Volvo’s Answer to Acura, Audi, BMW, and the Rest
The last all-new XC90 debuted in 2003, and that year, Volvo‘s first-ever SUV handily won Motor Trend’s Sport/Utility of the Year award. We said, “More than any other vehicle in the running this year, the Volvo XC90 moves the standard in its market segment.” What has changed in 13 years, what’s stayed the same, and how do we feel about this clean-sheet redesign? Everything’s new, we’re very impressed, and (again) the 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription puts the others on notice.
Bold Design, Tasteful Aesthetics, and Thoughtful Touches
Just look at it. Confident from its intense, curve-following LED headlamps to the now-signature Scandinavian-swoop taillamps, the seven-passenger XC90’s minimalist design manages to look sleeker and more luxurious than an Acura MDX or Audi Q7 and fresher and more forward-leaning than a BMW X5 or Range Rover HSE. Ed Loh called it “fresh and bold without being polarizing.” To really appreciate its design, you really must see the XC90 next to a competitor—which is exactly what Volvo wants and needs.
Currently, the Inscription trim level caps the T6 lineup; the Momentum and R-Design are priced lower, and soon an XC90 T8 plug-in hybrid will top the price range. Inside, the sense of tranquility and luxury blooms with book-matched diagonal, open-pore walnut veneers; supple Nappa leather seats, dash, and door panels (also matched on the key fob); satin-finished real metal trim; and a central touchscreen controller about the size of an iPad.
Like the best examples now have, all the powertrain/chassis controls (twist-ignition knob, gear selector, cylindrical drive-mode selector, auto-hold and parking brake buttons) are gathered where the driver’s right hand falls ahead of the center armrest. There’s no pecking around the dash or in the shadows above the driver’s left shin. Below the otherwise-comprehensive Sensus touchscreen (more on this later), an actual volume knob (can you believe it?) is centrally located and flanked by hard buttons for first-order functions (hazard lights, front/rear defrost, pause/play, and previous/next track).
Second-row slide/recline passengers not only have HVAC vents but also get their own two-zone touch-sensitive controls. We’re also happy to report the integrated second-row child booster seat ($250 USD) that slides fore-aft independently of the outboard seats remains intact with this generation. So do the true fold-flat seats that expand luggage room from 13 cubic feet behind the third row and 41.8 behind the second row to a maximum of 85.7 cubic feet of cargo space. And our editors overwhelmingly praised the comfort afforded by the Inscription’s standard heated/ventilated 10-way adjustable front seats, roomy second-row seats, and ample scaling of the hidden third row. It’s a little arduous getting there, but a full-size human will find the third row provides enough headroom (35.5 inches) and legroom (31.9 inches) for modest trips.
Under New Management
Any worry that Volvo’s current Chinese ownership would restrain or redirect Volvo’s engineering, packaging, or safety innovation is unwarranted. In fact, since buying Volvo from Ford in 2010, Geely has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Volvo’s engine plant alone and expanded upon Volvo’s reputation for safety research and innovation. The XC90 features first-ever energy-absorbing seat mounts because research has shown that a large percentage of off-highway crashes resulted in compression spine injury. The now-common suite of active and passive safety equipment makes its way into the XC90: Volvo’s City Safety collision warning and avoidance (for both cyclists and pedestrians), adaptive cruise control, a road-sign reader, blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts, lane departure warning/keeping, and a drowsy-driver alert system, to name a few.
Twin-charging, or using both a supercharger and a turbocharger for forced induction of an engine, goes back to the shrieking mid-’80s Lancia Delta S4 Group B rally car and its road-going production version. It was later variously used by the Volkswagen Group in non-North American vehicles from Golf hatches to minivans. The premise of twin-charging is that at low rpm (when exhaust flow is slow and thus boost minimal) throttle lag inherent in small-displacement turbocharged engines can be avoided by filling in the output dip with a crank-driven supercharger. The disadvantages of twin-charging are strange noises, the complexity of the system, and delivering power smoothly and predictably throughout the entire rev range.
Volvo’s twin-charged, 2.0-liter inline-four (also used in the S60 sedan) is well-isolated in this application. It produces a remarkable V-8-like 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, is rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg), and earns an EPA-estimated 20/25/22 mpg (11.8/9.4/10.7 L/100km) city/highway/combined. When it’s shut off, however, you can feel a little engine wiggle in the cabin. But power feels linear and seamless, and it’s enough to propel the 4,720-pound (2,141-kg)Inscription model from 0 to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds, a whopping 2.3 seconds quicker than a last-gen XC90 AWD with a naturally aspirated 3.2-liter, six-cylinder engine. The new T6 is also less than a second behind the thirstier turbocharged inline-six in a BMW X5 xDrive35i and a Cadillac Escalade with a 6.2-liter V-8. To ease buyers’ concerns about such a novel engine, Volvo’s four-year/50,000-mile warranty covers the powertrain and provides four years of roadside assistance, should it be needed. Free scheduled maintenance is included for the first three years or 36,000 miles (57,936 km).
The 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 model line features all-wheel drive, the same eight-speed transmission, and a drive-mode selector. Each mode has its own profile that affects the behavior of the electric-assist power steering, engine/transmission/AWD, auto-stop/start, brakes, air suspension, instrument panel, and climate-control systems. Grouped settings include Dynamic, Comfort, Eco, Off-Road, and the programmable Individual. The aggressively geared automatic transmission (sixth gear is 1:1) shuffles shifts quickly and without unnecessarily reluctant downshifts or a race to top gear by 45 mph (72 km/h), especially in the Dynamic mode. Like most automatics, it will get confused with quick stabs/lifts at the throttle. And although manually shifting is possible with the stubby gear selector, we do wish this range-topping Inscription trim also had shift paddles like the R-Design has.
At our test track, the 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription stopped from 60 mph in just 113 feet and chalked up an impressive 26.8-second lap of MT’s figure-eight course; that’s quicker than an Acura MDX SH-AWD (27.6) and Range Rover HSE (27.7) and ties with a BMW X5 xDrive35i.
Riding on Air
Our tester benefited from the optional four-corner air suspension ($1,800 USD) that replaces the standard front coils and rear transverse leaf spring with quick-acting air springs. The ride is exceptionally smooth in Comfort mode and lowers 0.8 inch and tightens up in Dynamic for a firmer ride that’s more resistant to body lean so sharpens handling. But unlike Mercedes-Benz’s fundamentally similar AirMatic suspension that raises/lowers the vehicle in about 30 seconds for maximum ground clearance, the XC90’s does the same in about 3. There are six available air-suspension modes, two of which require the car to be in park (lowest to highest): Load, Easy-Entry, Dynamic, Eco, Comfort, and Off-Road. Selecting Off-Road mode raises the entire XC90 1.6 inches, and buttons in the cargo bay lower it millimeter by millimeter to as low as 2.0 inches below normal height to make trailer attachment easier or the cargo lift-over height much lower. In all, the 3.6-inch range is phenomenal, and we’ve never witnessed an air suspension with this kind of quick response and flexibility.
Besides maximizing ground clearance, activating Off-Road mode deactivates auto stop/start, optimizes the AWD by locking the differentials, loosens electronic stability control (using Dynamic ESC mode), lightens steering feedback, and puts Low-Speed Control (hill-descent) at the ready. Default LSC is set to 5 mph (8 km/h), but adjusting that to something faster than a walking pace takes little more than gentle throttle input—no hunting for the cruise-control adjuster stalk/button like some other SUVs require. Scrambling up a rutted dirt hill was a small challenge (especially as the ruts grew deeper and the dirt softer), but on a trail or gravel road with a dry-river crossing here and there, the XC90 was a champ. It can almost be driven like a rally car in Off-Road mode, which allows a fair amount of sliding around in higher-speed corners with the diffs locked up and the electronic nanny looking the other way. We noticed, however, that at about 25 mph (40 km/h) the XC90 automatically defaults to Comfort mode, figuring you’ve managed to get back to a dirt or paved road.
One thing we all noticed when driving in the Off-Road mode was that while the ground clearance was certainly plentiful at 10.9 inches, the suspension felt as if it had no more headroom for rebound damping. In other words, it sounded as if the XC90’s suspension were topping out when a wheel had reached the end of its range of travel. Bonk. Bonk. There was no loss of control or damage caused, but it was unsettling to hear nonetheless.
Touchscreen Infotainment Done Right
The highlight of the center console is Volvo’s all-new 9-inch Sensus screen. Not unlike the larger state-of-the-art unit found in a Tesla and light-years ahead of the overly ambitious and fatally flawed Cadillac CUE system, Volvo’s vertically oriented screen is quick to react to touches, pinches, and swipes with minimal latency; features crisp, unambiguous graphics; and augments or supplements some hard-button controls. The logical layout and intuitive operation requires practically no orientation. It reminds us of the first time we started exploring an iPad, discovering with anticipation its features and abilities as we went along with a clear understanding of how to get around. Our only gripe is that some screens are densely packed with large active zones, making it difficult to perch a thumb on a dead spot while selecting a live function with a finger.
With several redundant inroads, Sensus can display or reign over practically every aspect of the XC90’s electronics: climate, advanced front-seat adjustment, audio, global and particular vehicle settings, phone, navigation, driver assistance, Internet, Apple CarPlay, and so on—and not once during the loan did it freeze or crash or refuse to operate. There are two additional displays, an optional head-up display and the standard reconfigurable 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, as well as a thorough voice command menu. In one swell foop, Sensus’ design and operation makes everything else—iDrive, MMI, CUE, Sync, and MyLincoln Touch—obsolete.
Not Inexpensive, but Competitively Priced
Standard equipment on the $55,425 USD Inscription model is impressive: panoramic sunroof, passive entry/ignition, hands-free power tailgate, four-zone automatic climate control, lane departure warning, forward collision alert, rear parking sensors, the complete Sensus system, 10-speaker audio, those exceptional front seats, leather, and real wood.
Our example’s $66,855 USD as-tested price included every single option now available. Besides metallic paint, wheels/tires, and the aforementioned air suspension, the Vision package ($1,600 USD) includes blind-spot and cross-traffic systems, auto-dimming mirrors, surround-view cameras, and power-folding mirrors. The Climate with HUD package ($1,950 USD) adds a head-up display, a heated steering wheel, heated washer nozzles, and heated outboard second-row seats. A Convenience package ($1,800 USD) further adds front parking sensors, automated parking, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, a grocery bag organizer and a 12-volt power outlet in the cargo area. The big-ticket item was a superb 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins premium audio system with CD for $2,650 USD.
In It to Win It
The 2106 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription performs as well as its direct competitors, earns better fuel economy, and still comes to the table at or below their prices (base and loaded). For example, a comparably equipped BMW X5 xDrive35i (base MSRP of $57,195 USD) would cost almost $79,000 USD, or about $12,000 USD more. A top-level Acura MDX or Audi Q7 also costs more up front, but neither is available with some of the Volvo’s features. Just like the first time Volvo quietly slipped its game-changing sport/utility into the seemingly unquenchable SUV market, it seems to have done it again, only in a more luxurious, comprehensively equipped, and better-priced package.
|2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$66,855|
|POWER (SAE NET)||316 hp @ 5,700 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||295 lb-ft @ 2,200 rpm|
|0-60 MPH||6.7 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.1 sec @ 90.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||113 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.85 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.8 sec @ 0.65 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||20/25/22 mpg|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||Not tested|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||194.8 x 75.7 x 69.9 in|
|TRACK, F/R||65.9/66.0 in|
|ENGINE/TRANSMISSION||2.0L/316-hp/295-lb-ft supercharged + turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4, 8-speed automatic|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,720 lb (52/48%)|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||169/135 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.88 lb/mile|