The 2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription can almost drive itself. It can max out with 400 horsepower or cruise emissions-free. It can fit nearly half of my family. This one costs more than a Cadillac Escalade. Which of these things is most surprising?
I'd argue the price. Volvo is trying hard to entrench itself as a legitimate luxury player, and it's not cutting corners. The XC90 is legit. I drove one for a few days and came away impressed with the style and technology. Sure, it's expensive, but our Inscription test model was loaded.
- This XC90 impresses in many ways, but even with all of the other features, the powertrain is still worthy of top billing. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder is supercharged and turbocharged and in the T8 there's a plug-in hybrid system on top ? Volvo calls it Twin Engine. That's a rare blend, and it results in 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque. The supercharger helps for low-end power and the turbo comes on as speed builds. The result is a large crossover with a small engine that almost always feels like it has plenty of power.
- This T8 has several powertrain modes. Pure runs the XC90 on electricity, and you get 13 miles of driving. There's also a "save" feature, and a couple of times I was able to coax the electric range back up to about 25 percent from 0. It's a neat trick, though you use more gasoline to do it. It allowed me to use the XC90 as an actual hybrid rather than driving around on only the 313-hp inline-four. There's also a power mode for when you simply demand a lot of power, the hybrid mode for general driving, an all-wheel-drive setting for slippery situations, and a dedicated off-road tuning.
- I'm a big fan of the design. The XC90 is simple, confident, and punctuated with flourishes like LED lights and a matte silver grille up front. The Volvo in your mind might still be a boxy wagon, but the XC90's long, creased proportions communicate the company's design language in a modern way.
- The cabin is gorgeous. The walnut wood inlays accent dark and tan Nappa leather pieces. There's an Orrefors crystal shift knob in the middle, an Inscription exclusive. It's my favorite part of the car.
- This model has room for seven, and I put that to the test on a bleak Sunday morning with at least that many family members huddled inside while we waited for some rain to pass. The panoramic moon roof gives the cabin an airy feel, especially on sunny days.
- Sensus and its nine-inch touch screen is handsome, and I'd put it on par with the slick infotainment systems found in Teslas. I did have a few issues using the audio controls and modulating the heating and cooling. As a result, I listened to sports talk radio on the concert hall setting and dealt with foggy windows. Owners will figure it out and adapt. Still, there's a learning curve to toggling through the screens, especially at speed.
- City Safety will help you avoid pedestrians and bikers, though I didn't have a chance (or thankfully, the need) to try this out. This model also has a 360-degree camera system, which is becoming more common across the industry, but still is pleasing. Electronic nannies to keep you from straying from your lane and running off the road are also standard.
- Okay, so a note on the price. Our test vehicle came in at $84,005. You buy this specific vehicle if you want a Volvo, want the XC90, and then want almost everything on the XC90. You can get one for $44,945; that model ? the T5 with a 250-horsepower four-cylinder, front-wheel drive, and room for five passengers ? is definitely not an Escalade fighter. It is a viable option for a lot of upscale families looking to move up from everyday crossovers and SUVs from the likes of Honda, Ford, and Toyota.
- To continue with the Cadillac example, the XC90 is a flexible flagship in the same vein as the Cadillac CT6. You can get a rear-wheel four-cylinder CT6 for $54,490, which is really an E-Class fighter. Or load it up with the twin-turbo V6 and all-wheel drive and you have an American car worthy of breathing the same air as an S-Class. Challenger brands like Volvo and Cadillac are bending price points and preconceptions to gain footholds. Both companies have some excellent products. They're spreading things out until they have more. It's a good strategy, for now.
The XC90 was the first vehicle based on Volvo's Scalable Product Architecture, a modular set of underpinnings also used for the S90 sedan and V90 wagon. Let's be blunt: Volvo will never topple Mercedes, BMW, or maybe even Cadillac in the large luxury sedan segment, no matter how good its Scandinavian cars are. The V90 is gorgeous, but station wagons are the answer to a trivia question for most Americans.
For Volvo to win it needs the oldest SPA sibling, the XC90, to lead. It has to surprise and delight. Volvos have never been cheap and often they've been quite good. The XC90 is the best-selling Volvo model in 2016. The price shouldn't be a surprise, and apparently it's no hinderance to sales. It's worth every penny.