There is a lot riding on the redesigned 2016 Volvo XC90. It’s not just a completely redone SUV; it represents everything new about this Swedish carmaker that is reestablishing itself as a luxury brand that is now owned by a Chinese company.
It would seem to be a good pairing of car companies, and one that allows Volvo to keep its accent while supporting its Vision 2020 — that no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo by the year 2020.
That was reassuring during my recent test of top-line XC90, though it did not seem I was driving a savior. It is a completely new vehicle on a new platform with some significant achievements that are mostly under the skin or under the hood.
This is only the second generation of XC90, which debuted in 2002. The new model is 5.5 inches longer and 4.4 inches wider, on a wheelbase that is almost 5 inches longer.
But it is still an SUV and quite capable with such competing makes as Range Rover and Mercedes-Benz — the XC90 has moved that far forward in comps. And a T8 hybrid model begins deliveries soon.
It’s a simple package: three trim levels with standard all-wheel drive, one engine and one transmission, an eight-speed Geartronic. Starting prices, including $995 freight charge from Gothenburg, Sweden, are $49,895 for the Momentum model, $53,895 for the R-Design and $55,495 for the T6 AWD Inscription, today’s tester. Free scheduled maintenance is included for three years or 36,000 miles.
Standard safety features include City Safety, which is a suite of driver assists that will help avoid or mitigate collisions with vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians.
The Inscription upgrade adds $5,600 in some tech features and finery, such as Active Bending Headlights (that turn a few degrees with the steering wheel), Nappa leather upholstery (and lots of it), power seat cushion adjusters, walnut wood inlays and rear side window sunshades.
The leather has a heady aroma and looks handcrafted. The walnut, a light shade, has handsome graining. The silver matte metal fits the contemporary feel of the cabin. Front headroom is tall at 38.9 inches with the sunroof.
It may be difficult to believe, but this 4,600-pound, seven-passenger, all-wheel-drive SUV is powered by a four-cylinder engine. Not just any four-banger, this is a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter that is pushed to 316 horsepower with 295 foot-pounds of torque from 2,200-4,500 rotations per minute.
The supercharger kicks in for power off the line and then shuts down when the turbo can spool up. Acceleration is brisk and gear changes are so fluid that I barely noticed them. Volvo cites 0-60 miles per hour in 6.1 seconds. There are performance modes of Eco, Comfort, High-Performance and Individual.
Fuel economy ratings on premium fuel — with all-wheel drive — are good at 20 miles per gallon city, 25 highway and 22 miles per gallon combined. The all-wheel-drive system launches with traction to all four tires and then adjusts to mostly front wheel until more pull is needed.
Options include a self-parking feature and an integrated child booster cushion in the second-row center position. The optional four-corner air suspension ($1,800) provided a supple ride, bending gracefully to ease into angled driveways and across speed bumps with gentle head toss. And there’s a switch in the cargo area to lower the ride height by 2 inches when parked for easy loading or to hitch a trailer.
Second row legroom is generous, at 37 inches. The second row folds and drops the head restraints in one easy maneuver, but there is no power folding option, nor is there a way to raise the third row seats from the cargo area.
There are many technologies layered into the electronics, but I struggled with the 9-inch touchscreen. Volvo uses a vertical screen, which is intended to require less scrolling. But it still takes eyes from the road, and finding the touch points takes time to master. I tried using voice controls to adjust fan speed and change a radio station, but failed and somehow managed to route myself to Nevada. And then I couldn’t cancel the navigation using all the known cancel commands, such as “Stop guidance,” “Cancel guidance,” “Stop Navigation” and then a string of curse-laden directives. For the next three days, the system wanted me to go to Nevada. Eventually, I just turned down the volume. Touchscreens may be sexy to designers, but just let the driver make simple adjustments without having to reach over and tap twice to make one change.
Clearly, the XC90 is intended for the North American market. And while there are some subtle twists and turns to the features, there isn’t much that hasn’t been applied to most evolved SUVs. Overall, it is functional cabin space with polite and convenient storage, sightlines and connectivity. But the body shell seems fairly generic “SUV” (like a Ford Explorer) but with well-applied Volvo features.
Driving a Volvo isn’t just driving a car. It is more like embracing a lifestyle statement of culture and a philosophy. Learning the language can take time.
Mark Maynard is online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage