The XC90 is the first Volvo to reflect the automaker's new styling direction
The all-new second-generation XC90 replaces its long-lived predecessor introduced for the 2003 model year. The XC90 is based on a new vehicle architecture, the first developed under the ownership of Volvo's Chinese parent company Geely; it will serve as the basis for all future models.
Competitors include the heavyweight European premium luxo-cruisers like the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GL as well as Japanese-branded three-row vehicles like the Acura MDX and the Infiniti QX60.
Volvo has dropped the six-cylinder engines expected of vehicles in this class to reduce manufacturing complexity, and to comply with ever-tightening U.S. Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations while still producing the horsepower expected in this segment. Volvo is offering a supercharged and turbocharged variant of its 2L Drive-E four-cylinder engine. Volkswagen tried this approach about a decade ago but abandoned the idea. Volvo has a long history of producing durable turbocharged engines but this double-blown unit in the XC90 is unproven.
Volvo also offers a plug-in hybrid version of the XC90 marketed as the T8. Compared with the 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft. of torque in the mainstream XC90, the T8 produces 400 horsepower and a stump-pulling 472 lb-ft. or torque. Volvo claims the plug-in can travel up to 43 kilometres in pure electric mode before its batteries are depleted.
In terms of acceleration and flexibility, the XC90’s much breathed upon 2L four is a success. However, the pedestrian and slightly gruff soundtrack, especially during acceleration from a stop in urban driving, may disappoint luxury segment buyers expecting the smooth sound of a six-cylinder engine. The overall fuel economy of around 12L/100 km experienced by the APA in our time with the XC90 was quite reasonable for a large, quick family vehicle, but fuel costs are likely not a serious concern for buyers in this class, many of whom would trade modestly higher fuel consumption for greater refinement. The engine is acceptably refined when cruising. The eight-speed automatic transmission provides a wide range of speeds, and combines responsive acceleration with very relaxed highway operation.
With stable handling and a firm, yet controlled ride, the suspension will suit the expectations of most buyers. The steering is light and doesn’t telegraph much information, but it is quick and precise. The brakes provide strong stops and good pedal feel. Road and wind noise are well suppressed.
Outward vision to the front and sides is acceptable by current standards, but the small third side windows limit vision for reversing and lane changes. Big door mirrors help, and a rearview camera makes backing up easier.
While very neat, clean, well-finished and bearing Volvo’s latest grille motif, the new XC90 looks barely newer than its ancient predecessor and doesn’t move the styling needle ahead significantly. That said, buyers have embraced the look and the car, which is selling well.
The cabin is a design tour de force that eclipses everything in its class. It conveys an ambiance of restrained luxury that excludes any unnecessary embellishments and is composed from sumptuous materials. The Bauhaus design school would have been proud to have claimed this as one of their creations. Drivers face an attractive dashboard with crisply marked digital gauges; the dash is dominated by a centre-mounted large-format screen that controls the climate, navigation and audio functions. Like many such systems, the one in the Volvo is counterintuitive and a hurdle to those unfamiliar with it, but its operation becomes less opaque as time passes. The touchscreen’s graphics are impressive.
A quartet of outboard occupants sitting in the first two rows enjoys supportive seats and expansive room. The centre position of the middle-row seat is not that welcoming. The third row is best suited to the young and supple; most adults will struggle to get in and feel cramped once seated. Cargo space is acceptable with the third-row seat in place, and expansive when it is folded into the floor. The high-end Bowers & Wilkens branded audio system is a sonic delight.
Sumptuous seats, long a Volvo hallmark, return in the XC90
The masterful blend of colours, textures and materials defines modern Scandinavian luxury
Middle seat riders enjoy ample legroom, but the centre seat position is not nearly as comfortable as the outboard ones
Dual zone climate controls, vents and seat heaters coddle those in the second row seats
Big, clear screen picks up enough finger prints to double as a mobile forensics lab
The knob marked "engine" rotates to stop or start the XC90
Large format sunroof makes for an airy cabin
The XC90 is an expensive vehicle that becomes very premium-priced after expected features, like active safety equipment, an upgraded audio system and metallic paint, are added. The APA's test XC90 T6 Inscription, equipped with metallic paint, the climate/convenience package and premium audio system, had an MSRP of $82,650. The XC 90 T8 plug-in hybrid is priced roughly $13,000 higher than a conventional T6.
A substantial proportion of vehicles in this segment are leased. The XC90 is very complex, and its predicted long-term reliability is below average, with expensive repair costs after the warranty expires. Leasing for no longer than the four year/80,000 km warranty, which also includes the powertrain, is recommended. Avoid the optional air suspension as similar systems have proven unreliable in vehicles offered by other carmakers. A full-coverage extended warranty from Volvo is recommended if you plan to purchase the car.
Volvo is a leader in injury and collision mitigation, and the XC90 is a flagship for the brand that will likely rank among the safest vehicles on the market. The City Safety system with low and high speed collision mitigation is standard, as are Pedestrian and Cyclist protection, a lane departure warning and edge and barrier detection with auto-steer. Available active safety equipment includes adaptive cruise control, as well as lane keep assist and blind spot and rear cross traffic warnings. The XC90 has been tested by the NHTSA and earned a full five stars overall. It also earned a Good score in all five categories of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety test cycle.
The traditional Iron Mark logo migrates to a new generation of Volvos
While clean, modern and restrained, the new XC90 doesn't push at any design boundaries
Nicely integrated exhaust outlets at the rear of the XC90
Big wheels and low-profile tires don't seem to hurt the XC90's ride
The XC90's 2L turbocharged and supercharged four produces 316 horsepower
Except for an engine insufficiently refined to please potential buyers in this segment, and styling that is perhaps too timid for some, the XC90 is a solid effort for the first all-new vehicle developed under Geely’s ownership.
It is a well-balanced machine that can accommodate four occupants in supreme comfort, with additional seating to welcome more occupants occasionally. Occupants will enjoy the experience, as the cabin is a masterstroke of modern style and restrained opulence.
The XC90’s price is very high, but no more so than other European-branded competitors, and the Volvo may have an edge with iconoclasts as an alternative to the more popular German brands that are the default choices in this segment. The bigger question for Canada is whether the XC90 has enough appeal to migrate buyers out of the cheaper Acura MDX, which is Canada's most popular premium three-row luxury wagon. The MDX has an enviable reputation for reliability and reasonable running costs, compared to the European models in this segment.