2016 Volvo XC90 Review: T6 Inscription

It's not often that the petrol option is better than the diesel for a family SUV, but the 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 changes that...

This is an important car, the 2016 Volvo XC90.

The Swedish company is banking on this all-new luxury SUV to make up a fair chunk of its sales over the coming years, and it’s the first of a range of new models that will boast a more modern design – both inside, and out.

The model we’re testing here is the Volvo XC90 T6, powered by the 2.0-litre petrol engine rather than the 2.0-litre diesel, and Volvo says this drivetrain is expected to account for about 40 per cent of initial XC90 sales ahead of the technologically-advanced XC90 T8 plug-in hybrid arriving in 2016.

This particular car is the T6 Inscription, which has a list price of $100,950 plus on-road costs – though as you see it, options push that price to $119,995 plus on-roads.

Read the full pricing and specifications story for the 2016 Volvo XC90 here.

It’s fair to say that, in that case, a 2.0-litre engine may not seem an adequate pairing for the price, particularly given this is a circa-2000 kilogram seven-seat SUV.

Indeed, no rival models have as small a petrol engine in their ranges as yet – the BMW X5’s smallest petrol is the xDrive35i, a 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder with 225kW/400Nm; the Mercedes-Benz GLE’s smallest petrol is in the GLE400, a 3.0-litre twin turbo V6 with 245kW/480Nm; and the Audi Q7 doesn’t even come with a petrol option in Australia. Only the soon-to-arrive Lexus RX has a 2.0-litre turbo, but it’s a lighter, smaller SUV with five seats, not seven.

But the Volvo’s four-pot – which is sold here in the most powerful T6 specification only – is both turbocharged and supercharged, and the result is a pair of healthy, and competitive, peak outputs given the size of the engine: power is rated at 235kW (at 5700rpm) and torque is a strong 400Nm (from 2200rpm to 5400rpm).

It is teamed to an eight-speed automatic transmission, and as with all XC90 models it works with a Haldex all-wheel drive system to apportion drive to the wheels that need it most, depending on the situation.

Volvo claims the XC90 will use just 8.5 litres of premium unleaded per 100 kilometres, which is a mighty enticing figure on paper.

In the real world, on our test at least, it didn’t quite get that good – through a mix of driving including more than 250 kilometres of country back-road and freeway motoring, as well as a few hours of commuter traffic, we saw a return of 9.7 litres per 100km. That said, we never had seven bodies on board, nor any bulky weekend sport kit.

The T6 petrol is an engine that likes to be driven a certain way. The supercharger helps get it away from the line, while the turbo kicks in to help keep progress swift as the revs rise. The result is that it can be slow to respond to sudden throttle inputs, particularly from a standstill.

Indeed, hard throttle application will not get the best out of this engine – you need to use a gentle right foot, but when you do, it is smooth, quiet and refined, not to mention pretty rapid.

The gearbox is generally well behaved around town – we noticed one or two clunky changes under half-throttle – but it does a great job out of town, where it will drop back a couple of cogs up steeper hills, or settle in eighth for freeway work.

Indeed, it is a more polished and user-friendly drive than the D5 Momentum model Trent tested recently – everyone in the CA office who drove both versions supported me on that.

Over the D5 model we drove, the T6 Inscription had the optional air suspension, and like that model, the Inscription had 20-inch wheels. If you can spare the $3760, it’ll probably save you on chiropractor bills in the long run.

That’s probably a bit harsh – the ride of the D5 was somewhat clumsy, but the T6 was smoother and more comfortable on most road surfaces. The big wheels can still jar into big jolts, though.

The airbag suspension doesn’t add any alacrity through the twisty stuff, either.

The XC90 is still more likely to appease buyers who want a car that will go around bends in peace and comfort rather than those who desire point-and-shoot dynamism. It will also do the job for those buyers around town – the steering is responsive and well weighted for parking moves (there’s also an auto-parking system, if you prefer).

At higher speeds on more challenging patches of road, the XC90’s body rolls through corners but is not wobbly, and there’s plenty of grip available. The steering is accurate but not entertaining.

In short, if you want an SUV that is a lot of fun to drive fast, look elsewhere.

However, if you want an SUV with a show-car-like interior, the XC90 could be for you.

The optional Walnut trim sections (cost: $700) fitted to our car gave the cabin the feel of a luxury home, and the standard Nappa leather seat trim is some of the smoothest we’ve sat on.

Volvo’s vertical media system takes a bit of learning, but given how quick a two-year-old can adapt to an iPad, we’d suggest a couple of weeks of driving would see you touching, swiping and pinching with the best of the toddler set.

There are menus upon menus, screens upon screens, and pretty much everything is controlled through the system – including seat heating (which is, offensively, optional for $375 in this spec) and the car’s climate settings. Rear-seat passengers get a second set of climate controls, too, making for a quad-zone layout.

Connectivity is taken care of through the media system, too, with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, dual USB and auxiliary inputs, and connected phones can enable the car to connect to the internet and use on-screen apps. The car can even update software over the web.

Further, the satellite navigation system is a cinch to use, particularly the voice control function, and it is quick to load.

So, at first glance it’s entirely convincing. But spend a bit more time in the car, and you start to find a few issues.

The lack of electric steering adjustment is one such issue. You can get it in cars half the price of the XC90, and using a lever for rake and reach sours the special feel of the cabin.

And on top of that, the third-row seats don’t feature electric adjustment (rivals like the Q7 have that), nor are the seats easy to handle from the boot. They aren’t easy to raise from the boot area itself, which could be annoying if you’re in a hurry. They are easy to drop down from the cargo hold, though.

The space in the third row is surprisingly good, even for adults. Anyone taller than about 170 centimetres will lack some head and leg room, but it’s adequate for short trips and more than adequate if children will be the primary occupants. Second row space is great, aided by a 40:20:40 layout with both slide and recline mechanisms.

The good news about the XC90 is that it still has a big boot when all seven seats are in use – 451 litres, to be precise, while that figure jumps to 1102L with the five-seat configuration in use. With both rear rows folded down, there’s a brilliant flat surface for easy loading – and cars with the air suspension get static adjustment buttons that will drop and raise the car to help you load stuff in or out. We wouldn’t specify the cream carpet, though – it was already scattered with marks and stains after just a few thousand kilometres.

As you’d expect, the XC90 Inscription comes fairly well kitted-out with safety gear. The standard inclusions are City Safety (pedestrian and cyclist detection and brake support), blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and rear collision warning, lane departure warning, a reverse-view camera with front and rear parking sensors, and seven airbags (dual front, driver’s knee, front side and full-length curtain).

Radar cruise control is optional as part of the Driver Support Package which also includes a 360-degree surround view camera system, head-up display, semi-automated parking, rear cross-traffic alert, and active lane keeping steering assistance (cost: $4000).

Parents will also appreciate there is ventilation to all three rows, and the second row has integrated child seat boosters and ISOFIX anchors.

As for ownership, Volvo offers a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty program with roadside assistance for the term of the warranty. There is a range of capped-price servicing and maintenance packages available, from the basic three-year/45,000km Smartcare service program (total $1925 for the petrol, with cover for software updates, servicing and wiper blades) through to a five-year Smartcare Plus service and maintenance schedule (total $7175 for the petrol, adds brake pads and discs if needed, and wheel alignments when required).

The Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription, then, is impressive in many ways, but also somewhat short of perfect in others. It is, however, more convincing than the D5 Momentum we’ve previously tested, though at a premium price...

With the air suspension it is more comfortable and with the petrol engine it is more amenable. If you’re in the market for an XC90, be sure to test the petrol before you commit to the diesel, and see if you can back-to-back test the standard suspension with the optional air suspension.

Click the Photos tab above for more images by Christian Barbeitos.