2016 Volvo XC90 First Review: Promise delivered

After months of previews touting just about every aspect of its totally redesigned flagship SUV, we finally got our first behind-the-wheel time in the all-new 2016 Volvo XC90. While all of the vehicles we drove at a global event held outside of Barcelona, Spain, were European-spec pre-production T6 and T8 Twin Engine models, this initial impression left no doubt that the Gen II XC90 is a more than worthy follow-on to its highly successful predecessor. Available in Momentum, Inscription and R-Design trims, Volvo's premium 7-passenger all-wheel-drive SUV matches a new sense of style, enhanced dynamics and outstanding comfort with state-of-the art safety and infotainment systems.

Revolutionary on every level

As the first vehicle spun from a new Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), the modestly larger 2016 XC90 makes extensive use of high-strength steel to improve rigidity while trimming some 200 pounds from its core. That coupled with all-new suspension and steering make the XC90 feel more agile and comfortable than the vehicle it replaces while minimizing body roll in corners and transition moves. The XC90's we experienced - all Inscription variants -- also had the optional Four Corner Active Air Suspension. Fully integrated with the XC90's standard Drive Mode selector, it includes auto-leveling and automatically lowers ride height at high speeds for added stability and economy as well as when the vehicle is parked to allow easier access/egress. 

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Although its Swedish heritage is evident even at a glance, the 2016 Volvo XC90 puts a more contemporary spin on the classic Volvo formula borrowing several cues from the recent Concept Coupe, XC Concept and Concept Estate exercises. Outside, bolder proportions and edgier lines blend with a new grille and dramatic lighting elements that include T-shaped "Thor's Hammer" LED running lights. Full LED headlamps with corner-following are available on XC90 Inscription and R-Design models. 

Comfortable and capable  

That same Scandinavian spirit of adventure permeates the XC90's richly finished and more spacious passenger compartment. Supple leather, fine wood, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, GPS navigation, glass panoramic sunroof and 4-zone climate control are all part of the mix, along with its centerpiece element: Volvo's new Sensus interface. The 9.0-inch Sensus color touch screen provides tablet-like functionality that replaces most of the conventional switchgear with intuitively configured displays that look great and facilitate quicker, easier access/activation than virtually any other system via direct touch, steering wheel controls or voice command - the latter under final calibration at the time of our drive. The Sensus experience also nets a WiFi hotspot, Volvo OnCall and other connectivity capabilities including Apple Car Play and Android Auto. 

Equally notable, the 2016 XC90 features a new generation of ergonomically-designed seats that Volvo points out were seven years in the making. Providing outstanding comfort as well as enhanced protection in the event of a crash, the power-activated/model-specific front buckets are the legitimate stars here. However, the XC90's more accommodating 40/20/40 sliding/folding second-row bench also is quite impressive, particularly in the outboard positions and even its 50/50 third row can handle a pair of modestly sized adults for short treks. When cargo takes precedence, the XC90's 15.8 cu ft  stow space behind the third row is roughly 80 percent more than before and can be upped to 41.8 cu ft and still leave room for five. Drop the second row and the XC90 has class-leading 85.7 cubic feet of space. All of that volume is extremely usable thanks to a flat load floor and a large, hands-free power rear hatch.  

Drive-E delivers exhilaration

One of the big questions regarding the new XC90 is how well this 7-passenger all-wheel drive SUV performs when fitted with Volvo's new 2.0-liter/4-cylinder Drive-E engines. While we didn't get seat time in the Euro-only D5 turbodiesel diesel, the gasoline-fired T6 and its T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid sibling both made positive first impressions. Fitted with both a supercharger and a turbocharger, the former cranks out 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque from 2,200-4,500 rpm, sufficient to take the 4,627-pound T6 from 0-60 mph in 6.1 seconds and let it tow up to 5,000 pounds while earning what Volvo projects will be "best in class" -- albeit still unreleased -- EPA figures. 

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The XC90 T8 Twin Engine modifies the formula by sending all of its Drive-E power to the front wheels and propelling the rear with an aft-mounted 80-horse electric motor that makes 177 lb-ft of torque. It's fed by a liquid-cooled 9.2 kWh lithium ion battery (6.5wKh of which is useable) efficiently packaged in the center tunnel so that no cabin or cargo space is sacrificed. This plug-in variant features its own version of the 8-speed automatic transmission used in the T6. With a total output of at least 400 horses and more than 443 lb-ft of peak twist, the T8 drops the 0-60 mph time to just 5.9 ticks. Capable of operating in various driver-selectable gas/electric/hybrid configurations, the T8 also can travel up to 25 miles in pure EV mode.    

Upping the safety ante 

In keeping with Volvo's Vision 2020 goal to eliminate deaths or serious injuries in any of its new vehicles by the end of the decade, the new XC90 introduces two new world-first safety systems: Run-off Road Protection and Auto Brake at Intersections. Thankfully, we experienced neither in action during our two days of drive time. But adding these to the automaker's already comprehensive IntelliSafe suite of standards has Volvo claiming best-in-class bragging rights for the 2016 XC90 in this critical arena. 

Seeking to steal market share from rivals like the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Mercedes M-Class/GLE-Class as well as the Acura MDX and Infiniti QX60, the 2016 Volvo XC90 lineup goes on sale in June with the limited run of loaded -- and already sold-out T6 "First Edition" vehicles pegged at $66,800. Pricing for the regular XC90 T6 Momentum and Inscription models coming to showrooms this July commences at $49,895 and $55,495, respectively while the sporty R-Design that arrives in October will open at $53,895. No word yet on pricing for the 2016 XC90 T8 due later this fall, but they're certain to command upwards of $60K. 

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Check out our Midsize Luxury SUV Buyers Guide for a look at what's new and what's next.

 

 

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