2016 Volvo XC90

LOS ANGELES — By early summer the all-new 2016 Volvo XC90 will be rolling into a showroom near you. Volvo is referring to the next generation XC90 as “all new” because almost nothing but its name has been carried over from the 2014 version. Some might take issue with the term all new, as opposed to “totally redesigned,” but Volvo makes a pretty convincing argument for this choice.

With Ford out of the picture, Volvo was finally free to design and engineer exactly the XC90 it wanted.

Beginning with a clean sheet of paper, product planners weren’t just designing a new XC90, they were steering the brand in a new direction. The goal wasn’t to simply make the new XC90 better than the one it replaces, but to set the pace for revitalizing Volvo. New styling cues, such as the bolder iron mark grille logo and the “Thor’s Hammer” daytime running lights will find their way into future products.

To reinforce its claim as the “safe brand,” Volvo has issued its ambitious Vision 2020, to eliminate all fatalities and serious injuries in new Volvo cars by the 2020 model year. To that end, it developed a series of new safety technologies either standard or available in the XC90. One, found on every 2016 XC90, is run-off-road protection, combining energy-absorbing seats to reduce spine injuries with seat belts that tighten down to hold occupants firmly upright in place when the system senses the car departing the road.

Another standard technology is intersection auto brake that will actually apply full braking when turning left in an intersection if it senses an approaching vehicle entering the intersection from the opposite direction.

Other available autonomous braking functions include full front-collision system and City Safety that brakes when it senses pedestrians and cyclists in the car’s path, as well as Queue Assist that uses the adaptive cruise control to automatically steer and brake the car in traffic jams where speeds don’t exceed about 19 miles per hour.

Upping the ante on human interface was another stated product-planning goal. Here every XC90 provides a huge vertically-arranged nine-inch color touchscreen in the center of the dashboard. Responding to swipes and pinches like an iPhone, it has a filter to reduce glare and uses infrared technology to react to fingers before they actually touch the screen. Also standard on even the $48,900 base Momentum grade, are smart-phone app integration, a navigation system, voice commands and Bluetooth connectivity.

Customers won’t have to divine the nuances of Volvo’s traditional family of gas engines during the XC90 T6 shopping process; only one gasoline engine is available. It’s an all-new supercharged and turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder engine generating 316 horsepower and 295 lb.ft. of torque. Basically the supercharger is always in play, spooling up the turbocharger only under heavy acceleration. An eight-speed driver-shiftable automatic transmission feeds engine output to all four wheels.

This has the XC90 scampering to 60 miles per hour from a standstill in a minimum of 6.1 seconds by Volvo’s stopwatch. Fuel economy is impressive for an AWD vehicle of this size with government estimates of 20 mpg city, 25 highway and 22 combined.

For better fuel performance, you can wait until the end of the year for the $68,100 T8 Twin Engine Plug-In Hybrid that uses the same 2L to propel the front wheels and an electric motor in the rear for the rear wheels. Total output is 400 horsepower. Volvo located the Lithium-ion batteries along the transmission tunnel to retain passenger and cargo space. It’s electric-only range is about 17 miles. Using the government’s measurements for electric and hybrid cars, the mileage estimate is better than 59 e-mpg. Incidentally, the XC90 T8 is the first seven-passenger, plug-in hybrid.

The seven passengers are arranged among three rows of leather-covered seats staggered in height like a movie theater. The 10-way power-adjustable front seats offer lumbar and side-bolster adjustment. There is plenty of legroom with even the third row accommodating a medium-size adult. Craftsmanship and quality materials highlight
the cabin that remains remarkably quiet, even under hard acceleration.

A dizzying list of standard gear supports the XC90’s luxury bona fides. Lane-departure warning, rearview camera, four-zone automatic climate control, keyless entry/start, power rear cargo hatch and 10-speaker audio system with iPod interface — in addition to equipment already mentioned — are just a few of the features included in the base price.

Audiophiles wanting one of the best factory audio systems on the market can pony up $2,500 for the amazing 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins surround-sound system with an air-ventilated subwoofer integrated into the body of the car that actually transforms the entire cabin into a subwoofer.

In a 150-mile Southern California drive that included hills, twisting curves, freeways and urban streets, the XC90 performed brilliantly. Aggressive acceleration, spot-on steering, crisp cornering and a pliant ride comprise the performance ingredients most drivers expect in a luxury crossover. The new XC90 has them all.

— Russ Heaps (Clanging Bell)