In the typical understanding of gearhead parlance a "sleeper" car is one that looks slow but goes fast. Or, at least, it should go faster than it looks. A perfect execution of the sleeper concept typically involves some post-manufacture fiddling, like hacking a turbocharger and its plumbing into the engine bay of an otherwise naturally aspirated vehicle. But there are certainly instances of OEM-supplied sleepers too, where subtle badging or discrete modifications belie an impressive improvement in performance. In the from-the-factory version, just a few letters can make a world of difference: SHO, GNX and GLH all being excellent examples from history. Volvo has its own history of sleeping Swedes, of course – who among us hasn't gleefully pointed out a 740 Turbo wagon to a chorus of blank looks from the uninitiated? But this latest sleeper, called out by the T8 badge on the back of the 2016 XC90, breaks new ground for the whole somnambulant genre. Not only does that "T8" mean greater performance than the standard version of the crossover, but, it also boasts impressive green-cred. I was lucky to take a turn in the Volvo XC90 T8, with its potent plug-in electric drivetrain, around the Catalonian coast of Spain. The top-trim crossover proved compelling, and not just because it can brag "59 mpge" on its window sticker. Driving Notes The meat of what makes the T8 interesting is, of course, a powertrain that uses a staggering number of technologies to produce a max system output of (roughly) 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque. To get there, Volvo has supercharged and turbocharged the 2.0-liter direct-injection four-cylinder gas engine under the front hood; good for 318 hp and 295 lb-ft on its own. Adding to the mix is a beefy electric motor mounted on the rear axle, kicking out another 82 hp and 177 lb-ft, to the rear wheels (under ideal conditions). Depending on the drive mode you've selected, that complex power delivery system works in a few ways. Hybrid is the default, and uses power from the gas engine and electric motor as needed, with great fuel economy its designated mission in life. (We don't have full EPA ratings yet, but Volvo is claiming a combined US rating of 59 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent.) Pure mode offers all-electric driving of "more than" 40 kilometers (25 miles) based on the European cycle. AWD mode drives all four wheels on demand, while Save socks away battery power for later use. From the perspective of fun driving, it's Power mode that I found most interesting. Here the T8 really reveals itself as the aforementioned sleeper, using electric torque to blister the pavement at low speeds, and the twin-charged gas mill to keep the pace up. The difference in throttle response between Hybrid and Power mode is noticeable, and hilarious and unquestionably quicker than that of the standard XC90 T6. This is the good stuff. Also good is the modulation between gas and electric power (and both at once). …
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|MPG||20 City / 25 Hwy|
|Power||316 @ 5700 rpm|
|Drivetrain||Instant Traction(TM) all wheel|
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