It’s hard to deny that Volvo has been idling for a few years while its German rivals have continued to evolve and prosper. Sure, the return of a wagon is nice, and the recent introduction of two Cross Country variants also makes the lineup more interesting, but most Volvo products are getting a bit stale.
The Swedish automaker’s full-size CUV, in particular, has gone way too long without a major revision. That ends now. Say hello to the brand new 2016 Volvo XC90!
Fresh new attire
While the outgoing model can’t be described as ugly, it had a tough time keeping pace with more modern competitors due to a design that dated back to 2003. Yep, 2003! The new XC90 draws inspiration from the past, but is much more focused on the future. In other words, despite its super-fresh styling and personality, it remains unmistakably a Volvo.
In T6 AWD Inscription trim, elegance reaches a new high thanks to a set of 21” wheels. The front fascia, punctuated with a silver-finish grille and new LED headlights, makes a good and refined statement. How can you not like it? The metallic strip at the bottom of the door panels even reads “Inscription.”
Of course, typical Volvo design cues remain such as the vertical taillights, but even those were revised for a more contemporary look. Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, as they say, but I think the new XC90 will appeal to many, as evidenced by the buzz it generated during my test week.
Standard Volvo interior
If there’s one area Volvo historically excels in, it’s cabin comfort. Occupants can always relax in some of the best seats in the industry, and the redesigned 2016 Volvo XC90 keeps that going. The second row is just as accommodating as the first, and its sliding capability makes life more tolerable for third-row passengers. Naturally, all rear seats can be folded to haul longer and larger items. I just have one complaint: The middle section of the second-row bench is hard to put back in place due to a latch that’s not easily accessible.
In addition to comfortable seating, the new XC90 stands out with a super-clean dashboard design that incorporates a tablet-like touch screen in lieu of a traditional control stack. This, however, means drivers need to take their eyes off the road when fiddling with cabin temperature or the radio, for instance. The fact is that too many basic functions of the vehicle go through this system.
The beauty of downsizing
Once equipped with 6- and 8-cylinder engines, the big XC enters a new era with a brand new 2.0L 4-cylinder T6 mill that produces an impressive 320 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. How is that possible? It’s simple: Volvo engineers inserted a supercharger and a turbocharger. If you want more, incredibly, the optional T8 Twin Engine system uses an electric motor to boost output to 400+ horsepower, making the vehicle a (plug-in) hybrid.
Let’s go back to the XC90 T6 AWD model, which I had the pleasure of driving. Harnessing all those ponies is an 8-speed automatic transmission that comes with a shifter-actuated manual mode (alas, no paddle shifters). The mandatory all-wheel drive system effectively distributes torque between the front and rear axles based on the drive mode you select (there are five to choose from) and the amount of grip available.
The first thing I noticed upon firing up the engine was the sound. Saving fuel is nice, but a 4-cylinder will never replace the growl of a 6- or 8-cylinder unit. For the record, though, I managed to achieve 11.5L/100km during combined city/-highway driving. That’s more than the 10.6L/100km advertiszed by Volvo, but still remarkable given the size and weight of the 2016 XC90.
As mentioned earlier, each drive mode adjusts key vehicle characteristics such as steering and throttle response. ECO significantly affects power delivery, while Comfort proves ideal in everyday situations. Dynamic makes the XC90 sharper and livelier, with quicker shifts and heavier steering. No matter which mode you opt for, expect a very plush ride. The default mode (Comfort) works perfectly about 95% of the time, trust me.
North America is an SUV Eldorado. Volvo desperately needed to bring the XC90 up to date and it did so with panache, which should definitely help the company increase sales in the short term (long-term reliability remains a concern).
With supreme comfort, smart engineering, and cutting -edge powerplants, the 2016 Volvo XC90 represents the brand’s future. If only there were fewer on-screen controls and more physical buttons…