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Editors' note: We've recently been able to spend more time with the 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription and have updated our first drive preview to a full, rated review.
The 2016 Volvo XC90 isn't just the latest iteration of the model; it's also the beginning of a whole new, more luxurious Volvo.
The leap in quality was best illustrated at the moment I settled in behind the wheel of the XC90 T8 Inscription. The range-topping plug-in hybrid model's cabin is bedecked with leather, metal and glossy bits. The shift knob for the transmission is a piece of fine crystal glass handmade by Scandinavian glassmaker Orrefors. The dashboard and console feature very few physical controls, but those that are there (starter, drive mode selector and volume knob) are little diamond-cut bits of metal sculpture. The a deliberate attention to detail here is delightful.
Under the XC90 T8's skin is a plug-in hybrid power train that starts with the automaker's new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which uses both a turbocharger and a supercharger in sequence to generate 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. That already potent engine is mated to Volvo's Crank-Integrated Starter Generator (C-ISG), a 34kW water-cooled electric motor that adds an additional 103 pound-feet of torque to the mix. The C-ISG is sandwiched between the engine and a shift-by-wire eight-speed automatic transmission. This combo handles the front-wheels' power while a second 65kW Electric Rear Axle Drive (ERAD) motor provides up to 177 pound-feet of instant, on-demand torque to the rear wheels.
Total system output for the T8's "Twin Engine" power train peaks at 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque, which is good enough to hustle the heavy hybrid hauler to 62 mph in 5.6 seconds. More impressive is Volvo's preliminary claim that the XC90 T8 will be good for over 59 mpg once the EPA gets its hands on the SUV. The hybrid's 16 to 17 miles of pure electric range will no doubt help to inflate the XC90's city mpg rating. Volvo states that the 9.3kWh lithium ion battery can be plugged in and recharged in about 3 hours at a 22oV fast-charging station.
The plug-in hybrid features five drive modes that are selectable via a wheel on the center console. Hybrid is the default, a balanced setting; Pure attempts to operate in full-EV mode for as long as the batteries' charge will allow; and Power delivers the best performance from the gasoline engine and the two motors. There's also an AWD setting that optimizes the use of the ERAD for maximum traction (sort of like a virtual locking center differential) and a Save mode that makes use of the gasoline engine to sustain the charge of the battery pack -- for example, to maintain enough EV range for residential driving at the end of a commute.
Many automakers offer "sport" and "eco" modes that only slightly adjust their vehicles' character; Volvo doesn't play it so safely with the XC90. The Hybrid drive mode is smooth, quiet and controlled. It's what I think most luxury buyers are looking for in a comfy SUV. Power mode transforms the SUV's performance dramatically. The XC90 T8 rockets forward like a thrown Mjolnir; all three of its motors suddenly alive and growling. The air suspension, standard at this trim level, firms up and begins a more lively communication with the driver. The change isn't enough to defy the laws of physics, as I learned on a twisty bit of road, but the better response from the XC90 did help to more predictably define the limits of the SUV's performance and resulted in an experience that was different enough to justify pressing the button every now and then.
My time with the T8 "Twin Drive" model was short; most of the day's testing was spent behind the wheel of an XC90 T6 Inscription model. The T6's Drive-E powertrain uses the same 2.0-liter turbo and supercharged engine and the eight-speed automatic transmission, but stops there. Power peaks at a still-respectable 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, which is impressive for a four-banger. All-wheel drive variants of the T6 feature a conventional propshaft and Haldex differential setup.
The EPA estimates that the T6 AWD variant will cruise for a combined 22 miles per gallon of gasoline. That breaks out to 20 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. During a week-long test of the SUV, I averaged 18.5 mpg.
On the road, the T6 feels just as comfortable as the T8, thanks to the Inscription model's air suspension, and nearly as luxurious. The non-hybrid model lacks the T8's shift-by-wire crystal shifter, instead making do with a conventional leather-and-metal knob. My example also featured an exposed, matte-finish wood trim that I enjoyed more than the T8's metal.
Despite the nearly 100 horsepower disparity, the T6 also felt quite lively in its most dynamic drive mode. The acceleration isn't as effortless as the electric torque supplied by the hybrid, but is still plentiful enough to reach 62 mph from a standing start in just 6.1 seconds. The feel of the XC90's eco and sport modes is just as night-and-day as that of the T8 model -- make sure you've got your foot off of the gas pedal when switching modes, the difference is that dramatic.
The XC90's drive modes make other vehicle adjustments beyond just the responsiveness and power of the engine. Eco mode, for example, tweaks the performance of the climate control system to more efficiently use air conditioning. Additionally, the settings can also adjust the ride height of the optional air suspension. Eco to sport progressively lower the ride from the baseline comfort setting; and the off-road setting, which is only available at low speeds, raises the suspension for more ground clearance.
At the center of the XC90's dashboard is the new vertically oriented Sensus Connect infotainment stack. The system uses a home screen with resizable tiles that display an overview of the various functions: audio source, climate controls, navigation and more. Tapping any of these tiles causes the information -- for example, the map for navigation -- to expand and fill the screen. The interface certainly looks good with simple black-and-white graphics and an organizational structure that makes sense on the surface for the most commonly accessed functions. I immediately took to the system, enjoying the shallow interface that doesn't require drilling deep into menus to uncover functions. Driver-aid toggles, for example, are just a swipe away from the home screen.
However, my co-driver had a harder time making heads or tails of the organization of functions and seemed to struggle with finding various functions and with recognizing what was swipeable or not. The flat organization presents, in some instances, a lot of options on screen at the same time, which can be overwhelming for some. Fortunately, the Volvo does feature natural-language voice command for address input, climate controls and media selection.
Volvo states that Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and MirrorLink smartphone connectivity will be available as part of the Sensus Connect infotainment. When a compatible device is connected, the phone's interface will be added to the vertical screen in line with the default panels. Android and Apple connectivity are coming to the Volvo "soon," and MirrorLink is currently compatible.
Audio for the two Inscription models was handed by a 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins premium surround rig that looks fantastic with its metal grilles and central dashboard-mounted tweeter, while sounding very well balanced. Volvo went to the trouble of recreating the sound of the Gothenburg Concert Hall, complete with all of the reverb and echo that you'd hear when listening to a live performance there. There's a fun novelty to this attention to detail, but the preset (understandably) doesn't sound great with all types of music. The Studio preset, on the other hand was fantastic for most of my listening needs.
The 2016 XC90 is available with Volvo's full range of active and passive safety systems including blind-spot information, one of the smoothest 360-degree camera implementations I've ever seen, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and more. There's also a new forward-collision-mitigation system that can recognize imminent collisions and stop the car when turning across oncoming traffic, and a new rear-precollision system that can recognize when the XC90 is about to be rear-ended and will pre-tension the seatbelts and active headrests. Understandably, I didn't test either of these systems on public roads, but I did spend a significant amount of highway cruising time with the aid of the adaptive cruise control and the lane-departure-prevention systems.
Over the course of a one-week test, I was constantly discovering neat features and amenities hidden around the XC90's cabin. For example, after raising the power liftgate, I noticed a small rocker switch that allows the owner to temporarily lower the SUV's rear air suspension to aid in loading cargo.
Other options included on the vehicles that I was able to test included a Head Up Display, which projected useful speed and navigation information on the windshield, but was virtually invisible when viewed through my polarized sunglasses.
This new 2016 XC90 is the first of what will eventually be seven all-new models that Volvo plans to debut by 2019 and will mark the first step in the automaker's transformation into a luxury brand. The 2016 XC90 will start at $48,900 for the base T6 Momentum model and stretch to about $71,600 for the T8 Inscription before options, which can easily push the price north of 80 grand.
This particular black 2016 XC90 T6 AWD starts at $48,900 before adding a $5,600 Inscription package that ups the luxury ante with the LED Thor's Hammer headlamps, the leather interior, and more. $1,600 adds the Vision package, which includes blind-spot monitoring and the excellent 360-degree camera. A $1,800 Convenience package fleshes out the driver aid tech with automatic parallel parking assist, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance, and more. A $1,950 Climate package includes heated rear seats, steering wheel, and washer nozzles and, inexplicably, also rolls in the head-up display. Bowers & Wilkins premium sound adds $2,500, while the air suspension is a $1,800 option, rounding out the big ticket options. $1,560 in styling options and a $995 destination charge brings us to an as-tested price of $66,705.
In Australian markets, the 2016 XC90 goes from AU$98,868 for the base Momentum trim level up to AU$ 111,848 for the Inscription. UK drivers are looking at £45,750 to £50,185 for Momentum and Inscription models, respectively. In the UK, the XC90 is also available with the T8 "Twin Engine" hybrid powertrain and both the UK and Australian markets offer a low-cost D5 diesel engine option. Packaging and options are slightly different for each market, but you can expect to pay between AU$130,000 and AU$135,000 or about £68,000 for a T6 Inscription model equipped similarly to our example.
At that price, the XC90 undercuts a similarly equipped BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GL or Audi Q7, while offering an analogous level of comfort, luxury and dashboard and driver-aid tech.