The long-awaited redesign brings a few surprises
Volvo had no choice: the outgoing XC90 dated back to 2003 and it showed. Since then Volvo was sold by Ford to a Chinese company, Geely. Through the ownership change, Volvo no longer had access to existing platforms or powertrains, thereby creating a timing wrinkle and numerous engineering challenges.
Fast-forward to summer 2015 and the new XC90 has just gone on sale, starting $48,900. Typically equipped, most versions will land around $56,000, placing the XC90 somewhere between an Acura MDX and a BMW X5 in the luxury three-row segment.
Volvo is betting big with the new XC90. It offers one four-cylinder engine--a 2.0-liter powerplant that's both supercharged and turbocharged. Peak output is 316 hp and a 295 lb.-ft. of torque. This forcefed Four is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. In another bold move, the XC also brings a new infotainment system that's interfaced through an iPad-sized touchscreen.
Four trimlines are available: Momentum, Inscription, R-Design, and the T8 plug-in hybrid. The latter is meant to be a socially responsible answer to competitors' V8 offerings with its 400-hp and with a claimed 25-mile all-electric range.
All versions get three rows of seats and a seven-passenger capacity. Folding the third row is now much easier than it was in the outgoing XC90. Our rented XC90 was the Inscription version-a sumptuous package with buttery soft leather and gorgeous wood.
Volvo takes its Swedishness very seriously and wants to make sure no one perceives the brand as anything but--a major concern in the era of Chinese overlords. To that end, you get a tiny Swedish flag sewn into the passenger seat and a Thor's hammer light pattern in the headlights. No word as to whether or not actor Chris Hemsworth is buying one....
Being so closely associated with safety, one might expect an easy non-distracting control interface. Oddly, that's not the case. And while the 12.3-inch touchscreen is very attractive, bright, fast acting, and pleasing to read, it's not the most intuitive. It takes frequent flipping among all of the functions and various pages, which means a lot of eye-off-the-road time and hand-off the wheel.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay will be incorporated into the screen down the road.
Any doubts about the four-cylinder's ability to haul around this hefty SUV go away after a few miles. It turns out that mid-range oomph is just fine, but it certainly doesn't sound like a smooth, lush V6 with its underlying muted thrum. The automatic shifts very smoothly. It remains to be seen how fuel efficient the XC90 will be. The EPA rates it at 25 mpg highway. We saw around 22 mpg overall during the car's stay with us.
The ride is more comfortable than in any Volvo in recent memory, but with the air suspension and 21-inch tires, some bumps, seemingly out of nowhere, punched through rather harshly. The standard 18-inch tires ought to deliver a more absorbent ride. That said, the cabin stays noticeably quiet.
Handling is responsive but this big Swede is not exactly a dancing queen; you're not getting the agility you're getting with the German competitors. When you crave more personality, the Dynamic mode stiffens the steering, holds gears longer, and creates a more interesting exhaust sound.
We just bought our own XC90 T6 Momentum for $56,805, and will put it through its paces to see how it ranks among its peers in our tests.