The 2016 XC90 means an important update for Volvo, and although the company hasn't revealed what the exterior will look like or drivetrain options, it has offered photos and some details about the XC90's new infotainment system, dubbed Sensus.
Current Volvo Sensus systems, such as the one CNET recently looked at in the 2015 S60, use a horizontally-oriented 7-inch LCD. The new system for the XC90 incorporates a portrait-style touchscreen, similar but smaller than that used by Tesla in its Model S.
Part of Volvo's stated goal with this new Sensus system was to do away with physical buttons on the dashboard. From photos of the new XC90, we can see that the only remaining buttons below the touchscreen are emergency flashers, front and rear defrosters, and music track control, including a volume dial.
Volvo relegates climate controls to a persistent strip at the base of the touchscreen. Some automakers have tried similar virtualization of climate controls, but found that customers demanded physical buttons for raising and lowering the temperature. However, Volvo's system may be responsive and accessible enough to satisfy owners.
The tiled interface of this new Sensus system is a first for the automotive industry. From Volvo's photos, the home screen shows four tiles: navigation, stereo, phone, and messaging. Touch any tile, and that function expands on the screen to show all available controls. Volvo notes that, with the system's infrared sensors, even a driver wearing gloves can use the touchscreen.
These screen tiles should make for a scalable interface when Volvo wants to add new functions to the system.
Underneath this interface, at least some of the functions seem to share software with the currently available Sensus Connected Touch system. Navigation from each system relies on maps from Nokia's Here, while Ericsson provides back-end cloud support. According to a video on Volvo's site about the current Sensus Connected Touch system, maps are stored locally, but can be updated through the car's data connection.
Volvo's photos for the Sensus system in the XC90 only show conventional audio sources, such as CD, radio, and Bluetooth streaming. However, the Sensus Connected Touch system supports apps such as Spotify and Pandora, as well as 80,000 Internet-based radio stations. Expect those connected audio sources to be part of the Sensus system in the new XC90.
Drivers who don't care for the new Sensus interface in the XC90 can always replace it with their iPhone, as the car will natively support Apple CarPlay.