a wide variety of submenus based on different tabs, requires a very long adaptation time (time to memorize the configuration) before mastering the intricacies of the system. In our opinion, Volvo needs significant software updates to fully utilize the potential of this promising interface, both in terms of screen responsiveness and graphics.