When Chinese automaker Geely Holding Group bought Volvo five years ago, I'll admit I wasn't optimistic for the iconic Swedish automaker. The buyout came after Ford bought the Swedish marque and held onto it for 11 years, and the less said about Ford's failure to drive sales for the manufacturer, the better. Perhaps the sole thing done right during Ford's ownership was the introduction of Volvo's first SUV, the revolutionary XC90 in 2002, which was met with critical acclaim by consumers and automotive media alike.
Now, Geely and Volvo are smartly re-approaching the model to give it the refresh both consumers and the manufacturer have needed for some years now, and my optimism has grown substantially.
This is the luxury SUV that Volvo is targeting at the 150,000 people expected to switch luxury brands in the next year. Volvo is looking at Germany's Q7, X5, and ML as competitors, while also including Asia's MDX and QX60. It's the first model to be built from Volvo's Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform, a modular chassis foundation future models will be based on. The next models will be rolling out in such a fashion that by 2018, Volvo says the XC90 will be the oldest.
The XC90 comes in three packages, Momentum, Inscription, and R-Design. I was given the Inscription model to inspect.
The first thing one will notice about the new '16 XC90 is its size. While still around the same height, the car has been widened by 3 inches and lengthened by half a foot. The looks are vastly different, too, instantly noticeable in the front of the car. The large clustered headlights have been replaced by slim, rectangular lamps with "Hammer of Thor" (aptly named for its visual relation) headlights beaming inside. The grill is much bigger and features a much more prominent badge. The hood has also been rounded, a feature that carries through the sides of the car, giving it a much sleeker look than before. Even the rear of the car, which looks the most similar to its predecessor than the rest, is more rounded. The exhaust is now a dual-exit, single-tip variety, as compared to the single exit-dual tips from the past. The extra 3 inches of width don't sound like much but certainly lends to a much squatter look than the prior generation.
The interior of the car is what Volvo calls a "Scandinavian Sanctuary." Much attention has been focused on quality, fit, and finish, with their gratuitous use of stitched super-soft Nappa leather (the color of a grandmother's beige purse), walnut wood accents, and polished metal. Even the small areas of plastic look fine. The front seats have all the customizable options you could want in terms of lumbar and bolster support, all easily managed on their new 9-inch Sensus screen.
The Sensus screen planted in the center console of the car, akin to what's in the Tesla, is like having an iPad at your fingerprints. From here, most of the car's functions can be customized. You can even pinpoint where you want most of the music from the speakers to center in. The display is incredibly responsive to finger swipes and presses, making the system actually work and not a source of frustration. It's also infrared powered, meaning gloved hands can still operate the screen with no problem—a boon to East Coast citizens in their increasingly cold winters. However, older drivers may want their grandchildren to give them a crash course in navigating the screen beforehand, given the potential foreign nature of a touchscreen-dependent navigation.
Speaking of navigation, the road navigation provided by Sensus, coupled with the optional Heads Up Display, seemed to work well despite one moment when it directed us to a closed road. But hell, even Apple makes mistakes in its navigation.
The second row of seats is comfortable, with optional heated seats and individual climate control. A 12-volt socket accessible by second row occupants is included as well; while there aren't any USB slots in the back seat, that's something that can be remedied by purchasing a simple adapter from your local Best Buy. The second row also features Volvo's seat in the middle that is adaptable as a child grows older by incorporating a booster seat with a simple lift of a strap (now celebrating 25 years of such innovation). The child seat can also be independently moved closer to the front two seats, providing easy reaching for parents. Third row seats are slightly less comfortable for adults, but a passenger could theoretically be just over 6 feet with two identically sized adults in front of each other in the next two rows and you could get to a local restaurant just fine.
The cargo space with all seats up is adequate enough for daily shopping trips, but should you make a trip to Ikea, you may want to put down the rear two rows of seats, which can be easily done. With the seats lying completely flat, up to nearly 88 cubic feet of space is available.
Under the hood of the T6 is a 2.0L, four-cylinder gasoline engine, which is both turbocharged and supercharged and produces 316 hp with 295 pounds of torque; it sends power through an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel-drive layout. You'll get to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds, which is pretty impressive given it weighs nearly two and a half tons. Fuel consumption isn't horrible, either at 22 mpg combined. Don't ask for any more cylinders for this car because you won't get any. Volvo has deemed this engine good enough; therefore, there won't be any other variants (except for the modified version, the T8, which I'll talk about later on).
To unleash the various drive options, you use a gorgeous spin knob to cycle through the modes, including Pure Performance and Comfort. In Pure Performance, the car was quite responsive and, while not a sport sedan, managed itself well through the corners on our drive from Santa Monica to Ojai. The throttle response is improved in this mode as well, although at the sacrifice of an increase in its less-than-impressive engine noise, which sounds like the four-cylinder is using every bit of muscle it has. Comfort mode, which will be most drivers' default for daily use, gave an appropriate balance of speed and performance and virtually cut out any engine noise. In both cases, the gear changes from the eight-speed automatic transmission were predictable and smooth with no complaints.
On streets, the car has very little road and wind noise; however, once on the highway these two things become a little more apparent, but still highly tolerable. Uneven road service didn't roll under our car like there was nothing there; in fact, my notes at times became squiggly due to some occasional roughness in the ride, but again, very satisfactory. It should also be noted the example driven included its four-corner active air suspension, a $1,800 dollar option, which also adapted to the various driving modes.
The convenience package was also included in our tester, which comes with lane assistance and adaptive cruise control. Should I start to venture out of my lane, the car would take over the wheel and nudge the car for me to stay within the limits. Adaptive cruise control also worked well in keeping distance behind whomever we followed.
Another option that was included was the Bowers & Wilkins Premium Sound System, which thoroughly incorporates the structure of the car to maximize the quality of sound. The system is engineered to theoretically use the whole body of the car as a massive subwoofer—an incredible and also effective achievement. The sound was impressively clear and well balanced in default mode, but if you're pickier, a 9-bar equalizer can be tweaked in Sensus. The system can also reproduce the acoustics of the Gothenburg Concert Hall and makes the sound much more expansive. It isn't necessarily cheap, as it'll cost you an extra $2,500, but if every other sense of yours is being pampered, why not your ears?
Safety has always been what Volvo is known for since the beginning, and the XC90 takes it even further. By 2020, Volvo is hoping that nobody should be killed or seriously injured in any Volvo car, and this is one more step closer to its lofty goal. Spinal injury prevention has been closely researched and seats now can deform to absorb impact and pull the driver or passenger into a better position to prevent serious injury. The vehicle will also automatically brake should it find itself coming into the path of an oncoming car in an intersection, a standard feature. Pedestrian and cyclist collision prevention has now been incorporated for night use. The optional Pilot Assist will aid the driver in parking, providing a 360-degree view of the car, control acceleration and brakes, and assist in steering in rear parking. It'll also find spots perpendicular to the car that will be adequate to park in, should you think otherwise.
In addition to the T6 AWD Volvo gave us to drive, the company also brought along the pre-production Euro-spec T8 Twin Engine version of the XC90. The 2.0L four-cylinder engine from the T6 is mated with a 60 kilowatt, 82hp, electric motor to power the rear wheels. The T8 includes a liquid-cooled 9.2 kWh lithium-ion battery planted centrally in the tunnel of the car, with no space compromise compared to the T6. In addition, there's a liquid-cooled 34-kilowatt crank-integrated starter generator that'll recharge the battery with regenerative braking. As a result, the combined powerplants push the car to a combined 400 hp, 472 pound feet of torque, and pushes the 400-pound heavier car to a preliminary 0-60 time of 5.1 seconds. Not bad for the world's first seven-seater plug-in hybrid (not to mention its estimated 59 MPGe city gas mileage).
Driving the T6, however, was not completely impressive. The brakes appeared to be pretty grabby; while not uncommon for regenerative brakes, they seemed to be more grabby than necessary, and Volvo told me it is something that will be addressed prior to production. The "save" mode exacerbated this problem. Sprint Mode, in which all engines are maxed out to provide as much power as possible, was a thrill, however. It took off incredibly quickly with both the electric and supercharger pushing me off at stoplights with incredible response. Pure mode, in the opposite category, allowed the car to run purely on its electric motor. Volvo says you'll be able to use it in pure mode for about 17 miles, enough for small commutes or errands. Interior was much the same for this Inscription model except for the genuine crystal in the gearshift knob-nice touch, Volvo.
After driving the XC90, I have very little doubt Volvo is in the right hands with China's Geely. Full control has been restored to the Swedish manufacturer to do what it does best—create a stylish, safe, quality automobile, and one that the XC90 doesn't fail in one aspect to bring to the consumer. Skal, Volvo.