Overview: After extended product doldrums due to changing overlords, Volvo has emerged as strong as ever with the launch of the XC90 SUV for 2016, the impressive start of an all-new lineup developed under Chinese owner Geely. With an upright and bold countenance, the XC90 exudes confidence, and its nearly Range Rover?rivaling presence, along with a full complement of features and technology, comfortably earns its way further upmarket than previous XC90s. Lest you think it's getting by on looks alone, the Volvo manages to pack more third-row and cargo space-with hooks and tie-downs aplenty-in a footprint similar to peers such as the Audi Q7, the Land Rover Range Rover Sport, and the BMW X5. Unlike its competitors, however, the Volvo is powered solely by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that comes in three strengths: the turbocharged 250-hp T5, the turbo- and supercharged 316-hp T6, and the 400-hp electric-motor-assisted T8 plug-in hybrid. Entry-level T5 models are five-seat only and come with front- or all-wheel drive, while the T6 and T8 add a third row-except for the pinnacle T8 Excellence model, which is a four-seater-and standard all-wheel drive.
What's New: We've said before that the XC90's exquisite interior is worthy of a vehicle costing twice as much, and for 2017, Volvo concurs, launching the range-topping $105,895 Excellence, an ultra-luxurious four-seat version of the plug-in T8 that more than doubles the XC90's $46,745 starting price. Also available this year is an output upgrade for the T8 hybrid from Volvo's in-house tuning arm, Polestar, which adds 21 hp and 30 lb-ft of torque. And the Sensus infotainment system now includes additional built-in app integration, the most noteworthy of which is the streaming-music service Spotify. This means songs no longer have to be funneled through a user's smartphone, and full control is possible through the XC90's 9.0-inch touchscreen (when using Spotify via Apple CarPlay, the app's functionality is significantly reduced).
What We Like: The decadently detailed and gorgeous interior including open-pore walnut wood trim, which also adorns the sliding cupholder cover, in the elevated Inscription-trim T6 and test cars we evaluated. Here's another example of the above-and-beyond detailing: The stitching that decorates the leather dash and door inserts actually continues unabated behind the grab tab for the sunshades on the rear side glass. And the key fob is wrapped in the same caramel beige leather as the seats. We're also fans of the minimalist dash design, although it's enabled by packing almost everything into the complex but quick-responding Sensus touch-screen infotainment system, which will require some acclimation time, especially for those who aren't regular tablet users. Get used to swiping left to find audio and apps, right for vehicle functions, and down for settings.
As with a just-right mattress, at first the front seats seem overly firm, but the more time spent in them the more orthopedically perfect they feel, although there's not much lateral bolstering to hold occupants in place during aggressive cornering. Surprisingly, the 21-inch wheels and tires on our T6 didn't ruin the ride, and the steering is sharp and properly weighted. The XC90 also has a number of surprise-and-delight features such as a sunroof shade that automatically closes in hot weather, the ability to adjust the passenger seat using the driver's-side controls, and an available built-in child booster seat in the center seat of the second row.
What We Don't Like: We're not convinced that four-cylinder-only power is the way to go, not so much for performance reasons-although, by a narrow margin, the XC90 was the slowest in its last comparison-test appearance-but mostly because the engine sounds gravelly in its upper reaches, which is discordant with the luxury mission. These deficiencies of the Volvo powertrain, and the more athletic behavior of the Audi Q7, caused the Audi to just outpoint the XC90 as our 10Best award winner for best mid-size luxury SUV.
We haven't found the XC90 to return significantly better fuel economy than competitors powered by sweeter-sounding, smoother six-cylinder engines. However, a T6 model did achieve 27 mpg on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy loop, 2 mpg better than its EPA rating and 3 mpg better than an Audi Q7 with a supercharged V-6. We'd like a setting between Comfort, where the XC90's off-the-line response feels a bit soft, and Dynamic, which raises the idle to 1000 from 875 rpm and arguably overstimulates throttle response.
We'd also like to see Volvo tune the brake response: eliminate the sensation of the pedal squishing through some travel before biting, and once it does, slightly reduce the pedal effort required. Although navigation is standard, we'd trade it for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, which we think should be included at this price point. CarPlay is currently optional, while Android Auto is supposedly coming but not yet available.
It'd be hard to recommend the T8 plug-in hybrid for the $11,550 upcharge over an equivalent 316-hp T6. It doesn't pull like it's packing 400 horsepower, in part because it weighs 450 pounds more. The T8 is only a couple of ticks quicker than an Audi Q7 with the 333-hp V-6, and we've found its fuel economy to be extremely underwhelming. The T8 actually did worse than the T6 on our 75-mph, 200-mile highway test, returning 26 MPGe. Plus, the extra weight makes the XC90 feel more ponderous and diminishes ride quality.
Perhaps because Volvo continues to telegraph its interest in pushing toward fully autonomous capability, we found it unnerving that the Pilot Assist feature in the XC90, which promises lane centering in addition to the automatic speed control of the adaptive cruise, always uncomfortably hugged the left side of the lane. And the system doesn't steer strongly enough to stay in its lane, even through moderate curves. Based on this behavior, full autonomy seems light-years away.
Verdict: A gorgeously compelling new entry that is upending the luxury-SUV oligarchy.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front- or all-wheel-drive, 5- or 7-passenger, 4-door hatchback
BASE PRICES: T5, $46,745;
T5 AWD, $48,745; T6 AWD, $52,595; T8 AWD, $72,795
ENGINE TYPES: turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter inline-4, 250 hp, 258 lb-ft; turbocharged, supercharged, and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter inline-4, 316 hp, 295 lb-ft; turbocharged, supercharged, and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter inline-4, 313 hp, 295 lb-ft + 2 permanent-magnet synchronous AC motors, 46 hp, 111 lb-ft and 87 hp, 177 lb-ft (combined output, 400 hp, 470 lb-ft; 9.2-kWh lithium-ion battery pack)
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 117.5 in
Length: 194.9 in
Width: 79.1 in Height: 69.9 in
Passenger volume: 100?133 cu ft
Cargo volume: 16?43 cu ft
Curb weight (C/D EST): 4600?5200 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 6.0 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 15.5 sec Zero to 120 mph: 25.3 sec Rolling start, 5?60 mph: 7.1 sec Top gear, 30?50 mph: 3.4 sec Top gear, 50?70 mph: 4.6 sec Standing ?-mile: 14.6 sec @ 97 mph Top speed (governor limited): 132 mph Braking, 70?0 mph: 167 ft Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.84 gTested vehicle: 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription
FUEL ECONOMY:EPA combined/city/highway driving (T5 and T6): 22?24/20?22/25?26 mpg
EPA electricity + gas combined driving (T8 plug-in hybrid): 54 MPGe
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