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Thursday, May 28, 2015

The 2016 Volvo XC90 is Simply a Great Place to Be: First Drive



When the original XC90 made its debut for 2003, it was a big deal. American SUV shoppers went wild and made it Volvo’s most popular model for seven years in a row. Now, that aging model will depart dealer lots in favor of its newfangled Swedish successor. So is this one worth getting just as excited about? 
Well, yes. Quite.

The 2016 Volvo XC90 is less evolution and more revolution for the brand. It heralds an all-new family of engines (Drive-E), a new scalable brand architecture (SPA), and a sculpted new design language. Those are all interesting talking points on their own, but when molded together they create a compelling package – something you realize the instant you sit behind the wheel.


That power. Gone are the five, six, and eight-cylinder engines of old, now replaced with Volvo’s boosted four-cylinders. But don’t worry about displacement, they pull hard. In the US, the XC90 ships with both T6 and T8 engine configurations. Spec-up the T6 and you’ll receive 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque from the turbocharged and supercharged four. Select the T8 and Volvo adds a plug-in hybrid system, 400 horsepower, an expected range of 17 pure electric-only miles, and a whole lot of go.

Prod the throttle in both cars and the XC90 will leap – 5.3 seconds to 60 mph in the techy T8, 6.1 seconds in the T6. Keep your foot hard down and you can feel the supercharger whine as the eight-speed transmission heaves on its gears. Ease it back and the gearbox rifles through its cogs briskly and unobtrusively. The straight-line urgency in the T8 is even more pronounced thanks to its hybrid torque curve, aided by a slightly quicker throttle response, presumably down to the T8’s shift-by-wire system.


On road and in the bends, both XC90s feel planted and athletic. The steering feel is light and responsive and the optional four corner air-suspension does a nice job of sopping up bumps, without losing too much road feel. Blasting around in the torquey T8 hybrid is a unique occasion worth experiencing… again, and again.

But performance is only part of Volvo’s equation. Safety is another. The XC90 comes equipped with a full suite of active and passive safety features, including a collision avoidance system, which I nearly put to the test. An audible warning and slight dab of the brakes alerted me to a precariously merging pickup truck in a construction zone. Luckily I didn’t have to test some of Volvo’s other safety features – cyclist and pedestrian detection, and run-off road protection. A key option worth spec-ing up?

The Vision Package with blind-spot alerts and a 360-degree birds-eye camera view – tight parking lots have never felt so spacious.


Inside and out, the XC90 really shines in its appearance and form. The seats – which took an alleged seven years to develop – are exceedingly comfortable, and using Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system is as easy as negotiating an iPhone screen, which is to say very intuitive. Volvo tells us Apple CarPlay will become available in fall of 2015, with Android Auto coming as an addition to Sensus in spring 2016. Also worth a mention is the Bowers & Wilkins 19-piece stereo system, which is an auditory treat, though it does carry a rather significant premium when optioning up.

All things considered, Volvo hit another home run with its new XC90. People who want to buy a BMW X5 will buy an X5. People who want to buy an Audi Q7 will buy a Q7, so on and so forth. But for every cross-shopping luxury SUV buyer, you honestly owe it to yourself to take a test drive in one of these.


The non-hybrid T6 remains my takeaway favorite for its balance of price (starts at $48,900), engine performance and poise. For those looking for a little more get-up, or rather electric-only abilities, the next-level T8 fits the bill.


Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged, supercharged straight-four
Horsepower: 316 (T6) / 400 (T8)
0-60: 6.1 (T6) / 5.3 (T8)
Base Price: $48,900 (T6) / $68,100 (T8)