2016 Volvo XC90 Road Test Review

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD R-Design Road Test Review


Well worth the wait


It might have been a very long time coming, but the new 2016 XC90 makes me immediate forget all the years of waiting. All of a sudden it's a class leader in design and execution from the most basic $61,300 T6 AWD to the upcoming $118,900 Excellence model, the latter vying for Bentley and Maybach levels of over the top opulence, while the optional T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid powertrain immediately makes Volvo a leader in environmental stewardship. 

That electrified power unit isn't the only advanced engine-tech behind the XC90's broad new grille. To be clear the four-cylinder internal combustion engine is the same, the direct-injected mill some 31 cubic centimeters short of displacing 2.0 litres yet combining both turbocharging and supercharging for V6-like output that totals 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, which is more than ample for launching this 1,993-kilo (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, performance that's countered by 40 km (25 miles) of EV range. 

And all of this from a mid-size utility that's closer to full-size for 2016, the XC90 a significant 143 mm (5.6 inches) longer overall with a 127-mm (5.0-inch) longer wheelbase, plus it's also 112 mm (4.4 inches) wider albeit 9 mm (0.3 inches) lower, the latter number notable considering the new XC90 provides an additional 19 mm (0.7 inches) of ground clearance 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 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 in reasonable comfort. Cargo capacity has also grown to 447 litres (15.8 cubic feet) behind the third row seatbacks, 1,183 litres (41.8 cubic feet) behind the second-row and 2,427 litres (85.6 cubic feet) when both rear rows are folded down, while functionality remains class-leading thanks to a second row that splits into thirds to provide greater space between the outboard seats for loading long items such as skis. The seatbacks fit solidly into place as well, letting you know Volvo's legendary sturdiness is still built into each detail. 

While more substantive the new XC90 isn't any heavier. In fact, that curb weight mentioned earlier is 125 kilograms (275 lbs) lower than the outgoing model, and even better the new XC90 is more than 200 kg (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 five-cycle tests confirming a shockingly good 11.5 L/100km city, 9.5 highway and 10.6 combined rating, helped along by standard AWD 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 a well sorted albeit unorthodox double wishbone front and transverse composite leaf independent rear suspension (yes, similar to the Corvette in back) or optional air suspension, plus the potent powertrain noted before, and the XC90 feels especially light and maneuverable. This is in contrast to some competitors that feel more ponderous at slow speeds, the Volvo easier to manage yet still delivering a planted stance when it matters most, whereas ride quality is excellent. 

The little engine provides gobs of rich power all through its rev range while an eight-speed automatic responds with smooth and positive shift points whether left on its own or coaxed manually by right hand on the console-mounted lever. It's a wholly enjoyable SUV to drive, with overall performance that fortunately measures up to its sporty styling. 

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 boxy, and vertical LED taillights 100 percent Volvo yet tastefully modernized. My tester's $65,850 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 cabin is typical Volvo minimalism taken to new heights of grandeur, with superb fit, finish and materials quality. Just try to find any hard plastic, while 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 an SUV, but it's the purely digital 12-inch primary gauge cluster and nearly completely eliminated centre stack switchgear that confirm it's not business at usual in Gothenburg. 

Most everything about the new XC90 appears to have originated in purpose and then developed for form, except for the rotating ignition switch that's pure art. It's beautifully detailed with an inky black cap and diamond-cut metal sides, a twist to the right starting the engine and a turn in the opposite direction shutting it off. The diamond-cut metal detailing is mirrored on the scrolling drive mode selector just behind, which when rolled forward or rearward displays four choices upon a nine-inch vertically positioned tablet-style infotainment touchscreen. 

If you've ever used a smartphone or tablet 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 centre console benefit rear passengers. 


Ahead of the driver, a colourful TFT gauge cluster includes driver configurable instruments with a tachometer at left and speedometer to the right, plus at centre one of the largest and most useful multi-information displays I've ever experienced, especially when set to navigation mode that adds a massive map. I don't have space to go into every feature, nor all of my particular model's other extras, but I must stress that $3,250 for the 19-speaker, 1,400-watt Bowers & Wilkins audio system is cheap for such astonishingly good sound, plus its dash top-mounted centre speaker and additional door-mounted aluminum speaker grills are eye candy for the audiophile. 

Likewise the $2,300 Climate Package with graphical head-up display is similarly stimulating and ultra-useful, while this package also adds a heatable steering wheel, heated second-row outboard seats and more, plus my tester also came with the $2,200 Convenience package that included adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, self parking, etcetera. 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 too. 


Some unique elements not yet mentioned include a perforated leather key fob that's colour-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. 

Even more notable is Volvo's confidence inspiring fifth place out of 11 premium brands in Consumer Reports latest Report Card on Reliability, 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. 

We should expect as much from Volvo, but the XC90's overall excellence was a welcome surprise. From its superb performance and impressive efficiency to its much-improved level of understated yet resplendent luxury, no one should question why it's been walking away with SUV of the year awards as quickly as it's being driven off of dealer lots. The new XC90 was well worth the wait. 


Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press 

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press 

Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc.
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