Plug-in hybrid drivetrain powers Volvo's new XC90 four-wheel-drive

PARIS -- As Volvo's largest SUV, the XC90 sells well in the US, so the company can't afford to get the third generational update for this one wrong. From its display here at the Paris Motor Show, Volvo made the 2016 XC90 very enticing with two major new technologies.

At first glance, the XC90 doesn't look particularly interesting. Compared to the previous model, it's lower, with a more brawny stance. Close examination reveals subtleties in the design, such as a curvy, unadorned nose. The headlight openings in the fender lack trim, making for a smooth design. The headlight assembly includes a parking light pattern that Volvo refers to as the "Hammer of Thor."

Although not appearing too large on the outside, Volvo fits three-row seating into the XC90. Pulling the second-row seat forward, there's a surprising amount of room to step into the third row.

Volvo will offer a number of engine choices around the world, such as a turbocharged V-6. However, the most intriguing version will be the T8, which uses a unique plug-in hybrid gasoline-electric drivetrain. The gasoline engine is a 2-liter four cylinder, making use of a turbocharger and supercharger, similar to Volvo's current production engine in the S60 model. Mounted transversely, that engine only powers the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.

A 60-kilowatt electric motor drives the rear wheels. With a battery pack mounted in the center tunnel, that motor can drive the XC90 by itself. With a range of 25 miles, the XC90 could run most commutes as a zero-emission vehicle. The car's drive electronics can also mix the power of engine and electric motor, deciding when it should apply more torque to the front or rear wheels to cope with slippery conditions. The battery pack recharges from regenerative braking and when plugged into the grid.

The total output of the T8 plug-in hybrid drivetrain for the Volvo XC90 amounts to 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque, which should make for some impressive driving dynamics.

The top audio system available for the XC90 comes from British supplier Bowers & Wilkins, which is also makes audio systems for Maserati. The XC90 will get a 1,400-watt amp and 19 speakers.

An entirely new head unit, called Sensus Connect and based on a 9-inch portrait format touchscreen, sits in the center dash. The examples on display at the Paris Motor Show featured fast responses to user input on the tiled interface. The homescreen showed navigation, audio, phone, and weather, although owners will be able to customize apps on the main screen. Swiping to the right reveals a screen full of car settings, while swiping to the left shows all the available apps.

Volvo designed the Sensus Connect system to have a built-in data connection, enabling audio apps and information services. Touching the navigation tile on the homescreen reveals maps and a navigation system supplied by Nokia Here. Maps will be stored locally but can be updated over the air. The open data connection should also let Volvo provide more apps to owners on an ongoing basis.

The 2016 Volvo XC90 looks like a compelling package for an SUV, with modern technologies that should give it an edge over the competition. However, it is also likely to be a pricey vehicle. Volvo has said the US pricing for the lesser trim T60 version will be $46,900, so expect the T8 to be considerably over the $50,000 mark. No pricing has been announced for the UK or Australia, but $46,900 converts to £29,000 or AU$53,000.

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