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2021 Volvo S90 Recharge PHEV Range: How Far Can It Go on Electricity Alone?

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Plug-in hybrids still feel like something of a stop-gap measure for automakers on the way from internal combustion engines to full battery-electric vehicles. But for some people, they make a lot of sense: They provide the ability to commute in full electric vehicle mode when necessary — either out of a desire to produce fewer emissions and help the planet or simply use less gasoline and save a buck or two — combined with the capability to drive long distances under gas power. Some PHEVs work better than others at this, but I think the best are those that seamlessly blend systems under the skin of an otherwise conventional-looking vehicle — like this new 2021 Volvo S90 Recharge Plug-In Hybrid. 

In published EPA estimates, the S90 Recharge boasts just over 20 miles of maximum all-electric range before its gasoline engine kicks in, but we observed significantly more than that in our real-world range test. More on that in a minute.

Related: 2021 Volvo XC90 Recharge Range: Here’s How Far We Went on Electricity Alone

Now, before we get too far into this, you have to understand what “Recharge” means in Volvo speak, because it changes depending on the vehicle. For this S90 sedan (as well as the XC90 and XC60 SUVs, S60 sedan and V60 wagon), “Recharge” denotes a plug-in hybrid powertrain that combines gasoline and electric propulsion but can also travel reasonably significant distances on electric power alone. For the XC40 Recharge and upcoming C40 Recharge, by contrast, the moniker denotes a pure-electric vehicle powered only by batteries with no onboard gas engine. Suffice it to say, “Recharge” in Volvo speak means the vehicle has a plug, but what that plug charges will differ depending on vehicle.

The Ride

In the case of the S90 Recharge, you’re looking at Volvo’s shapely mid-size luxury sedan, powered by a combination of a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine, which makes an already-stout 313 horsepower and 295 pounds-feet of torque, plus an electric motor teamed to the rear axle that pumps out 87 hp and 177 pounds-feet of torque. It gives the AWD S90 Recharge a combined output of 400 hp and 472 pounds-feet of torque. 

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The drivetrain uses a conventional eight-speed automatic transmission too, not the continuously-variable-style automatics so many other PHEVs use. The onboard battery is an 11.6 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion pack, which can be recharged in about 6.5 hours on a standard 120-volt household plug or a little under four hours on a Level 2, 240-volt charger (DC fast charging is not an option). 

Once fully charged, the S90 Recharge is rated by the EPA to go up to 21 miles on full electric power before the battery is depleted and the gas engine kicks in, enabling a total range of 490 miles before you’ll need to fill the gas tank, too. That’s good for an official rating of 60 mpg-equivalent under hybrid power, or 30 mpg combined once the juice runs out and you’re running on liquid dinosaurs. (Depending where you live, you might’ve been doing some of that indirectly even on EV power.) The grand total for this luxurious piece of stylish Scandinavian technology rang in at $70,640 with the destination fee, including nearly $10,000 in options packages. 

The Route

My PHEV test route remains constant, stretching from Ann Arbor, Mich., to a fixed point in Dearborn, Mich., and back again. It’s a mixed-speed route with a combination of urban stop-and-go driving and higher-speed, divided multilane boulevards. It’s good for providing a variety of conditions, but speed limits are adhered to, and acceleration and deceleration are always done at a moderate, easy pace — no stoplight drag races or unnecessary slamming on the brakes. I also keep the climate control off, which can trigger the gasoline engine in some cars and drop electric range by a couple miles right off the bat in others. 

In a plug-in hybrid that offers the feature, I also enable EV driving mode; in the S90 Recharge, that means switching it to the Pure driving mode, which not only disables the gasoline engine (unless you really mash the accelerator) but also dampens your accelerator response, climate control and other energy-sapping factors. With the tires filled to their manufacturer-recommended settings, I set off on a lovely, warm spring day.

The Results

Upon setting off with a full tank of gas and full battery charge, the S90 Recharge’s predictive range estimate came across the gauge cluster as 23 miles, or 2 miles better than the maximum EPA rating for electric-only range. On the route, the S90 Recharge actually went 27.8 miles before the battery registered zero and the gas engine kicked on, or nearly 32%  beyond the maximum EPA rating. 

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But it comes with a caveat: If you leave the S90 Recharge in Hybrid mode, its default setting, the car is wonderful. It’s quick, even when only using electric power, as it knows that it can fire up the gas engine whenever it wants or needs to, so it behaves a bit more profligately with the available electricity. That makes for a spirited sports sedan that matches the abilities of the S90’s gas-only versions. But pop that sucker into Pure mode, and everything changes. It’s slooooow to get up to speed, and while it’ll motor along at 65-mph highway speeds, it’s not happy being there, as it would much rather operate in Hybrid mode at that velocity. Around town, Pure mode accelerates with a very relaxed pace, the accelerator feeling quite different underfoot than when you have the drivetrain in any other mode. It’s for people who have a determined desire to trade driving enjoyment for electric range, and if your commute is a lower-speed, urban slog that avoids highways and sees consistent sub-55-mph speeds, then you likely won’t mind at all. But as soon as you taste the goodness this drivetrain delivers when it’s allowed to decide how to bring the power and speed, it’s almost painful to select that ultra-efficient mode, knowing you just won’t enjoy it quite the same way.

That said, driving modes don’t diminish the craftsmanship of the S90’s interior. It’s nearing 5 years old now, but it doesn’t feel stale or out of style in the slightest. We’ve credited Volvo for creating luxury vehicles that ooze premium luxury feel without being copycats of German, Japanese or American competitors, and that might be what’s most enjoyable about the S90 overall. It feels extremely well executed in every regard, but it doesn’t feel like an also-ran should you pull up to the valet or country club. It’s a different sort of luxury — but still an appealing one. And adding the better-than-expected electric range to a powertrain that can switch from super-frugal to super-sporty with the touch of a button just makes the S90 Recharge even more appealing in its class.

Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

Photo of Aaron Bragman
Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman has had over 25 years of experience in the auto industry as a journalist, analyst, purchasing agent and program manager. Bragman grew up around his father’s classic Triumph sports cars (which were all sold and gone when he turned 16, much to his frustration) and comes from a Detroit family where cars put food on tables as much as smiles on faces. Today, he’s a member of the Automotive Press Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. His pronouns are he/him, but his adjectives are fat/sassy. Email Aaron Bragman

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