2016 Volvo XC90: Style, safety in new luxury SUV

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The first generation Volvo XC90 SUV was introduced in 2002. Worth the wait 13 years later is the second generation 2016 Volvo XC90. It offers a new level of sophistication and utility.

The 2016 XC90 is new from badge to backup camera. It’s the first plug-in hybrid SUV offering three rows of seating for seven. Our drive with Volvo’s mid-size SUV introduced us to a memorable luxury experience, a suite of modern safety features and superior efficiency in a package that dresses to impress.

Driving Impressions

Volvo is offering two versions of the redesigned 2016 XC90: the T6 and T8. The T6 AWD, on sale now, delivers 316 horsepower from a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with a supercharger and turbocharger. Power is sent to a smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive system. The T8 AWD twin-engine plug-in hybrid is due to arrive around October of this year.

It’s a complex engineering marvel that aims toward efficiency by using an 87 horsepower (65 kW) electric motor to drive the rear wheels. Packaged in the center tunnel, normally filled by the AWD-system driveshaft, is a 9.2 kilowatt lithium-ion battery that can drive the stylish SUV 17 miles on battery power alone.

The 2016 Volvo XC90 offers luxury, elegance and safety.
The 2016 Volvo XC90 offers luxury, elegance and safety.

Surprisingly, the T6 model moves nimbly for a mid-size luxury SUV with 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Zero to 60 mph performance is an admirable 6.1 seconds. The plug-in hybrid T8 model has a combined power rating of 400 horsepower and 360 lb-ft of torque. Early numbers from Volvo claim the T8 is slightly quicker and can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds.

The XC90 is not equipped for off-road rock climbing, but it is a practical for muddy horse paddocks and snowy weather. Roadholding is respectable and the big crossover doesn’t drive like a school bus. The vehicle’s size becomes most apparent when trying to place the XC90 in narrower streets or when parking it. Thankfully, the available Park Assist Pilot can perform the parallel and perpendicular parking duties with precision. In the end, the XC90 performs triumphantly for its mission as family transport.

The XC90 has great all-around visibility and the door-mounted side view mirrors help by leaving a sight line when aiming for a turn. There are no blind-spots and the 360-degree Surround View camera works best as a supplement, not a substitute, when moving the SUV in reverse.

Our observation after a day driving the T6 matches closely with the combined EPA estimate of 22 MPG. Drivers who are not as zealous as we were with the accelerator pedal can achieve 25 mpg driving on the open highway and 20 mpg with city driving. Unfortunately, our test drive in the T8 was less than an hour and didn’t allow us time to evaluate the plug-in hybrid’s mpge or mpg performance.

Exterior

The 2016 XC90 represents a successful exercise in adapting luxury sedan styling cues to a large crossover vehicle. The front leads with a  lower-set grille inspired by the Volvo 1800 sports car and available LED lamps with elements shaped like Thor’s hammer create a unique visual impact. The characteristic taillights, which extend to the D-pillar, retain the recognizable curve that accentuates the shape of the rear quarter panels. Whether viewed from the front, side, or rear, the 2nd generation XC90 has great presence from any angle.

Against competitors like the slab-sided and shorter Acura MDX, the Volvo XC90 comes off surprisingly well–and it’s not until you get close to it, or see it next to another car, that you realize just how large this crossover is. And since many choose the three-row crossover as a minivan-avoidance measure, the XC90 avoids looking like and oft-dreaded people-carrier by not have a chopped hood or tall roofline.

Interior

The Volvo XC90 is elegant and well-appointed, especially with the upgraded Bowers and Wilkins 19-speaker premium sound system. Beautifully sculpted with many modern features, the interior exudes a lush appeal and quiet comfort. Ten-way power front seats, inspired by Wegner lounge chairs, feature supple leather, adjustable high contour side bolsters, and lumbar support.

Designed to be thinner, lighter, and featuring a deformable bottom in the event of a crash, many people commented on the seat comfort. The thin design not only saved more than 200 pounds, it allows more space for the second and third-row passengers. Full-size adults in the third row won’t have to pull their knees to chest height

The center console stack is angled slightly toward the driver, with even the big 9-inch diagonal screen angle favoring the driver position. Scandinavian minimalist design exerts a strong influence that features simple, flat surfaces and just enough buttons to get things done. The marriage of Nappa leather, aluminum and wood trim with everyday functionality is near perfection. The jeweled knurling on the “Engine Start” knob and “Drive Mode” select wheel were impressive. Everywhere your hands land, there is a natural, responsive surface with a fit and finish at refined levels.

Volvo’s Sensus system operates in similar fashion to Tesla’s Model S infotainment/navigation system. Like an iPad, the controls operate with swipes, taps, and pinches. It eliminates the need for a multitude of buttons that make the dashboard look busy and complicated. The touchscreen has infrared sensors, which means it can be operated with your gloves on. The interface is intuitive and easy to navigate. While in motion, many of the more common commands can be executed by using the steering wheel controls or by voice commands. A deeper dive into the features available through the touchscreen reward the user with more custom features and functions.

The optional 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system looks elegant and sounds spectacular. Another system that is customizable to your personal taste, we especially enjoyed the sound emulation mode that recreates the acoustic character of Gothenburg Concert Hall in Sweden.

Likes:

Exterior design finds the right balance of classy excellence and conservatism
.
Flawless performance of the T6 powertrain
.
Interior is functional, spacious, and comfortable for everyone, even third-row passengers.
Volvo continues to lead with its safety features, standard and optional
.

Dislikes:

Seriously complicated drivetrain setup in the engine bay
.
$20,000 upcharge for the hybrid model is hard to justify
.

Facts and Figures: 2016 Volvo XC90

T6 AWD/T8 AWD Twin Engine Plug-in Hybrid:
Supercharged and turbocharged inline 2.0L 4-cylinder, Supercharged and turbocharged inline 2.0L 4-cylinder.
Electric Motor, N/A; 65 kW (87 hp) driving the rear wheels.

Power: 316 hp @ 5700 rpm; 400 hp (combined); Torque. 295 lb-ft @ 2200 – 4500 rpm/472 lb-ft (combined); 0 – 60 mph, 6.1 sec, 5.3 sec (preliminary);

Fuel Economy (MPG): 25 hwy / 20 city / 22 combined,; 59 MPGe city (preliminary).
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: (excludes $995 destination charge): $48,900 – $54,500; $68,100 – $71,600
Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles, 4 years/50,000 miles; Free Maintenance; 3 years/36,000 miles, 3 years/36,000 miles.

The 2016 Volvo XC90 comes in three trims: Momentum, Inscription, and R-Design.

T6 AWD/T8 AWD Twin-Engine 
Plug-in Hybrid Momentum, $48,900-$68,100; Inscription, $54,500-$71,600; R-Design, $52,900-$70,000.

What Others Say:

“Wherever you sit, the cabin feels spacious and airy, with plenty of light flowing through the larger greenhouse and panoramic sunroof.” —  Automobile Magazine.

“Already one of the safest SUVs on the road, Volvo has literally created newer, harder rollover test for itself, and the XC90 pass them all with flying colors.” — NY Daily News.

The Weekly Driver Final Words:

“The all-new 2016 Volvo XC90 is a serious player in the luxury SUV market and should be at the top of anyone’s list who values style, functionality, efficiency and safety.”

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