2016 Volvo XC90: Five Things That Wow Us, A Couple That Don’t

July 17, 2015

No doubt about it, the 2016 Volvo XC90 is one of the most important production vehicles to go on sale this year.

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Besides being the all-new, long-anticipated second-generation version of Volvo’s roomy three-row utility vehicle (the brand's largest vehicle and arguably its flagship), it’s the first fully-formed vehicle conceived with the combination of its Drive-E engines and new scalable product architecture (SPA) underpinnings—from which the automaker is staking its future, with U.S.-important models like this, the upcoming S90 sedan, and new versions of the S60/V60 and XC60 family.

The form, function, and details in the 2016 XC90 have found almost unanimous praise from us and others, and it’s easy to see why. And in our first drive of the XC90 earlier this spring, we found it to be pleasant-driving, spacious, and ergonomic, with a great mix of functional and elegant design traits.

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This past weekend we got the chance to have just a little bit more time with the Volvo XC90—a loaded XC90 Inscription model with a bottom-line price near $67,000. And while we've found the 2016 XC90 to be one of the best three-row crossovers on the market yet, it's not without some flaws, as we did find a few gripes, too.

First, follow to the next page to see those likes:

2016 Volvo XC90 - at world premiere, Stockholm, Sweden - August 2014

2016 Volvo XC90 - at world premiere, Stockholm, Sweden - August 2014

The powertrain has all the right moves. The supercharged-and-turbocharged ‘Drive-E’ four-cylinder engine and eight-speed Aisin automatic transmission simply add up to great drivability. Quick prods of the right foot seem to order up downshifts in less time than most other eight- and nine-speed vehicles. There’s some engine braking on tap when you need it, and the idle is super-smooth. About the only surprise here versus earlier Drive-E prototypes we drove is that you don’t hear the supercharger much, if at all.

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription - Quick Drive, July 2015

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription - Quick Drive, July 2015

The rear hatch opens wide...but not wide enough? To keep the XC90’s excellent profile, the hatch is somewhat curved, with the angled glass and tailgate portion at quite different angles, placing the edge of the tailgate in a position for accidentally knocking noggins (for anyone six-foot-plus tall, really). You can close the hatch with the remote or with a button on the dash if you can’t reach it, so we can’t see why the hatch can’t open wider. There’s also not much of a bumper sill (possibly an invitation for scratches on the delicate-looking bumper plastic), so you tend to walk very close up to the cargo floor when loading...and then you bump your head again when backing away. Easy adjustability of the hatch opening angle (as in the Subaru Forester) would prevent this, but we didn't see mention of such things in the owner's manual.

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription - Quick Drive, July 2015

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription - Quick Drive, July 2015

Seats and seating are awesome. We fit six adults in the XC90, plus my mother’s Rollator, and really, nobody complained. For a vehicle that’s 195 inches long (a few inches short of some other spacious three-row models), it's impressive. The thin front-seat design helps with second-row knee room, and there's no frustration over headroom in this vehicle, whatsoever. And even with the third row up, there’s space between those passengers’ heads and the rear window.

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription - Quick Drive, July 2015

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription - Quick Drive, July 2015

Sensus is so far exactly as promised. There’s so much good here, and very, very little bad in the lag-corrupted, menu-muddled battleground of today’s infotainment systems. The only downsides we noted on our drive were that the navigation system doesn’t seem to allow voice-command-based destination input for points of interest; don’t expect anything quite like Siri or Google here.

2016 Volvo XC90 - at world premiere, Stockholm, Sweden - August 2014

2016 Volvo XC90 - at world premiere, Stockholm, Sweden - August 2014

Active-safety systems are there but don’t nag you. We only saw one false alert from the system all week—when the road was curving to the right and the system momentarily thought a vehicle in the left turn lane was stopped in ours, pulsing the brakes and blasting a warning on the head-up display. And perhaps the best testament to the lane-keeping system in the XC90 is that we left it on; it’s nicely unobtrusive, and doesn’t feel like it’s fighting you like other such systems.

And we do have a few gripes, after this follow-up:

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription - Quick Drive, July 2015

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription - Quick Drive, July 2015

Mileage was disappointing. Volvo promised significantly better mileage with its turbocharged-and-supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. But so far, based on a few days and about 170 miles of driving—about equally split between city and highway conditions—we only managed 18 mpg. That’s just 1 mpg better, by my estimation, than what I would have seen in the former XC90 in the same conditions. During that time, we only engaged the drive system’s Dynamic mode—which orders up a far more aggressive poweetrain attitude—a couple of times, briefly. And for the most part I can say that this was not with a heavy right foot; most of it was normal, flow-of-traffic driving. On the bright side, I *did* note that instantaneous fuel economy soared in the vicinity of 40 mpg during steady, level highway cruising at legal speeds; so on some long highway trips with the cruise control set, you may be able to average close to 30 mpg.

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription - Quick Drive, July 2015

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription - Quick Drive, July 2015

Ride quality is a little jarring at times. Our test vehicle’s suspension, with the low-profile 21-inch six-spoke alloys and four-corner air suspension setup, brought great control over heaves and undulations, and kept sharp maneuvers flat and free of dramatic nosedive and lift. But it didn’t do well on the sort of potholes, patches, and expansion joints that are often a part of normal commuting. We’d judge the wheel-and-suspension combination we had to be good for California, but others should definitely compare it with the base wheel-and-suspension setup (and we hope to soon do the same).

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