COAL: 2017 Volvo XC90 Inscription T6 – Family Truckster

“What happened to the little Sportswagon?”

“Oh, no! The Sportswagon’s much too small. Besides, I got a great deal on this one.”

I imagine most of you have seen the infamous 1983 movie National Lampoon’s Vacation, and specifically the scene where Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) intends to purchase one car, and then—after being told it’s an eight-week wait for the one he and his wife wanted—comes home with a different car: the evocatively named Wagon Queen Family Truckster. The gaudy, shoddily built Family Truckster proceeds to cause all manner of irritation over the rest of the film. It also inspired many a film over the ensuing decades in which the family car gets completely destroyed along a road trip.

Well, my story didn’t start out so differently True, I didn’t (and don’t) have a spouse and kids, and so there was no one to stop me, but I intended to buy a different car and then came home with the Volvo. And it did cause me no end of consternation.

[In Sophia Petrillo’s voice] Picture it: December 2020. I made the choice to get rid of the 2016 535i xDrive because, really, it just didn’t move me. I wanted an SUV, and I quickly zeroed in on a lovely L/Certified 2017 Lexus GX 460 Luxury that was at the car’s namesake dealership. It was fully loaded, even having the rare adaptive cruise option, and they only wanted $38,900 for it. Quite the deal, really.

At a stoplight, I checked the listing on, to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, and that the car was still there. And there was an ad on the page for the XC90, run by the local Volvo dealership. Now, I’ve always liked the XC90, especially the second-generation model. I clicked on the ad and it went straight to their used XC90 listings. I scrolled (this was a very long stoplight) through them and found one that looked really promising. I’ve always been a bit of a feature snob, and this one looked to also be quite loaded.

A photo from the listing in question. Spiffy!


The first-generation XC90 came out in 2002 as a MY2003 vehicle, and lasted through MY2014, cementing itself as a safe, comfortable, handsome, and reasonably luxurious three-row crossover. The XC90 skipped the 2015 model year altogether, and the second-generation model debuted in 2015 as a MY2016. It heralded a huge shift for Volvo, which had moved past its Ford-era digs. It debuted the all-new Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform, along with a completely redesigned electrical system, swankier styling, and even a new version of the Volvo emblem. And, though it used legacy powerplant nomenclature, it was entirely a lineup of 4-cylinder engines:

  • T5 – A 2.0-liter turbocharged inline 4-cylinder engine with 250 hp and 258 lb-ft and either standard FWD or optional AWD
  • T6 – A 2.0-liter “twincharged” (turbocharged and supercharged) inline 4-cylinder engine with 316 hp and 295 lb-ft and standard AWD
  • T8 – A 2.0-liter twincharged inline 4-cylinder engine with an electric generator between the engine and transmission on the front axle, and then an independent second motor on the rear, for an eAWD system. With an 11-kWh battery and plug-in capabilities, combined system output is 400 hp and 472 lb-ft. There’s also 14 miles of range.

The specific car I came to see was a 2017 XC90 Inscription T6, Inscription representing Volvo’s nicest trim level at the time.  It was Savile Grey with the Amber interior, which I thought was the best color combo there was. It also had the Bowers & Wilkins audio system, said to be among the best in any car not costing $120K or more, and the rear iPad mounts for the children I didn’t have. And when I got there that Friday evening, I was surprised to find it deader than a dodo. Not a single customer was in sight.

The XC90, shortly after I bought it, in its highest suspension setting


The sales manager, whom it turned out I had already met, was happy to show me the car. As we pulled off the lot, I realized I’d heard these offered four-corner air suspension and so asked him if the car was equipped as such. He said we could see, and then had me change the drive mode. As we selected “Off-road,” I saw an icon appear on the instrument panel and watched as the car raised itself a few inches. Yep! Air suspension.

It also had something else I didn’t know about, which was the Polestar Performance upgrade. Prior to it being a standalone brand for EVs and hybrids, Polestar was Volvo’s performance house, having originated as a racing team and then been acquired by Volvo in 2015. The Polestar Performance upgrade got you, essentially, a mild tune with better performance and power delivery, and a 14 HP bump, for 334 HP, and a telltale badge on the liftgate. While no cars came with it from the factory, someone had paid the $1,295 in 2017 to have the dealer equip this car as such.

The XC90’s interior. I love the directional layout of the wood veneers. Such attention to detail!


I recall being super impressed with the car at the time. It was comfy, well-styled, the leather was the best I’d ever experienced, the seats adjusted every which way, the audio system was all it was cracked up to be, the powertrain was punchy, and Volvo’s Pilot Assist was the first car I’d been in that could not only do the adaptive cruise thing, but actually steer you around curves and such. I was sold!

The banks were closed and it was Friday, but the dealer agreed to spot-deliver the car and let me take it home that night (this is important). So, I drove it home with a paper tag. Lexus? What Lexus? I don’t know her.

Fast forward to that following Sunday. A Saturday of mild (for December temperatures) gave way to a cold front that dumped several inches of snow and ice onto the roads. It would have been a great time to stay home. However, for whatever reason, I had a hankering for pancakes, and we had no pancake mix. Truthfully, I just wanted an excuse to drive my new Swedish sled. So my former boyfriend, who we will now call WASPy Ex, and I jumped in the car. I recall us parking once and helping someone in a Challenger Hellcat on what were basically drag slicks push their car out of a rut…which should have been an omen. After that, we stopped at Sam’s Club, but it was closed. So was the other grocery store on the route. We ended up going through the drive-thru at a bagel café.

We don’t often get this much snow, and there’s usually a ton of ice underneath it when we do. (Waspy Ex’s Town Car makes a cameo in the background, here)


I noticed the fuel tank getting low, and thought about stopping, but the 7 Eleven had a median that prevented me from turning into the lot without doing a U-turn. Since we were a couple of miles from home, I decided to just go home. We’d get gas later. Further up the road, right at the intersection, a Chevy Sonic had gotten stuck. It seemed to be a low-traction situation. We sat behind them for a bit, and then I decided to pull off and help. “No!” cried WASPy Ex, as I…drove around the Sonic and directly into a deep incline, where I got quite stuck myself. All the car did was slip and slide, but it would not drive back up the bank and onto the road. Ironically, at that moment, that little Sonic found some traction and sped off.

We were hosed. Not only that, it was a precarious 25- or 30-degree angle, enough that the car tumbling onto its side or roof was a real possibility. How messed up would that be? To roll a car that I hadn’t even signed the papers on, yet? It also occurred to me that the GX 460 I forsook was a proper truck with a low-range setting on the transfer case that possibly would have saved our bacon.

The comical, implausible angle at which the car rested.


I called my insurance company, where an agent gleefully informed me that while I had seven days to add the car to my policy and that my existing collision and comprehensive limits would be honored during that grace period…said grace period did not include any extras, like road-side assistance. No luck there. I tried Volvo On Call, Volvo’s OnStar-esque telematics feature, and couldn’t even get it to connect. Fortunately, WASPy Ex’s dad had gotten him a AAA membership, so that came to the rescue. But it would be up to two hours before someone got to us; apparently a lot of other idiots had gotten their cars stuck that morning and the tow trucks were busy.

At some point, we both took our seatbelts off. Once I pointed out the nonzero chance of the car tilting and tumbling, we decided to put them back on. Mine went on just fine, but WASPy Ex’s seatbelt refused to move. Somehow, the pre-tensioner mechanism had been triggered while it was retracted, and he could no longer pull it down and put it on. But we were both too nervous to get out of the car, so we just silently hoped it wouldn’t roll. What a design defect, for a safety-oriented company.

Remember that low-fuel situation? Well, had the deal been finalized that evening, the dealership would have done the proper delivery, which would have included a full tank. But since it was basically a borrow-it-for-the-weekend kind of situation, that didn’t happen. I got a chime and a “Low fuel” warning and then, exacerbated perhaps by the extreme lateral angle of the car and therefore the fuel in the tank, the engine coughed once and then died. And it did not restart. So…no heat. No heat, for the next hour, until the truck got there, in freezing temps. But we were alright.

When the tow truck finally did get there, the driver’s intention was to recover the Volvo with a winch and then pull it onto a rollback, where it could be towed to the gas station. But even that was an issue. Unbeknownst to me, the electric parking brake was set to automatically engage when the engine was turned off (or died). And the parking brake would not disengage until the engine started…which…couldn’t happen with no fuel. And he didn’t have any fuel on him. Now, you could theoretically—according to a forum post I read—crawl under the car with a 9-volt battery, unplug a connector, and supply power to the parking brake to make it move the cable and disengage, but nobody was doing that. He ended up dragging it onto the rollback.

The Volvo, with very fresh temp tags, on a rollback, looking rather sorry for itself


Me, a few days later. By this point, the car was mine.


Thankfully, that went okay, we were towed to the gas station—with WASPy Ex and I riding in the cab of the rollback—and the Volvo That Wasn’t Officially Mine endured no damage from its ordeal. I declined to mention this escapade to the folks at the dealership when I went in to sign the papers on Monday. Instead, I forked over another $3,500 to extend the Volvo CPO warranty to 10 years and unlimited miles from the original in-service date.

WASPy Ex and I had planned a sort of post-Christmas vacation, and that would now take place in the Volvo. Our plan was to spend a couple of nights in Flagstaff, AZ and then a night in Phoenix. We were to set off early in the morning, but I remembered those pesky iPad mounts, which were rattling and chattering along in the backseat. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a rattle. I got the right-side one out, but the left-side one just would not cooperate and excuse itself. It didn’t matter how much pressure I applied to the button or how much I wiggled it, it remained stuck. I finally ended up ripping the thing apart, leaving just the mount portion in the back of the seat, and off we went. The Volvo behaved itself during the whole trip, and WASPy Ex got to drive it for the first time. I don’t recall him complaining, so he must have liked it. The only thing I noticed was that, when using the driving-assist mode, the car would sometimes get confused by the merge points of entrance ramps and would try to center you between an entrance ramp that was ending and your own lane.

WASPy Ex driving the Volvo. Note how little of the screen real-estate CarPlay gets to use. Come on, Volvo!


Here you can see that mount I wound up destroying. But it was much better than the rattling.


Four days later, effectively early on New Year’s Day, we were on our way back to Oklahoma. Just past Amarillo, TX, we caught a nasty snowstorm that caused us to have to slow our pace considerably. At one point, I did a full 360 on the highway around a curve but was only going 20 MPH and there was no one behind us. We managed to get home fine, if a bit shaken.

In January 2021, I decided to do something about the key. The Volvo had a key that would have been pretty when it was new, but now—in just three years—all of the coating had come off of the plastichrome and it ended up looking marred and scratched. I found a used key fob on eBay, transplanted the internals from mine, and was good to go. Sometime that same month, I came in for my first warranty claim. The sunroof was rattling something fierce over bumps. It sounded like someone repeatedly bumping one of those glass cutting boards and was, to say the least, annoying. That visit earned me an XC40 T4 loaner, a car I didn’t find charming in the least. But the dealer managed to fix it.

The old key casing.


The XC40 loaner.


What they didn’t, and couldn’t, fix was my second complaint, which was about squealing brakes. Even after Volvo paid up to replace my pads and rotors, it didn’t stop the car from squealing at every stop like one of my former 90s hoopties. I didn’t appreciate that. Allegedly, this was fixed on subsequent cars, but my 2017 was stuck with this defect. Nice.

In February, I was driving to meet a client, when the car just died at a stop. Completely died. The electronics remained powered on, but it absolutely did not respond to repeated twists of the start knob or acknowledge that the key was present. And when I turned it completely off and on again, it stayed off. That had it back on a tow truck, and—two weeks later—the dealer returned it to me with a new body computer of some sort or another. In the meantime, I had a little red Volvo S60 T5 loaner whose check engine light winked on five minutes after I’d collected it.

The S60. Pretty, but…really? A CEL?


In March, I had two things happen: One, the “Sensus” infotainment system died completely, taking with it the driving assistance systems, which I think were powered by it somehow. That got replaced, under warranty. Two, I had a tire burst. That second one wasn’t the car’s fault, but I ended up in it for a whole new set at $1,200. Groan.

For some reason, I decided to put the spare on myself. My friend, who once was a Volvo salesman, reminded me that I could have called Volvo’s customer service and had them do it. Oh, well…


In April, barely on the heels of the last calamity, I was just plodding along, headed to lunch, when the Volvo’s transmission gave a dramatic upshift and then died. I think WASPy Ex was with me, but honestly can’t remember. I managed to nurse it to a stop in a parking lot with no power steering or power brakes. Much as before, it didn’t respond to the key, or even attempt to restart itself. Cue another flatbed and another loaner. This time, I had a cute little V60 T5 AWD with Volvo’s tony and tartan-themed City Weave cloth upholstery. I distinctly recall this car sitting proudly in the middle of the showroom, and I suppose it sat there for a long time—being an unpopular option combo—before being pressed into loaner duty.

The V60.


“City Weave?” Is that like when a country girl puts on her good hair before she goes to town? Excellent design; awful name.


This was beginning to remind me of my troubled X5, which had all kinds of electrical gremlins. And even though, like the X5, I had a generous warranty, my patience had rubbed away. I didn’t feel like traipsing in and out of the service department and I especially wasn’t going to keep driving a car that couldn’t manage to stay powered on while I was driving it. It didn’t end up outright falling apart, like the famed Wagon Queen Family Truckster…but it was a matter of time. Heck, I was close to ripping pieces off it, myself.

Oklahoma, unfortunately, doesn’t do the trade-in credit that most states do, wherein the taxes on a new vehicle are offset by the taxable value of the old one. So, I had no reason to wait until I got the car back before I purchased its replacement, and indeed, by the time (three weeks later) I received the car back from the Volvo service department, it had already been replaced. I shopped the Volvo around and ended up getting the best price from the local BMW dealership, so that was where it went. Volvo refunded the balance of my extended CPO warranty, and that was that. I was sad that the Volvo hadn’t worked out, because I really liked it when it was working. I still think it’s the nicest interior of any car I’ve had before or since. At least I didn’t lose any money.

What did I buy? Tune in next week, and find out.


The replacement…was less fancy and more agricultural, but also much more respected.