New & Used Volvo XC90: In Depth
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The Volvo XC90 is both the Swedish brand's largest utility vehicle and its first all-new design in several years. First launched in 2003, the XC90 featured three rows of seats, all-wheel drive as an option on some models (it was standard on others), and a stellar record for safety that saw the 10-year-old first-generation XC90 ace newly added crash-safety tests that hadn't been conceived when it was designed.
Volvo unveiled the new XC90 in late 2014, and it goes on sale in the U.S. in the late summer and early autumn of 2015 as a 2016 model. It offers vast improvements in the areas of comfort, technology, efficiency, and design, as well as Volvo's first-ever plug-in hybrid model. Competitors include the BMW X5, the Mercedes-Benz M-Class, and Land Rover's LR4.
For more details on the various models of the new XC90, including options, prices, and specifications, see our preview of the 2016 Volvo XC90.
The New XC90
While the 2015 XC90 is carried over essentially unchanged, a completely new, second-generation XC90 at last arrives for 2016. With a new plug-in hybrid option, new Drive-E engines (including a 316-horsepower, turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder), an eight-speed automatic, a radical new interior design, a tablet-like Sensus touch-screen system, and new active safety features, the 2016 Volvo XC90 might again transform the family crossover market. It's slated to arrive here in the spring.
The plug-in hybrid version of the 2016 XC90 should be the first of the new models to arrive. The plug-in powertrain is dubbed T8, as it provides the output expected of a V-8 engine. It does so, however, with the combination of a turbo- and supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder Drive-E engine and an eight-speed automatic driving the front wheels, while the rear axle is powered by an 82-horsepower electric motor for a through-the-road hybrid/AWD setup. Total system output is 400 hp and 472 pound-feet of torque.
The more common powertrain will be the T6 version, which uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged Drive-E four-cylinder engine good for 316 horsepower 295 lb-ft of torque. It will be packaged with an eight-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive.
The trim levels even got a redo for this generation. Base models are now called Momentum, the sporty R-Design returns at the middle of the lineup, and the most luxurious models bear the Inscription badge. All three come with the 316-hp, 2.0-liter Drive-E engine as standard equipment.
The XC90 is now a classic shape--which is another way of saying it was the oldest vehicle in the Volvo lineup before the 2016 replacement arrived. Through the long first generation, it retained its historic pricing position, slightly less expensive than its German counterparts. Perhaps more so than the latest, swoopier Volvo styles, the XC90 continued the tradition of safe and sensible Swedish design. It was voted the North American Truck of the Year in its debut year, and its sedan-like handling made the original model an easy-to-use and practical family hauler for the upscale suburbs where it's normally seen.
The basic shape of the original XC90 wore well over its more than a decade of life. A mild facelift was introduced for 2007, and another one for 2013. The latter included new body-color bumpers and trim, more brightwork on those bumpers, and LED running lamps and taillamps. All of these changes contribute to its carlike personality, though the interior remains quite dated--and shows its age particularly in the lack of the thin "floating" central console and more minimalist look now found in all other Volvos.
Handling is one of the XC90’s key strengths, in fact. And it makes the XC90 an ideal alternative to larger, more ponderous sport-utility vehicles and boring, uber-practical minivans. The second-row seats adjust, varying the mix of passenger room and cargo volume, and a third-row seat was made standard in 2010. That one, unfortunately, is so cramped that it's strictly for children--and probably agile ones at that.
The XC90 currently offers just one engine in U.S. versions, a 235-horsepower, 3.2-liter inline-six. It's mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, and the pair returns EPA estimated fuel economy of 16 mpg city, 23 highway. Front-wheel drive is standard, while all-wheel drive is an option. In the past, Volvo offered a 311-hp, 4.4-liter V-8 in the XC90, but it returned poor gas mileage and was discontinued after the 2011 model year.
Previously, for 2009, Volvo had added the R-Design option on the XC90, which gave the SUV some sportier touches such as 19-inch alloy wheels, a new grille and split dual exhaust pipes. For 2010, however, the R-Design trim was limited to the six-cylinder model.
For 2012, the Volvo XC90 got new Premier Plus and Platinum trims that added a few new features, and tech options were repackaged. The XC90's sound system gained both Bluetooth audio streaming and Pandora playlists the same year. Those updates followed a 2011 instrument panel revision that upped the XC90's standard equipment, adding Bluetooth, Sirius satellite radio, and new watch-dial instrumentation.
The XC90 might be dated in design, but Volvo has sweetened the deal with more standard features and new options. For 2014, the XC90 got a folding front passenger seat, a 19-inch "Galateia" wheel design, and the option for upgraded Sovereign leather. The sportier R-Design model also received a Homelink garage door opener. And the company moved all-wheel drive, the Blind Sport Information System, and the dual-screen rear entertainment system to the list of standalone options.