It wasn’t all that long ago that a Volvo, as Jeremy Clarkson once put it, was simply a box for putting your airbags in. My, how the times have changes.
Now flush with cash thanks to its new Chinese owner, Volvo has shifted from making sturdy wagons to the sumptuous XC90 crossover. But, is the all-new Volvo XC90 really as good as it looks? Come with us to find out.
What is it?
A follow-up to the original XC90 that debuted way back in 2002, the 2016 Volvo XC90 is a large, three-row crossover that competes within the luxury ranks.
In addition to being the first Volvo vehicle totally designed under the supervision of Chinese owner Geely, the XC90 also has the distinction of riding on an all-new platform that will eventually underpin most future Volvo vehicles. Continuing its pioneering streak, the XC90 uses a brand new turbo- and supercharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine that develops 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive are fitted as standard equipment.
For those seeking more power without the guilt, Volvo also offers the XC90 with a hybrid system that bumps power to 400 horsepower and 472 lb-ft of torque.
What’s it up against?
The 2016 Volvo XC90 competes in the upper-echelon of the luxury SUV segment against the likes of the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLS. Other, more rugged alternatives could include the Land Rover LR4 and Lexus GX 460.
How does it look?
Simple yet sophisticated, the exterior of the XC90 is classic Scandinavian design.
The front of the XC90 is highlighted by a sleek nose that features an oversized grille, pronounced lower fascia with metallic-like accents and Volvo’s new “hammer of Thor” headlights. A hood with plenty of creases and contours gives the XC90 a hint of muscle.
Overall the XC90 is a very well-proportioned vehicle, with a relatively low belt line giving it a hunkered-down look. On paper our tester’s 21-inch wheel look over-sized but, in reality, they mesh well with the overall design and help keep the XC90 visually planted to the ground.
Although a classic tow-box design, the XC90 has a touch of sportiness thanks to a sharply raked rear hatch and a pronounced set of rear haunches. Taillights are signature Volvo, extending from the XC90’s tailgate up through the D-pillars. Although not readily apparent at first glance, the XC90’s tailgate includes a handsome bit of sculpting. The lower bumper area is finished off with twin exhaust outlets surrounded by silver trim.
Without a doubt, the Volvo XC90 is the best-looking vehicle in its segment. Perhaps more importantly, the 2016 XC90 exudes a kind of premium feel that the last-generation model could never quite muster.
And on the inside?
As much as we like the exterior design of the XC90, it’s the interior that’s the real show stopper. Beautifully designed with high-end materials, the XC90 feels every bit as luxurious as its German rivals.
Materials are top notch throughout the XC90’s interior, including wood accents that wouldn’t look out of place in a Rolls-Royce. Thoughtfully placed chrome and aluminum accent pieces serve as the perfect balance for the wood’s natural tones.
Our tester’s two-toned black-and-caramel color scheme was particularly striking and would be our choice if we were plunking down our own hard-earned money. As seen here, the Inscription packages includes Nappa leather for the XC90’s seats, dash and upper door panels.
Although the XC90 has plenty of old world design charm, it doesn’t fall short in the high-tech realm of vehicle electronics. The XC90 sports a 9-inch center touchscreen display that runs Volvo’s latest Sensus infotainment system. Volvo has also rolled out Apple CarPlay compatibility to the XC90, but we weren’t able to test out that latest update.
The tablet-like screen handles most of the XC90’s major functions, including navigation, audio, Bluetooth connectivity and heating, cooling and ventilation. A few physical buttons are retained just below the touchscreen, including an actual knob for volume control.
A benefit of the screen’s taller aspect ratio is that it allows the vehicle’s different functions to be “stacked” on a single page, which limits the need to flip between different screens. A home screen button on the lower bezel is a useful addition to the touchscreen system.
While the sectioned layout of the virtual system helps to keep everything logically arranged, the individual screens are a little more finicky to navigate. For example, we switched the order of the SiriusXM channel readout from ‘channel number’ to ‘category’ and then struggled for the next 10-minutes to flip it back. And for the life of us we couldn’t find a way to sync the HVAC system so we constantly had to adjust the driver’s side temp followed by the passenger’s side.
We also came away less than impressed with the XC90’s navigation system. We tested it on a familiar route back home and found the system constantly suggesting routes that were unnecessarily out of the way. It’s at least easy to follow the XC90’s ridiculous routes via the 9-inch center screen and redundant readout in the gauge cluster.
While we’re on the subject, the XC90’s gauge cluster is a 12.3-inch LCD unit similar to the setup found in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Virtual analog dials (an oxymoron if there ever was one) for speed and engine RPMs are easy to read, and we’re particularly fond of the red hash that appears at the mark for the posted speed limit.
The XC90’s front seats are supremely comfortable with power adjustments for just about every section. The XC90’s second-row seats offer plenty and head- and leg-room for adults, but the third row is best suited for children.
While we were certainly impressed with the XC90’s cabin, it’s not without its faults. For some reason Volvo decided to equip the XC90 with a manual steering column rather than an electrically-powered one, which means there is no way to store steering wheel position in the memory seat buttons or safety adjust the column while on the go. And for a car that puts such an emphasis on technology, we were surprised to find just one USB outlet.
We’re also concerned that the XC90 might have a few gremlins lurking. On one occasion the power tailgate didn’t work at all and on another the radio and gauges stayed on after we turned off the vehicle and opened the driver’s door. We also noticed a rattling coming from the passenger’s side rear door, which is somewhat alarming considering our tester only had 7,000 miles on the clock.
Lastly, the XC90’s third-row seats are simple enough to fold forward, but there is no easy way to get them back up from there rear of the vehicle. There’s no power function or even a strap, so you have to climb all the way into the cargo area to grab the handle located next to the base of the headrest and then wrestle the seats back into place.
But does it go?
Tipping the scales at more than 4,600 pounds, the XC90 is a portly vehicle for just 2-liters and four-cylinders, but the turbocharger and supercharger do an admirable job of keeping the XC90 moving along.
The supercharger works at engines speeds below 3,500rpm, ensuring the XC90 has adequate grunt off the line. We question Volvo’s quoted 0-60 time of 6.1 seconds, but the XC90 certainly doesn’t have any trouble keeping up with city traffic. Highway passing is a different story, however, with the four-cylinder feeling strained when whipped hard at higher speeds.
The XC90’s eight-speed transmission provides smooth shifts and does a good job of keeping the four-cylinder in its power band. A manual-shift mode is available, but only via the gear lever since the XC90 lacks steering wheel paddle shifters.
A Drive Mode toggle wheel is located in the XC90’s center console and provides a few different settings, including Comfort, Eco and Dynamic. An off-road setting is also available, should the going get rough.
Comfort mode is obviously the XC90’s most comfortable setting, offering a compliant ride from the air suspension and typical responses from the throttle and gearbox. The XC90 is comfortable over most surfaces, but it does tend to crash over more severe road imperfection. We suspect that’s mostly down to our tester’s large 21-inch wheels and low-profile tires.
Flip the switch to Dynamic and the air suspension lowers and the XC90’s throttle and gear changes sharpen up. The ride is certainly stiffer in Dynamic mode, but the XC90 remains a comfortable luxury vehicle. Throttle response is instant in Dynamic mode, but it’s almost too quick, which can lead to jerky starts. Eco mode is the opposite, requiring much more effort to get the XC90 going.
Like most modern cars, the XC90 has an automatic engine start-stop system, in addition to an overly aggressive automatic brake hold. Whereas most automatic brake hold systems simply keep you from rolling back when starting on a hill, the XC90’s engages any time you come to a stop, which had us constantly checking if we had accidentally left the parking brake on — it’s that noticeable. In the end we just switched the automatic hold off, which kind of defeats the purpose of having it in the first place.
Steering is just about what you’d expect from a large utility vehicle; accurate, but with little in the way of weight or road feel. Brakes proved just fine during out week-long evaluation.
Other than the previously noted rattle, the XC90’s interior is as quite as its flagship designation would suggest. But if you prefer it loud, the XC90’s Bowers & Wilkins sound system sounds awesome, providing plenty of power and clarity for your favorite tunes.
Adaptive cruise control worked just as it should, be we found the lane keeping assist feature of the XC90 less effect when it came to keeping it between the painted lines. Sometime it would nudge us back in our lane, while other times it would let us drift between the markers.
The EPA rates the 2016 Volvo XC90 at 20mpg in the city and 25mpg on the highway, netting a combined rating of 22mpg. We fell just short of that combined average, netting 21mpg during our week of mixed driving.
Leftlane’s bottom line
Volvo has long been known for safety, but the XC90 proves the Swedish automaker knows a thing or two about styling as well. It’s hard to call the XC90 anything but the best-looking crossover money can buy.
Some faults aside, the 2016 Volvo XC90 is a highly competitive vehicle that should see its fair share of defectors the typical German brands. Welcome back, Volvo.
2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription base price, $48,900. As tested, $66,705.
Inscription package, $5,600; Vision package, $1,600; Climate package with HUD, $1,950; Convenience package, $1,800; Bowers & Wilkins premium sound, $2,500; Metallic paint, $560; 21-inch wheels, $750; Air suspension, $1,800; Destination, $995.
Photos by Drew Johnson.