2016 Volvo XC90 Review – Spectacular Swede is a Five-Star Resort on Wheels

By Steve & Tamami Laser

Today’s crop of seven-seat luxury crossovers offer plenty of excellent choices from nameplates like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Land Rover, Audi, Infiniti and Acura. Whether you’re a repeat buyer for one of these brands or new to this segment, we’d like to offer a shopping tip: Be sure to put the all-new 2016 Volvo XC90 on your shopping list. Actually, you may want to put it at the top of the list because it pampered us like a five-star resort on wheels.


In addition to endowing its prodigy with sensational good looks, Volvo has built a new flagship that excels in virtually every metric of measurement. It’s loaded with high-tech safety features, delivers a sophisticated powertrain, has some of the most comfortable seats we’ve ever experienced and serves up one of the best-designed user interfaces that’s simple to operate and beautiful to behold.

Arriving at the pinnacle of the luxury crossover market took time for Volvo. The first generation XC90 made its debut way back in 2003. That’s an eternity in the automotive world where cars are replaced with new designs every four to five years while crossovers and SUVs tend to last a year or two longer. Volvo did its homework to get the second generation just right. They started with an $11 billion investment to develop the Scalable Product Architecture modular chassis technology.

The new XC90 benefits from the latest enhancements in technology under the skin while basking in the glow of gorgeous styling. With the rare opportunity to start from scratch, Volvo says its designers gave the new model great proportions. For example, the dash-to-front-axle space between the A-pillars and front wheel arches has been lengthened to give it a more pleasing stance.

The front is graced with “Thor’s Hammer” Daytime Running Lights while each model in the line – Momentum, Inscription and R-Design, features a distinctive grille design. Classic Volvo design cues include strong “shoulders” that run from the nose along the sides to the tail, an updated Volvo Ironmark with the arrow that aligns with the diagonal grille slash, and taillights with vertically integrated LED guide lights that create instantly recognizable brand identity.

At first, the thought of this spacious three-row crossover being powered by a four-cylinder engine gave us pause. However, Volvo’s clever supercharged and turbocharged Drive-E powertrain delivers a command performance. The 2.0-liter engine puts out 316 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque from 2,200 to 4,500 rpm. The reduced size and weight compared to a larger engine along with high-tech engineering results in improved fuel economy, reduced emissions and more agile handling.

We drove our XC90 T6 AWD Inscription on high-speed freeways, local highways, steep hills, gravel trails, country lanes and busy boulevards for a week. Power and response are impressive without any turbo lag or indication that a four-cylinder rests under the hood. Credit is also due to the efficient eight-speed “Geartronic” transmission with two overdrive speeds plus a manual-shift function that adds to the fun factor.


Light-duty off-roading was a breeze thanks to the Volvo’s electronically controlled All-Wheel Drive with Instant Traction™. This employs a compact fifth-generation Haldex® coupling that distributes the engine’s power between the front and rear wheels. Another handy feature is Adjustable Drive Mode Settings that let the driver select Comfort, Eco, Dynamic, Off-road or Individual modes using a fancy knob on the center console.

Our tester was fitted with optional Four-corner Air Suspension that delivered a remarkably smooth ride both on and off-road. Shock absorbers are replaced with an electronically controlled damping system with an air chamber at each wheel. Automatic leveling adjusts the ride height to keep ground clearance level with different vehicle loads. The driver can push a button in the cargo area to lower the ride height by 2.0 inches for easier loading or to hitch up a trailer.

Park Assist Pilot was another useful option on our XC90. It adds four front and two side sensors to the standard Park Assist system and can actually take over the steering completely when parking. The driver stays in control of the accelerator, brakes and transmission shifting. As you can see in our video, the system makes parking very easy and can steer the vehicle in parallel or perpendicular parking spots.

An additional level of parking support is available with the 360-degree camera. With this option, the driver can see a bird’s eye view of the XC90’s surroundings via a virtual image on the center display. The view is generated by four cameras located in the lower part of the Volvo badge, both side mirrors and the tailgate.


The XC90’s all-new interior is the most luxurious ever created for a Volvo. Developed according to the “Designed Around You” strategy, emphasis is placed on the driver and passenger’s needs. Long considered the best and most comfortable seats in the industry, Volvo has introduced a new generation of seats for the XC90. To make the backrests as slim as possible and increase legroom in the second row, a new frame and seatback have been developed.


Second-row seats are designed for comfort and maximum flexibility. Each seat is contoured on the seatback and cushion for added support. Backrests recline individually plus each seat can slide to provide either more legroom or luggage space. Seatbacks are configured 40/20/40 to accommodate long items via the folding center seat while retaining two full-sized outboard seating positions.

XC90’s standard third-row seat offers class-leading 31.9-inches of legroom. The two individual seats are suitable for adults and include full-sized seatbacks like those in the second row. A separate air conditioning unit is included for quick cooling. Third-row cushions stay in place when the seats are folded offering a completely flat load floor.


Beautiful interior inlays cover a generous surface of the dashboard, center console, tunnel console and on the doors. Selections include Cross Brushed Aluminum on Momentum, Linear Walnut Wood on Inscription and Metal Mesh Aluminum for R-Design. Dark Flame Birch inlays are optional on Momentum while R-Design can be trimmed with optional Carbon Fiber inlays.

To help make life easier, keyless entry and hands-free power tailgate are also included. Simply approach the XC90 with the keyfob in a pocket or purse and open a door. The dedicated door handles with “invisible” buttons also include puddle lights. To open the tailgate, wave a foot under the left side of the bumper and it will open automatically. This feature makes it easy to load cargo when hands are full.

Maximum cargo space with the second- and third-row seats folded is 85.7 cu. ft. A semi-automatic cargo cover retracts halfway when its handle is depressed for easy loading. A hidden storage compartment under the load floor includes a divided storage tray for small objects.

XC90R12Volvo says the XC90’s new Sensus user interface is the most modern in-car control system on the market today. Volvo’s interior designers’ goal was to create a safer environment by adding a more intuitive interface that was both simple to operate and aesthetically elegant.

Sensus provides comfortable access to a wide selection of cloud-based applications. The in-car possibilities include Internet radio, connected navigation, finding and paying for parking, seamless music streaming, the ability to mirror and use Apple and Android devices in the touchscreen display, a hotspot for using a tablet in the car, and more.

Volvo says its designers realized the paradox in adding more convenience features means that more buttons are needed to operate them. The typical driver control system in other premium vehicles can include up to 30 buttons spread across the dashboard, making it challenging for the driver to locate and operate.


The key to a less distracting environment was to remove buttons instead of adding them. Designers reimagined the center console with a touchscreen display whose controls can be accessed not only through physical contact, but via voice activation and steering wheel controls.

For the all-new XC90 most of the buttons have been replaced by a sleek and elegant 9.0-inch control panel. This large touchscreen offers a vertical or portrait format with less scrolling. Light Control Film anti-reflective coating offers deep contrast while keeping glare and reflections to a minimum. Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) technology delivers a very dense pixel ratio making it one of the highest resolution screens in a vehicle.

Information on the center touchscreen is organized in a stack of four “tiles,” each displaying a key functionality: Navigation, Media, Phone, and User-defined Title (such as Apple CarPlay™). When one of the tiles is activated, it immediately expands, offering more detailed information. The other tiles compress but are still visible. Progression of information is exceptionally user-friendly since there is no need to flip back and forth via menu trees.


The instrument cluster in front of the driver offers the freedom to arrange pertinent information for ease of use. A full-graphical 12.3-inch display includes two large round gauges with an information area in between that can differ in size depending on the center display information being projected. For example, when navigation is used, the info section becomes larger and the two round gauges are smaller.

Available Premium Sound by Bowers & Wilkins in our tester is undoubtedly one of the best quality audio systems in the automotive market. Bowers & Wilkins is a premium company that’s so respected in audio circles it’s the preferred audio brand for the famed Abbey Road Studios.

In the XC90, this system delivers an astonishing 1,400 watts to 19 speakers located throughout the cabin. “Room Transformation” technology developed with the Swedish software specialist Dirac Research makes it possible to recreate the acoustics of a specific room inside the cabin. Drivers can select three different room modes: “Studio,” “Individual Stage” and “Gothenburg Concert Hall.”


XC90’s audio systems feature connectivity and a variety of available apps including: TuneIn, Pandora, Rdio, Storytel, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, Facebook login, and Web browser (basic functionality). Connected service booking and a digital owner’s manual are also included.

With the large portrait format center screen, 3D graphics and the ability to utilize natural speech voice control, the XC90’s navigation system is very user-friendly. Standard Sensus Navigation maps are clearly displayed on the screen. Additional guidance is provided by enhanced map detail in the 12.3-inch digital display, plus the optional heads-up display.

Real Time Traffic is designed to get drivers to their destination in an easier and stress-free way. Sensus Navigation also provides access to additional apps, which apply the user’s location: Park&Pay, Yelp, Glympse, Local Search, Send to Car, Wikilocations, Fuel prices (where available), and Weather.


Apple and Volvo Cars are joining forces to make Apple’s widely used operating system available to XC90 drivers. Apple CarPlay™ makes it possible to seamlessly integrate an iPhone (version 5 or later) and access selected functionalities and apps via the large center touchscreen. The iPhone can be controlled via the touchscreen or by Siri voice commands via the XC90’s audio system.

Volvo says a similar interface for Android phones is under development and will be introduced at a later date. Android Auto will bring features and services familiar to Android smartphone and tablet users directly into the car.

The XC90 offers comprehensive and technologically sophisticated safety technologies including Roll Stability Control, Electronic Stability Control, Understeer Control Logic, Engine Drag Control, Advanced Stability Control with Torque Vectoring, Road Sign Information, Driver Alert and Lane Departure Warning, and Automatic braking after a collision.


A compact radar and camera unit behind the windshield is designed to detect vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians, both day and night. If Volvo’s City Safety system judges that a collision is imminent, it will warn the driver with a head-up light in the windshield, an audible warning sound, as well as a short, light brake pulse, and at the same time prepare the brake system and safety belts. Should the driver not react or react too late, City Safety will brake the car autonomously.

Other available safety features include BLIS with Cross Traffic Alert and Rear Collision Mitigation, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Pilot Assist, Distance Alert, and Lane Keeping Aid.

With a base price of $48,900, our XC90 T6 Inscription added a Vision Package, Climate Package with graphical Head-up Display, Convenience Package, Bowers & Wilkins sound, a second-row child booster seat, 21-inch eight-spoke alloy wheels, and the 4-corner Air Suspension. These options brought the bottom line to $66,705. XC90 prices begin at $48,900 for the Momentum.


Another addition to the line for 2016 is the new XC90 T8 Twin Engine Plug-in Hybrid. Billed as the World’s First Seven-passenger Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle Volvo says it can travel up to an estimated 17 miles on zero-tailpipe-emission pure electric driving and sprint from 0-60 mph in just 5.7 seconds. Combined output for the XC90 T8’s Drive-E gasoline engine that drives the front wheels and its efficient electric motor that drives the rear wheels is an impressive 400 horsepower.

XC90 T6 press fleet vehicle provided by Volvo Cars of North America, LLC. (Prices and vehicle information apply to models sold in the U.S. at the time of publication. All information including prices, features and specifications are subject to change without notice by the automaker.)

Story, photos and videos © 2015 CarNichiWa.com