If you’re a fan of evolution and watching history unfold, sit back, relax and tune in to Volvo.
This underdog carmaker is taking on the established world of the posh high-end German luxury brands and teaching them a thing or two along the way. The task at hand is monumental, but with the Geely Holding Group’s financial backing and resources, Volvo’s never had a better chance at laying claim to a larger slice of the lucrative luxury car segment.
Utility vehicles are very popular; high-end utility vehicles are all the rage. Back in 2003, Volvo launched the XC90 to much critical acclaim and despite receiving little attention in 12 years, it remained fairly popular thanks to its versatility and practicality. In order to capitalize on the XC90’s name and the booming segment, they selected it as the first vehicle to receive a new lease on life.
For the 2016 model year, the XC90 flaunts a whole new exterior design that is as elegant as it is bold. It’s a rare thing to combine posh good looks and a muscular stance, but the designers over in Gothenburg got it right. There are numerous aspects that catch the eye but my favorite is the P1800S inspired grille.
As with any self-respecting, chart-topping vehicle, the cabin’s accoutrements are the true measure of the vehicle’s worth. Volvo nailed this one too, and right on the nose. Less is generally more and the XC90’s dashboard is essentially picture perfect. The majority of the action takes place on the centre-mounted, tablet-like, 9.3” touchscreen. This creates a near button-free environment, which can be somewhat unsettling at first, but the moment I viewed it as an iPad, all was well.
Accents such as the Orrefors crystal shift knob and wood inlays remind me of a men’s club cigar room or a gentleman’s lounge. The Bowers and Wilkins sound system beautifully liquefies jazz tone while the front and rear seats are not only supportive but also extremely comfortable – Volvo may be recognized for safety but they’ve also been as the forefront of seat design for decades.
Exterior design aside, the new XC90’s other innovation resides under its sculpted bonnet. All versions of this three-row CUV are powered by a turbo- and supercharged 2.0L four-cylinder. Standard T6 output is 316 horsepower while the T8 plays in the big leagues with 400 horsepower.
Driving fast and clean
The T8 is not only the top-of-the-line plug-in hybrid, but it’s also a fuel economy champion. During my tenure with the XC90, I managed an impressive 9.5 L/100 km, which is akin to many midsize sedans. Consider that and the fact that this seven-passenger SUV will reach the tonne in only 5.6 seconds. I’d call this fairly impressive.
The standard eight-speed automatic transmission is well geared and properly sorted for duty in this vehicle. Although handsome, the shifter’s functionality should be revised to limit the number of strokes required to get from one position to another – this can be annoying in some circumstances.
The T8 offers up five driving modes to suit your mood and either get you to your destination quicker or by consuming a little less fuel. The Hybrid mode is the default setting and will essentially serve you best in 99% of instances. The Power mode “primes” the drivetrain for maximum response and power by making as much of the powertrain’s 472 lb.-ft. of torque immediately available. The Save mode reserves electric power for later use or will allow the gasoline engine to recharge the battery if the level is low.
In Pure electric mode, the XC90 is designed to deliver up to 43 km of range. However, I never managed more than 30 km despite 15+ hours of continuous charging. Despite that, my fuel consumption numbers demonstrate that the system works. If I was very satisfied with the T8’s Twin Engine performance, I was left somewhat disappointed with the ride quality.
The “scalable product architecture” or SPA for short, on which the new XC90 is based, is an impressive piece of kit as it will underpin many upcoming Volvo products including the new and sexy S90 and V90 cars, but I expected a higher level of general refinement.
The comfort level fell short in my eyes as the optional four-corner air suspension occasionally struggled to keep the standard 20” wheels in continuous controlled contact with a less than perfect road surface. Besides that, I must say that the vehicle’s overall handling and composure was good. One advantage of the air suspensions is that the rear bags will lower the XC90’s load height at the touch of a button in the trunk – a very nice touch for the shorter amongst us.
Steering and braking are both by wire meaning that, under normal circumstances, there is no mechanical link between the components and controls. This absence does not hinder responsiveness, but eliminates the impression that we’re in charge. This should be viewed as normal as the XC90’s adaptive cruise control with pilot assist allows for semi-autonomous driving. In traffic, the Volvo will manage braking and accelerating.
Volvo, the other guy
At just short of $90k, my tested 2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription with options is not for everyone, nor is it meant to be. Nor is the Range Rover Sport Td6 which, for essentially the same money, gives you equal performance, fuel economy and equipment, plus the RR logo. This is something to think about.
Volvo is in the midst of a rebirth and the new XC90 demonstrates that they are not holding back. It deserves all of its awards but personally, I’m waiting on the upcoming V90 station wagon…