TEST DRIVE: 2016 Volvo XC90 takes on the BMW X5

Interesting | December 30th, 2015 by 2
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Go big or go home. The new 2016 Volvo XC90 has been awaited by many, including me. I remember seeing it for the first time …

Go big or go home. The new 2016 Volvo XC90 has been awaited by many, including me. I remember seeing it for the first time at the 2015 NAIAS in January; it was one of our top 5 reveals and now we can finally experience it firsthand. The XC90 hasn’t received a complete overhaul since its debut in 2003 making it long overdue for change. But good things come to those who wait. And Volvo doesn’t intend this to be the launch of just the XC90. They’ve pinned their hopes on rebooting their entire brand. The XC90’s rivals – and maybe all Volvo competitors – should pay attention. The new XC90 is sitting pretty as Volvo’s game changer in the luxury SUV segment.

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I’ve heard from several people that the styling across the luxury SUV segment is full of sameness. They feel like the brands blend together; take the emblems off any 3 vehicles and you would be hard pressed to tell them apart. It’s true that each segment has its formulaic shape. However, while redesigning the Volvo, designers took time to update and modernize their classic style. By doing so, the XC90 has retained its individuality. Its larger grille, sporting a more prominent logo with the classic diagonal slash, and slim “Thor’s Hammer” DRL lights distinguish this classy ride. Aggressive lower air intakes, a prominent beltline, and classic vertical taillights make a significant difference in the overall look the new XC90. Our tester, the T6 AWD Inscription, adds silver matte and chrome exterior accents, and the additionally optioned 8-spoke 21″ wheels.

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Entering the XC90 feels like a whole new world. You’re welcomed into the warm interior with plush seats and exceptional technology. As Volvo’s website states, “Good design is a way of life in Sweden, not a luxury.” It’s richly appointed without feeling gaudy. They blended leather, wood and Swedish crystal glass together to create a relaxing and uncluttered oasis. Elements are distinct and unique; to start and stop the engine, you simply twist a stylish knob located in the center console. After paying close attention to the overall quality and feel of the interior, I can only find two faults. The cup holders in the back seat feel flimsy and cheap. I also expected the steering wheel adjustment to be electric, instead it’s manual. Now that’s saying something about the overall impression of the new XC90.

The engine in the 2016 XC90 is completely new. The 4,394 lb beast is powered by a 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged four cylinder engine, producing 316 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. It’s paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission. It offers plenty of power with smooth gear changes. With a four cylinder engine, you do sacrifice the more appealing six or eight cylinder engine sound, but it does make up for it when it comes to fuel economy. The EPA estimates 20 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. Combined driving is rated at 22 mpg, however, our week with the XC90 it got a solid 20 mpg. Let’s just say we’re fans of this excellent forced induction engine. The big SUV handles exceptionally as well, especially in dynamic driving mode. Similar to its competitors, it offers adjustable driving modes (eco, comfort, off road, dynamic, individual). Volvo’s adaptive air suspension and adaptive dampers, an $1,800 option, provide comfort even on the bumpiest of city streets.

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Besides Tesla, Volvo is the only other company that decided to integrate a tablet-like interface as its infotainment system. They call it Sensus. For those that use a tablet on a daily basis, whether it be Apple or Android, will find Sensus a breeze to use. And like Tesla, they orient the screen vertically to cut down on the need to scroll and help make map viewing easier. You can swipe to the left or right to access different menus or push the home button at the base of the screen to return to the main menu. It’s an intuitive system that throws out the textbook on automotive interfaces. Viewing maps and zooming in and out has become easier with the natural pinch in/out feature. Sometimes, you don’t even have to be in the car. By using the Volvo on Call app on your smartphone, it’s possible to start the engine remotely, warm/cool the cabin, get roadside assistance, unlock/lock the doors, and set GPS destinations. When you’re on the go, you’ll still be connected with voice recognition and a built-in hotspot. The icing on this Swedish meatball, however, comes from Volvo’s partnership with Bowers & Wilkins. with their goal of recreating the sound of Gothenburg Concert Hall. It’s an entirely new experience listening to a song you’ve heard hundreds of times though the XC90’s 1,400 watt,19 speaker audio system.

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We would be remiss to omit any mention of the Volvo’s safety features. The 2016 XC90 is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+, continuing the model’s streak of top safety marks across the board since the IIHS tested the first XC90 in 2013. But Volvo, and the IIHS testing methods, have come a long way since then. Volvo introduces two world-first safety features with the new XC90, run-off road protection and auto brake at intersections. The first is designed to protect front passengers if the XC90 were to leave the road and come to an abrupt halt. In that event, the front seat belts are tensioned as long as the car is moving. Keeping passengers firmly in their seats, combined with energy-absorbing seat frame cushions, reduces the trauma from impact. The second safety feature will apply the brakes if the XC90 senses that it has pulled out in front of an oncoming car.

These, along with Lane Keep Aid, Blind Spot Information System, Driver Alert control, City Safety auto braking, Queue Assist, and Road Sign Information technology give the 2016 XC90 the most standard safety features of any vehicle ever offered.

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I’ve waited a while to get behind the wheel of the new 2016 Volvo XC90 and it didn’t disappoint in the least. The value for the money is superb; for $66,000 you get a fully loaded SUV with all the bells and whistles you expect from a luxury SUV. The XC90 has taken a leap ahead of its competitors with Sensus, an innovative system that shakes up the traditional infotainment system found in most vehicles today. The lack of an optional six cylinder engine may deter some consumers who are wary of forced induction. It’s also a lot of car for a four cylinder engine to handle day in and day out. The XC90’s style makes a statement without overdoing it – something that some automakers do not understand. If you’re considering a German or Japanese competitor, give the XC90 a try as it’s dressed to impress inside and out.

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