Future CC/Driving Impressions: 2016 Volvo XC90 – It’s A New Dawn, It’s A New Day, It’s A New Life


As I mentioned in my preview post last week, there were several cars I drove at the IMPA’s Test Days that I would be featuring more in-depth driving impressions of. Considering it was the vehicle I was most excited about test driving (you heard me, not the Mustang, Corvette, or AMG GT S), it’s only appropriate that I start with the all-new 2016 Volvo XC90.


Beyond the fact that I was certain the XC90 was going to be present at the event (there was no way Volvo was not going to bring it, as opposed to other manufacturers that have many all-new models), the reason I was so eager to get behind the wheel of the new XC90 is because I’ve literally been anticipating it for years.


The first and previous generation XC90 was introduced way back in 2002, with the last model rolling off the assembly line in Torslanda, Sweden in July 2014 (production continues in China, as the “XC90 Classic”). Although it exhibited somewhat more chiseled styling and little in the way of significant facelifts, typical of most Volvos, the original XC90 aged fairly well over its twelve-year run.


Even in its final years, the addition of body color lower trim, bigger wheels, and additional chrome and satin aluminum trim helped the XC90’s exterior look remarkably up-to-date among competitors and newer Volvos. Despite this, twelve years is a long time for a single vehicle generation with minimal updates, especially in the ever-important crossover segment. It’s rather profound to think that the original XC90 came out when I was in elementary school and was still in production the year I finished college.


Furthermore, while the added bling to the exterior somewhat did the job of holding the XC90 over for a few more years, its interior and powertrain weren’t doing it many favors. Apart from some additional wood trim pieces on the center console and new leathers over the years, switchgear, controls, and technology features evolved little in this time. While the engine lineup initially expanded to include the 4.4L Yamaha V8, this engine, along with the twin-turbo T6 six-cylinder were ultimately dropped, leaving the somewhat weak naturally-aspirated 3.2L I6 as the only engine.


Well, after much waiting and anticipation, the all-new 2016 XC90 is finally here. As the first production model using Volvo’s new Scalable Product Architecture platform, the new XC90 rides on a five-inch longer wheelbase, and is six inches longer overall, two inches wider, but several hundred pounds lighter, even with its now standard all-wheel drive.


Engines are exclusively four cylinders now, although through the use of both turbocharging and supercharging in the standard 2.0L I4 (somewhat confusingly named “T6”), output is up considerably over the old 3.2L I6, and fuel economy has improved as well. The 8-speed Geartronic automatic delivers smooth shifts, and the steering is precise, if not a little too over-assisted. The XC90 I drove was fully-optioned, and featured the available air suspension system, which electronically adjusts the dampers based on calculations it makes up to 500 times per second according to Volvo. Translation: the XC90 delivered a very smooth ride. 


Stepping up into this Onyx Black XC90 revealed extraordinarily comfortable seats, with more available power adjustments than I knew what to do with. So many in fact, that some require use of the nine-inch iPad-like “Sensus” touchscreen to adjust. Once settled into the rich looking and feeling “Amber” Inscription Leather, I turned the XC90’s innovative console-mounted start/stop knob to the right as I would with a key to fire this seductive Swede up. The 2.0L I4 gave a purposeful grunt and classical music began pouring out of the XC90’s nineteen Bowers & Wilkins sound system speakers, highly appropriate for the occasion, so I left it on. Unfortunately, the only interior picture I took came out with a horrible glare. This professional picture gives a good idea of the interior though.


Driving the XC90 was a joy. It’s by all means a heavy-feeling vehicle, and it doesn’t handle with the same athleticism as say, an X5 with the 4.4L V8, but for all intents and purposes, the XC90 handles more than competently for its intended mission as a luxurious family hauler. The turbo and supercharged four-banger’s 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque deliver plenty of power, and driving through the hilly back roads, adequate pickup was there whenever I needed it, effortlessly rising from zero to 65 mph, even on steep grades. Despite my somewhat aggressive motoring through the twisties, I was shocked at the minimal body roll the XC90 exhibited for such a tall vehicle. Speaking of height, the seating position is excellent, giving a commanding and undeniably empowering view of the road.


I didn’t get a chance to explore much of the XC90’s plethora of high technology features and various menus and sub-menus of its Sensus infotainment system, as that could easily have taken hours (the very reason why luxury car makers are adding product geniuses to their sales and marketing teams to go over all the various tech features with customers upon taking delivery). What I did get from my approximately 12-mile test drive of the new XC90 was an overwhelming feeling of pleasure and relief, as the XC90 lived up to all my highly built expectations.


The 2016 Volvo XC90 is a breathtaking automobile, and a poised car to launch Volvo’s rebirth under its new owners. It has the performance, luxury, and technology features that will make it a true competitor in the mid-to-large luxury CUV segment. With its powerful new styling and increased amount of content, the XC90 has also closed the prestige gap between it and cars like the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz ML GLE, and Range Rover Sport, greatly leveling the playing field.


This move upmarket certainly has its benefits, as aforementioned. However, it is also in many ways the XC90’s biggest weakness. For decades, Volvo has unofficially prided itself as a luxury car for those who choose understated simplicity over flashiness. But with newfound snob appeal and flash, not to mention a significantly higher price point, has the new XC90 become too extravagant for the humble Volvo faithful? Only time will tell, but for now, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for the Volvo XC90, and after driving it, I’m feeling good about its fighting chances.

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