SANTA MONICA, CALIF. – Now that Volvo has been left alone by its new Chinese owners, an opposite tack from its former corporate parent, the Swedish automaker can get back to being itself. That was evident here as Volvo unveiled its XC90 three row sport utility.
The 2016 Volvo XC90 is a significant new vehicle on several levels. It signals Volvo’s climb into the ranks of luxury automakers. It also signals technological advancements. And it is the beginning of a product onslaught that will make the 2016 XC90 the oldest vehicle in Volvo’s lineup by 2018.
First up is power. For the U.S. market, the XC will be propelled by 2.0-liter, four cylinder Drive E engines. There will be two versions: one for the 2016 Volvo XC90 T6, the second for the T8. But it is not what you think; both engines are identical technologically advanced 2.0-liter four cylinders.
The T6 engine had a supercharger and turbocharger working together on the 2.0-liter, four cylinder that made 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. The T8 XC90 had what Volvo is branding a twin engine. The same four-cylinder power plant, this time rated at 313 horsepower, is combined with an electric motor. Together they make 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque. The T8 is a plug-in hybrid; both engines were mated to eight-speed automatic transmissions.
All 2016 XC90s sold here will be all-wheel-drive models. But for fuel economy their AWD system will be front-wheel-drive based capable of sending half of the vehicle’s torque to the rear wheels when needed.
We test drove the T6 and the T8 and found neither lacking in power or agility. Handling was good, especially for a sizable sport utility with three rows of seats. And both of our testers had the top of the line air suspension.
The T6 got 20 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg combined. The T8 got 59 MPG in the city. Highway numbers were not available at the time of the test drive. The T6 could get from, zero to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds while the T8 could do it in 5.3 seconds and the pair have a top speed of 130 mph. Remember, both were hefty sporty utilities with curb weights of 4,627 pounds for the T6 and 5,059 for the T8. It was the low-end torque that moved them quickly from a standing start.
Still, neither felt overweight and both were fairly agile and they were well balanced as we drove through the mountains and canyons here with their twisting, tightly curved two lane roads. What’s more, the blowers enabled the T6 and the T8 to get up and over and through the mountain roads without the straining that normally comes with four cylinder engines at altitude. In addition, both the T6 and the T8 can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
Although an official said Sweden was not considered in the development of the new XC90, we don’t think so. Gasoline costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $8 per gallon in the Scandinavian country as well as the rest of Europe. That had to play a role in the company’s development of high-powered, small displacement fuel efficient Drive E engines.
Blown power for the long hauls that come in the expansive United States combined with the fuel efficiency of small four cylinder engines, makes for a globe-gripping vehicle. The Drive E engine family includes diesels but the oil burners will not be sold in this market; at least, not yet.
However, no doubt Volvo used its American design studio in Camarillo, Calif., to imbue the 2016 XC90 with the sense of American luxury needed for it to take on the German and Japanese luxury competitors in this market.
The interior of the XC was concept car quality. It was airy and loaded with matted walnut wood trim that looked almost natural. There was also a trim level that featured aluminum and chrome appointments. The T8 even featured a handmade crystal shift knob. Plus, the XC90 has a top of the line audio system that features 19 speakers and 1,400 watts of power. It includes an air-ventilated system in the wheel well that turns the entire interior into a giant subwoofer.
The seats were exemplary. They had what Volvo called an ergonomic shape that resembled the human spine. The XC90 took four years to develop; the seats took seven. Not only did they look good, like a pillowed new age office chair, they took up less space because they were thinner. Thus, they created more legroom for second and third row passengers.
We didn’t try them, but Volvo said the last row of seats, which folded creating a flat cargo floor, could accommodate someone 5’6″ tall. The second row featured three individual seats with an optional child booster seat in the middle. All three could recline as well as slide forward, creating more space for third row passengers. The seats could be outfitted with adjustable side bolsters, seat cushion extensions and they had massage capability.
It was a digital interior. The 2016 XC90 had no knobs, save one, or buttons anywhere. There were steering wheel controls and what Volvo called the portrait screen. That screen controlled everything: climate, seats, media, navigation, phone – everything. Even the rear seat climate controls were digital. And the screen was based on infrared, thus, it detected what icon we were going to push when our finger got one milometer away. That means, Volvo said, that it could be operated while wearing gloves. To say that the premium audio system really thumped out sound is an understatement. It was something special.
Safety has long been Volvo’s hallmark. Those same spine-hugging seats had energy absorbing features to help prevent spine injuries if the XC90 runs off the road during an accident and experiences a hard landing. The sport utility will automatically brake at intersections when it detects an oncoming vehicle while making a left turn. And the XC90 will automatically brake when it encounters cyclists or pedestrians in front it.
Its adaptive cruise control will automatically follow the vehicle ahead in stop and go traffic. Acceleration, braking and steering are controlled automatically. The XC90 can park itself vertically or perpendicularly and four cameras will project a 360-degree view of the vehicle that includes elevation (you have to see it). The XC90 even has a rear collision warning system, in case somebody is going to hit you.
About the only quibble we’ve got is that Volvo says the control system is intuitive. We don’t know, there’s an awful lot to learn. Some sort of instructive software might not be a bad idea. All that new technology is wrapped in appealing sheet metal. Volvo’s grille has been returned to align the iconic arrow with the diagonal slash across the taller grille.
The DRLs form a “T” shape dubbed ‘Thor’s Hammer” that split the headlights. The XC90 has a clam shaped high hood. The beltline and shoulders were sharper and ran down the side connecting to more distinctive taillights. It was an understated elegance.
The XC90 signals that Volvo is back with a vision and the product to match it. What’s more, or worse for competitors, is that the Swedish automaker says it has more of the same type ground breaking products in the pipeline.
A special edition, 1,927 copies, signifying the year the company was founded is being delivered in June. The T6 goes on sale in July; the T8 follows in October. There are three trim lines for each model: Momentum, Inscription and R-Design. Base prices range from $48,900 to $71,600; neither includes a $995 freight charge.
Quality, safety and technology is what you expect from Volvo. It has been a long wait for the automaker to start funneling new products to market but we don’t think anyone is going to be disappointed. The challenge now is will Volvo put forth the marketing muscle, meaning money, to reclaim its niche in American car the market.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.