2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD R-Design
Of course Volvo has a number of appealing models within its ranks, but as impressive as the S60, V60, XC60, XC70 and others are, and as enticing as the upcoming S90 and V90 appear to be, the new XC90 is available right here and right now, has been responsible for nearly half of the Swedish brand’s U.S. sales so far this year, and represents the new face of Volvo, both esthetically and intrinsically.
It wasn’t long ago that Volvo came across as a slightly apprehensive premium player, with styling, performance and equipment levels that made it seem as if it was riding the center line of life, with one set of tires in the fast lane of high-performance luxury and the other two dawdling along in the slower lane of reliability, safety and fuel efficiency. Since then two things have happened. First, Volvo is no longer shy about luxury, the XC90 a class leader in design and execution from the most basic $43,950 T5 FWD 5-Passenger to the new $105,895 Excellence model, the latter vying for Bentley and Maybach levels of over the top opulence; and second, a major shift in premium brand core values has occurred, which now sees active and passive safety technologies, the former ushering in full autonomous driving, near the top of buyer priorities, but even high-tech safety has been upstaged by environmental stewardship, the new XC90 T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid a clear example. The Volvo brand and its new XC90 not only fit ideally within today’s concept of luxury, it’s leading the charge.
That electrified power unit isn’t the ony advanced engine-tech behind the XC90’s broad new grille. To be clear the four-cylinder internal combustion engine is the same, the diminutive direct-injected mill some 31 cubic centimeters short of displacing 2.0 liters yet combining both turbocharging and supercharging for V8-like output that totals 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, which is more than ample for launching this 4,385-lb seven-occupant SUV off the line and up to highway speeds with smile inducing zeal. Incidentally, electrifying this engine ups output to 400 horsepower and 472 lb-ft of torque for what I can only imagine is an altogether different kind of go-fast experience, while its claimed 25-mile EV range mixes a lot of green into a 13-color exterior paint palette (from which no greens are available).
And all of this from a mid-size utility that’s closer to full-size for 2016, the XC90 a significant 5.6 inches longer overall at 194.9 inches with a 5.0-inch longer wheelbase of 117.5 inches, plus it’s a sizable 4.4 inches wider at 84.3 inches including its side mirrors, albeit 0.3 inches lower overall resulting in a height of 69.9 inches including its roof rails, the latter number especially notable considering the new XC90 provides an additional 0.7 inches of ground clearance that now reaches to 9.3 inches for greater ability in deep snow as well as more capability on light- to medium-duty off-road excursions.
All of this growth makes it a much larger and more useful SUV, with each if its three rows roomier, especially its rearmost third row that not only seemed more spacious thanks to a panoramic glass roof shedding natural light overhead, but now fits medium-sized adults, my five-foot-eight frame still finding an inch in front of my knees when the second-row seat was pushed as far back as it would go, plus I had two to three inches above my head as well as ample shoulder room and more than enough elbowroom due to armrest cutouts, while pillar-mounted air vents provide excellent ventilation, just like on the backside of the B-pillars facing the second row, while both rear rows get handy LED reading lights hovering overtop.
Cargo capacity has also grown to 15.8 cubic feet behind the third row seatbacks, 41.8 cubic feet behind the second-row and 85.6 cubic feet when both rear rows are folded down, while functionality remains class-leading with Volvo’s unique second row continuing to be split up into thirds to provide greater space between the outboard seats for loading long items such as skis. It’s almost completely flat when lowered too, while Volvo provides a handy pop-up divider in the very back for keeping smaller cargo from shifting. The seatbacks fit solidly into place as well, letting you know Volvo’s legendary sturdiness is still built into each detail, although the second row did take a fair bit of effort to push back into place, especially the stubborn center seat.
While solidly built and certainly larger the new XC90 isn’t any heavier. In fact, that curb weight mentioned earlier is the result of 275 lbs of reduction, and even better the new XC90 is more than 440 lbs lighter than key competitors. This is due to the first application of Volvo’s new in-house developed Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) that incorporates 40 percent ultra-high- and high-strength steel, plus extensive use of aluminum and lightweight composites in key areas. Fuel efficiency is a key benefactor with my T6 AWD tester’s EPA rating confirming an impressive 22 mpg city, 25 highway and 23 combined rating, helped along by an AWD system that mostly apportions torque to the front wheels before sending up to 60 percent rearward when needed, while another bonus is greater agility through the corners.
Drive mode selector set to Dynamic (Comfort, Eco, Off-Road and Individual modes are also available), which heightens all of the SUV’s senses to make the most of that obsessively tight body structure and wonderfully sorted albeit unorthodox double wishbone front and transverse composite leaf independent rear suspension (yes, similar to the Corvette in back) or optional air suspension (more on that when I get a chance to test it), plus the potent powertrain noted before, and the XC90 feels especially light and maneuverable. This is in contrast to some of the German utes that can feel a bit ponderous at slow speeds, the Volvo easier to manage yet still substantive with a planted stance when it matters most, whereas ride quality is excellent.
The little engine that could provides gobs of rich power all through its rev range while the Aisin-sourced eight-speed automatic responds with ideally chosen, smooth and positive shift points whether left on its own or coaxed manually by right hand on the console-mounted lever. Oddly paddle shifters aren’t even included in this sportiest of trims, which still seems strange despite numerous consumer studies that reveal the majority of SUV owners don’t use them – guilty as charged. It just seems wrong that a transmission this impressive fitted to a vehicle this sporty, not to mention so attractive, isn’t given every chance to shine.
From front to rear the new XC90 is one sharply dressed contender, its grille large and bold without being garish, LED headlight clusters with integrated “Thor’s Hammer” DRL/turn signal combo lamps amongst the more distinctive on offer, overall profile tall and SUV-like without appearing as if it’s based on a pickup truck, and vertical LED taillights 100 percent Volvo yet modern and tasteful. My tester’s $53,800 R-Design trim enhances the look with sharp aero detailing around the bottom and gorgeous brushed stainless accents all-round, the new XC90 immediately one of the classiest acts in its segment.
Likewise, the new XC90’s cabin is typical Volvo minimalism taken to new heights of grandeur. Its overall interior design is tastefully contemporary with a leaning toward modern simplicity while materials quality plus fit and finish are superb. Just try to find any hard plastic, while fabric-wrapped pillars, etched metal surfaces and piano black lacquered detailing are only upstaged by four of the most sensually shaped and immensely comfortable contrast-stitched black leather and psuede first- and second-row sport seats I’ve ever seen in a sport utility, but it’s the purely digital 12-inch primary gauge cluster and nearly completely eliminated center stack switchgear that confirm it’s not business at usual in Gothenburg.
Even the steering wheel controls seem sparsely placed, albeit still fully functional, most everything about the new SUV appearing to have originated in purpose and then developed for form, excepting the strange rotating ignition switch. A twist to the right starts the engine and a turn in the opposite direction shuts it off, which makes me question whether this complication was added simply for the sake of being different. At least it’s beautifully detailed with an inky black cap and diamond-cut metal sides, the latter mirroring the unique scrolling drive mode selector I commented on earlier, which when rolled forward or rearward displays four choices upon the nine-inch vertically positioned tablet-style infotainment touchscreen that makes up the near buttonless upper center stack.
If you’ve ever used a modern-day smartphone or played with an iPad or tablet from Samsung or any other Android maker you should find Volvo’s Sensus display easy to operate. Just press one of its digital buttons or use swipe, pinch and stretch gestures to perform myriad functions even while wearing winter gloves. Volvo makes good use of all the space, incorporating sizable graphics for most functions and even a cool vertical temperature controller that takes up the entire height of the tri-zone auto climate interface; separate touch controls on the backside of the center console benefit rear passengers. Back up front, that scrolling temperature graphic incorporates a splash of red on a screen that’s unusually devoid of color for most other functions, Volvo’s designers choosing dark gray for the infotainment interface background despite it being a full-color high-resolution display (it can be switched to white if desired and for $300 Apple CarPlay can be included which also adds color), but that mostly monochromatic experience explodes into full color ahead of the driver if the primary gauge package is upgraded to previously noted TFT display.
The cluster includes driver configurable instruments with a tachometer at left and speedometer to the right, plus at center one of the largest and most useful multi-information displays I’ve ever experienced, especially when set to navigation mode that almost seamlessly bleeds a massive map into the various surrounding dials and gauges. I don’t have space to go into every feature, nor all of my particular model’s other extras, but I must stress that $2,650 for the 19-speaker, 1,400-watt Bowers & Wilkins audio system is cheap for such astonishingly good sound, plus its dash top-mounted center speaker and additional door-mounted aluminum speaker grills are eye candy for the audiophile. Likewise the $900 graphical head-up display unit is similarly stimulating and ultra-useful, whereas my tester also came with the $800 Climate Package featuring a heatable steering wheel, heated second-row outboard seats, a heated windshield and heated washer nozzles to improve winter motoring. Additionally a $1,800 Convenience package was added with adaptive cruise control, a must-have for road trips, plus lane keeping assist, self-parking, a universal garage door remote, digital compass and more. I’m going to guess the $1,800 Vision package will even be more popular thanks to a 360-degree overhead parking camera with a front fisheye view, plus blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and auto-dimming side mirrors, the latter power retractable as well. Mine came with all of the above as well as a $250 pop-up child booster seat at the center position of the middle row, a Volvo safety tradition that I’m glad to see carried forward.
Some unique elements not yet mentioned include a perforated leather key fob that’s color-matched to your XC90’s interior. It’s a substantive yet nicely sized rectangular design with beautifully crafted metal sides that incorporate all controls; it’s worthy enough of mention in a review, which is saying a lot. Something else I almost never make note of unless we’re talking ultra-exotic hardware is a vehicle’s engine compartment, yet the XC90’s is the most minimally mechanical looking bay I’ve ever seen, so I had to say something. Its outer edges are tightly sealed in matte black plastic and every component is completely shrouded. It’s as if Volvo doesn’t want you thinking there’s anything mechanical running this SUV. Also notable, the hood is one of the lightest I’ve ever lifted.
In reality, hoods are rarely opened anymore and modern-day engines much too complicated to be worked on by backyard mechanics, which makes Volvo’s fifth place out of 11 premium brands in Consumer Reports latest Report Card on Reliability confidence inspiring, as is its above average score in J.D. Power’s most recent Vehicle Dependability Study. Additionally, all XC90 models are 5-star rated by the NHTSA (for frontal and side crashes, rollover tests have yet to be conducted) and Top Safety Pick Plus earners from the IIHS, which can’t be said of most key competitors.
Such should be expected of a Volvo, but the XC90’s excellence overall came as a welcome surprise. From its juxtaposed performance and efficiency to its typically understated yet resplendent luxury, no one should question why this SUV has been winning most every award it is qualified to compete in. I don’t know if the XC90 will once again become the darling of luxury crossover SUVs like its predecessor did when introduced, but it’s currently on track to match sales highs of the mid-aughts after just four months this year and has passed five mid-size competitors to do so. The XC90 clearly has momentum on its side and Volvo on the whole is the benefactor. I can’t wait to see how the market responds when the entire model lineup is renewed.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press