- Superb, quietly luxurious interior
- Restrained, elegant design
- Intuitive pad-like Sensus interface
- Safety features second to none
- Efficient plug-in hybrid option
- Design downplays prestige
- Advanced safety systems optional
- Seven seats, one USB port
- Plug-in hybrid efficiency unclear
- Volvo lacks German cachet
The 2016 Volvo XC90 is a capable and comfortable luxury utility vehicle that whispers its virtues rather than shouting them—and reinvents Volvo as a purveyor of quietly sophisticated design, comfort, and efficiency.
The 2016 Volvo XC90 is a quietly elegant, supremely ergonomic, and easy-to-use large luxury SUV with an understated and modest in its exterior design that belies its many virtues. The luxury is found in the interior, with high-quality materials and a thoughtfully designed infotainment system that's one of the more intuitive and easy to use among many complex systems offered in high-end vehicles. The thoroughly modern XC90 has the very latest in new and updates safety features, of course, both active and passive, and gets unsurpassed safety ratings.
The XC90 got its first comprehensive redesign in 2016 since the launch of its predecessor way back in 2002. It's a strong statement of how Volvo will position its future vehicles in the growing global luxury market—and the result offers a refreshing contrast to the typically functional, severe Teutonic interpretation of luxury offered by Audi, BMW, and Mercedes.
While the exterior lines of the new 2016 XC90 are instantly recognizable as a Volvo, crisper and more fluid than its predecessor, they also effectively disguise the seven-seat vehicle’s size. It simply doesn’t look as large as it is, nor does it telegraph its prestige. It is, as one Volvo executive said at the launch, a car for people who “do not look for a brand that defines them.”
Open the doors, however, and the widely-lauded interior design shows what distinguishes the XC90 from a host of German competitors. The scent of leather is more obvious, the seats are superbly comfortable, and the interior shapes in stitched leather, textured metal, and matte wood are layered to suggest Scandinavian furniture. The 9.0-inch touchscreen in the center of the dash responds quickly to tablet-style commands—not only tap but also swipe, pinch, and stretch—and it’s relatively intuitive compared to competing systems based on knobs and cursors.
It all comes together in a quietly competent and surprisingly comfortable SUV with room for up to seven people and their goods, and safe, understandable functionality for driver and also the front-seat passenger. If this is Volvo's new take on its traditional values of conscientious design and solid durability, we expect it will win over not only existing Volvo buyers but those growing tired of proliferating German luxury utility vehicles in every size, shape, and segment.
Two powertrains are offered. The bulk of XC90s will be the T6 model, with a 316-horsepower turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is standard, and fuel-economy ratings of 22 mpg for the turbo four put it among the more economical large luxury SUVs. On the road, the XC90 handles like a car, with good steering feedback, predictable roadholding, and sprightly performance despite its small engine.
Volvo will also offer a T8 “Twin Engine” plug-in hybrid model, which replaces the mechanical all-wheel drive with a 60-kilowatt (82-hp) electric motor on the rear axle. This lets the car run on its gasoline engine, on the electric motor alone, or on both when needed. The company quotes a European range rating of 25 miles on electricity alone, but the U.S. rating is likely to be closer to 18 or 20 miles. This will be the most expensive XC90, but also the quickest, with about 400 hp and a remarkable 472 lb-ft of torque on tap. Volvo notes that it will be the sole seven-seat plug-in hybrid on the market.
With virtually no carryover parts, the 2016 XC90 is one of the few cars that can accurately be called all-new. Among the items that required the most design effort are the new front seats. They’re adjustable in multiple axes, and we found them supremely comfortable. The second-row seats slide forward and backward, and even the third row will accommodate two adults if they’re willing to bargain for legroom with second-row riders. Theater-style seating means each row is slightly higher than the one in front, ensuring good outward vision for all—aided by large windows and the huge panoramic sunroof that’s a standard feature.
Volvo is known for safety, and the original XC90 was the first SUV to prove that crossover utility vehicles could offer all the safety features of passenger cars, plus new ones like rollover prevention. The IIHS has designated the new 2016 XC90 a Top Safety Pick+, with its highest score of "Good" on every test it performed.
The "+" in the IIHS designation indicates that the big Volvo has all the latest electronic active-safety equipment the institute recommends, and we can confirm that they all function effortlessly. Those include all of Volvo’s traditional safety systems and two new world firsts: automatic braking in intersections if a car drives into the path of travel from another angle, and Run Off Road Design, which works to keep occupants safe if the car goes off the edge of the road. That feature includes safety-belt pre-tensioning and crushable supports in the front seats to absorb crash forces—a common source of spinal injuries—if the car lands heavily on its wheels after going airborne.
The 2016 Volvo XC90 starts at just a few dollars under $50,000; the base Momentum model includes all-wheel drive, the panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery, heated front seats, and third-row seating as standard features. The sportier R-Design version and the more luxurious Inscription model are $3,000 and $5,000 more, respectively, and a series of option packages can bring the total for a well-equipped T6 model to about $60,000. The high-end XC90 T8 "Twin Engine" plug-in hybrid model starts at $69,100, with its sportier T8 R-Design variant carrying a price of $71,000 and up.
In base, front-drive trim, the XC90 T5 manages 22 mpg city, 26 highway, 24 combined, according to the EPA. Those numbers remain relatively flat for the all-wheel drive (AWD) T5 version, at 22/25/23 mpg. The T8 plug-in hybrid model has been rated at 53 mpge (Miles Per Gallon Equivalent, or MPGe, is a measure of how far a car can drive electrically on the same amount of energy as contained in 1 gallon of gasoline.)