2016 Volvo XC90 Review

The all-new 2016 Volvo XC90 has arrived - with a new look, new interior and new technology galore.
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To arrive in this world with a staggering level of responsibility and importance already placed on your being is something usually reserved for newborn royalty.

The local launch of the 2016 Volvo XC90 should, then, be treated as the arrival of a new king, as the completely revised seven-seat family SUV is without a doubt the most important model in the Swedish brand’s 88-year history.

Important because it is the first new car to be wholly developed with the partnership of Chinese owner Geely since its buyout of Volvo in 2010. Important because the new Scalable Product Architecture that underpins the XC90 will drive all future model development across the range, not forgetting that Volvo needs to realise the $11 billion investment made in developing this car. And important because the previous-generation XC90 was the biggest-selling model for the brand in many key markets, so this one has big shoes to fill.

Whichever way you cut it, this is a lot of responsibility placed onto one car.

However, in our mind the most important role of the new XC90 is that of ambassador for a brand who has helped build so many memories. Memories crafted with cars bearing the responsibility of carrying generations of families safely and securely.

Growing up, a Volvo was regularly the ‘Ward Family’ car. There is a photo of me standing next to a brown 245 on the shores of Loch Ness, looking for monsters in the early 80s. There was an orange 240 estate at one point and a blue 264 at another.

A generation later, and now I have a photo of my own daughter ‘driving’ our 2009 Volvo XC90 when she was barely a year old.

And so the new XC90, a car developed for the next generation of Volvo families, loaded with the responsibility of carrying not only its precious cargo, but the style- and technology-focussed growth of the brand, has arrived.

It brings with it some world-first safety technology that will help drive the brand’s ambitious goal of zero fatalities in Volvo cars by 2020.

Safe Positioning Capability, a run-off-road protection system, senses if the car has left the tarmac, for example if a driver has fallen asleep, and tightens the seatbelts for all occupants to help brace for a rough landing.

The auto-brake at intersection system will automatically stop the car should you turn across into oncoming traffic. This is combined with the standard city-safe AEB braking technology and rear collision detect and cross-traffic alert (optional on the Momentum variant at $1275), to produce what Volvo claims is the world’s safest luxury SUV.

The old model was with us for 12 years, and while there are definite styling traits carried over to the new car, this is very much a modern take on an old formula. Insert Kirk vs Picard comparison here.

The 2016 XC90 is longer (4950mm v 4807mm), wider (2008mm v 1936mm) and lower (1776mm v 1784mm) than the previous-generation car. It’s still shorter, but is now wider, than the new Audi Q7 and fills its proportions well.

In fact, Volvo recently won the ‘Best of the Best’ design award for the new XC90 at the international ‘Red Dot’ design awards in Germany this year.

Even the key is a marvel — presented to new owners in a lovely box, with the wrapped leather of the fob matching the interior colour of the car. A nice touch, and something that helps the car step up to a whole new level.

On the outside, the high glasshouse and snub nose are still there, but the stunning new LED headlights which feature the ‘Thor’s Hammer’ running lights are the first glimpse of the technology and design effort that has gone into the new ’90.

Initially the XC90 will be offered in two variants — Momentum and Inscription — in a choice of 11 colours (metallic paint is a $1750 option). The sporty R-Design version arrives in Q4, 2015, and brings two exclusive colours with it, Passion Red and Bursting Blue Metallic, ensuring no one mistakes you for anything else on the road.

Read our detailed, separate pricing and specifications story here.

All cars feature colour-coded wheel arches, with the top-spec Inscription receiving a chrome-accented grille and embossed running strip on the side. Wheels start at 19-inches on the Momentum (which can be down-sized to 18-inches for no cost) and 20-inches on the Inscription. There are upgrades available if you are so inclined, the R-Design noted as offering a 22-inch package for a sizeable $3825 extra.

The XC90 suits its size and shape well, and looked classy in all the (safe) colours presented at the launch — surprisingly the ‘Luminous Sand Metallic’ car looked much better and more premium in the metal than it does in the brochure.

However you find the outside though, the interior, particularly up front, can only be described as superb.

The use of real wood, thick carpet and double-stitched leather combined with brushed aluminium components and beautiful jewel-like dials lift this car in a way we can compare only to last years release of the W205 Mercedes-Benz C-Class — it is a game changer.

For the driver and front passenger, the XC90 is a plush and luxurious chaperone to points unknown. The seats are comfortable and electrically adjustable in all models, the frame-less rear vision mirror looks plucked from a Vogue Living shoot and the 12.3-inch iPad-like centre stack display features high-resolution graphics and a (mostly) intuitive interface that feels immediately familiar to anyone from the iPhone generation.

The ‘sensus’ technology touchscreen works with fingers, fingernails, even gloves and will be offered with Apple CarPlay as an option later this year (early build cars without will be able to receive the system via an extra-cost update). The system has a live-update capability (using your mobile phone as a data connection) and will offer more applications, such as streaming music and location information (ie: TripAdvisor) over time.

The small steering wheel (although bigger than the ol' side-plate in the Peugeot 308) is nicely balanced in your hands and the multifunction TFT instrument display is perfectly suited to the rest of the layout and techno feel of the car.

Move back to the middle row, and the XC90’s DNA remains the same. Despite that delicious cockpit, this is a passenger car.

The seats are all still individually flat-foldable and are on rails to allow more (or less) leg room for both centre and third rows. The leather is soft and comfortable, and there is still plenty of head, knee and toe room for adults.

The quad-zone climate control interface in the Inscription model is a lovely TFT display, with air vents on the B-pillar as they were in the original car.

The middle seat offers an integrated booster seat cushion as well as fold-down arm rest with cupholders.

There is a single 12-volt power outlet at the rear of the centre console, but surprisingly no USB charge points for either of the passenger rows. Given ‘devices’ are pretty standard equipment for today’s road-tripping Volvo family, some additional charging capability (there is a USB port in the centre console) would be nice.

Moving to the third row is easy, thanks to the tilt/slide seat mechanism. I’m not going to win any Olympic medals for flexibility, but found it easy enough to climb in and out of. Children should literally bounce in there.

Adults might find it comfortable to configure the Volvo as a six-seater (2+2+2) by folding the middle-centre seat flat and allowing more knee room for the back row, but that’s on that one day you have a sextet of lumbering six-foot blokes in the car. For the rest of the time, there is enough room to keep pre-teens happy, along with cupholders, vents and a storage cubby with a neat surprise under the lid.

Onto the boot which now has a power-operated tailgate in all models (Inscription offers a magic foot-waving sensor), but does away with the cool split door of the old car. Room is up by an impressive 202 litres to 451L, and although there is no special place for it, the cargo blind will now fit in the boot when you need to convert from five to seven seats in a hurry.

Running the car in five seat mode offers a 1102L boot (up 487L on the old car) and when the cargo blind is in place, it works in a cool two-stage action, and doesn’t retract all the way to the rear seats unless you fully intend it to. Fold all the seats flat and you get a whopping 1951L of cargo space.

Models equipped with air suspension (a $3760 option) allow the rear height to be raised and lowered from a button on the inside of the boot. Great for assisting low loads to slide into the back, or in my case, allowing Grandma’s elderly Labrador a more elegant hop-up into the back.

There’s a space-saver spare and hidden storage box under the floor, but no nifty powered rear seats like you’ll find in the new Audi Q7 and Ford Everest. A removable ‘doggy blind’ cargo net is also included.

The new car’s family credentials stack up, so what’s it like on the road?

We drove the 235kW/400Nm 2.0-litre twin-charged T6 Petrol version in Inscription trim (on 20-inch wheels and with optional air suspension).

From rest, the T6 pulls confidently and certainly feels ‘bigger’ than a four-cylinder. Use the diamond-cut drive mode selector to switch to Dynamic, and the confidence changes to a sense of urgency as the big Volvo gathers speed quickly.

It’s a short ride though, that initial burst of action tapering off into a more ’dignified’ pace, but certainly enough for country overtaking and urban dashing that will no doubt fill the life of the XC90.

Fuel consumption of the T6 is claimed at 8.5L/100 in a combined cycle. That’s actually lower than the old 8.8L/100km claimed with the previous XC90’s D5 diesel. Our drive loop saw consumption average about 10.2L/100km, but we look forward to spending more time with the car to see a true real-use figure.

In city traffic the stop-start system is smooth and at rest, with the engine off, the XC90 feels very quiet. We measured just over 60dB on a smooth urban A-road and up to 75dB on coarse-chip country roads at 100km/h.

That said, with the optional 1400W, Bowers & Wilkins ($4500) 19-speaker stereo system and dynamic sound configuration software on the centre touchscreen, the outside noise — or the noise of chattering children — are soon forgotten.

Through a country touring loop, the XC90 remained solid and composed over most road surfaces. A few harsh potholes sent a slight jar through the steering wheel, but in a segment where many complain that communication with the road has been dulled, it’s not a bad thing to actually feel the bumps when you hit them.

The steering is light at low speeds, making the big Volvo easy to navigate around parked cars and tight car spots. Plus, the turning circle has been reduced by about a metre, making those supertanker-like three-point turns of the old car turns a lot less common.

It hasn’t got the same level of dynamic response and ‘sporty’ handling as the BMW X5 (which I currently own), but it doesn’t really matter. We all know that the XC90 will spend most of its time in and around inner-city suburbs — from the shops, to the school, to Saturday morning sports — so ride comfort and ease of driving is what is important here.

Our test car was fitted with the optional IntelliSafe Assist package (part of a $4000 driver support pack, or available separately for $2600) which includes radar-guided cruise control, a lane-keeping aid, traffic queue assist as well as a 360-degree parking camera and heads-up display. It is a pretty key package, and completes the technology offering of the standard car, but should it really be an option at this level?

Volvo state that close to 30 per cent of pre-orders already include this package, and that almost 70 per cent of initial Australian orders are for the top-spec Inscription D5, indicating that price, up a whopping $20,000 on the old model, isn’t really the biggest concern for buyers.

This price increase puts the XC90 in the same bracket as the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE. All cars which used to sit ‘above’ the XC90 both in purchase consideration as well as ‘social status’.
But the new car is now absolutely in the same league.

The 2016 Volvo XC90 isn’t the most powerful car in the segment, nor the most ‘engaging’ to drive, but that fantastic interior with its delicious blend of materials and family centric space and comfort shows that Volvo’s focus is still where it always was — on the people inside.

So yes, a 9/10 rating for our first local look at the new Volvo XC90. It might seem high, and it might seem glowing, but it really is a very good car. However, we very much look forward to having one through the CarAdvice garage soon to put through some real world tests.

How do children find the back? How practical is the load space? How economical is it around town and what do owners of ‘rival’ SUVs think of it?

But for now, as we bid farewell to the original shape XC90 and the thousands of family memories it shaped around the world, we look forward to another generation of Volvo families with the new XC90. The king is dead, long live the king.