Family Car Review: 2016 Volvo XC90

By Paul Karchut of Family Wheels on October 28, 2015

The basics:

Base price: $60,700 + taxes
As tested: $61,900 + taxes
Highway fuel economy: 9.5 L/100 kms
City fuel economy: 11.5 L/100 kms
Competition: Audi Q7, BMW X5, Mercedes GL
Made in: Sweden

The importance of this new XC90 can’t be overstated for Volvo. The old XC90 was left largely unchanged from its inception in 2002 until 2015. That left it looking rather stagnant in a competitive field of luxury SUVs. On top of that, this is the first new release for the Swedish auto maker since it was bought out by Chinese mega-corporation Geely – a move that left Volvo loyalists on tenterhooks to see if the brand could retain its unique design and incredible safety record. Well, Geely has pumped $14-billion (Canadian) into the design of the XC90 and its underpinnings, which will be shared by many of the new Volvos including the not yet released high-end S90. So in many ways, this is a glimpse into the future for Volvo and where the once faltering auto maker is heading. Well, as a Volvo lover (and owner) myself, the future looks bright. Read on…

Performance:

I love our 2009 Volvo XC70 station wagon. It’s a workhorse: plowing through snowdrifts, gobbling up gear in its sizeable trunk, shuttling us in cocoon-like safety around the city. But it’s not particularly inspiring to drive. It bobs its way through corners, lags when shifting gears or accelerating. I’d say performance is the car’s Achilles heel. With the XC90 coming in even taller and larger, I thought I might be dealing with a similar issue. Instead, I was greeted with perfectly tuned suspension that carries it through the corners evenly. The steering has a great weight to it. It feels way more balanced.

Two engines are on offer, the T6 is no longer a turbocharged six cylinder but is instead a miserly four cylinder 2.0-litre engine. However, Volvo has coupled it with not just a turbocharger but also a supercharger. The eight speed automatic gearbox shifts silkily while the engine’s power is more immediate and impressive than our Volvo kitted out with the old T6. The other option – which won’t be available until the early winter of 2016 – is the T8 which will start at $74,000. It will use the same 2.0-litre engine to drive the front wheels but an electric engine will power the rear. The T8 can be plugged-in and driven around the city as a completely electric car. Or the gasoline engine up front can charge the electric engine’s batteries while driving – just like a conventional hybrid. This is going to be a fantastic offering that the staff at Valentine Volvo says should see fuel economy ratings down to 4.5 litres per 100 kilometres. Meanwhile, the T6 gets a more typical 10.5 litres per 100 kilometres (combined city, highway). Three trim levels are available: the Momentum package (starts at $61,000), the sportier R-Design package (starts at $65,000), and the plush(er) Inscription package (starts at $66,800). One thing I love about Volvos is that even though these are premium European cars, you don’t have to use premium fuel.

Interior:

Volvo seats are considered by many to be the most comfortable place to be while driving. Their interiors are simple, clean and well-considered… in true Swedish style. Volvo has carried that tradition forward, headhunting Bentley’s lead interior designer to bring that same ultra high-end consideration to the XC90.

Not only do the seats continue to be astoundingly good but the cockpit technology surrounding the driver has seriously upped its game. An LCD display has replaced the old analog instrument cluster in front of the driver, feeding you all sorts of information about safety, navigation and vehicle stats. One thing I particularly like is that the speedometer is linked to the car’s GPS system and when you go over the speed limit by 10 kilometres, a bell warns you to back off the gas pedal. It also checks for photo radar cameras and flashes a warning on the dash when you’re nearing one of them.

The central infotainment system has also been totally redesigned and is incredibly intuitive for anyone who’s ever used a tablet before. You can easily go from navigation to climate control to the media centre with the swipe of a finger. All of these features including a massive sun roof, leather and seven passenger seating come standard. Bumping up to the Inscription package will give you improved sound dampening, matte wood finishings, leather wrapped everything and even softer leather seats complete with in-seat air ventilation for hot days. But I think that the leather in the Momentum is better for families. It’s not as plush but is more durable and won’t stain or scratch as easily with kids bouncing around.

That brings me to the rear two rows of seating. The rear leg room in the second row is fantastic and each of the three seats can independently slide forward or backward to create more room for third row occupants. Rear-facing child seats are easily accommodated in the second row without any impact on the leg room for front row occupants. There’s even a built-in booster seat that flips into place in the second row for when kids graduate out of those cumbersome child seats. The third row, Volvo says, is good enough for adults up to 5’7. Its quite a roomy third row for a crossover and Volvo has managedto do this by repurposing some rear suspension technology from Ford’s sports car division. This not only helps with the ride quality but also has made the third row much roomier. At 6’2, the headroom for me was pretty good back there but legroom was really tight. I’d say the third row would be good for kids up to age 12 but teens or adults would have a hard time back there for anything beyond a short run through town. Each of the five rear passenger seats folds down independently and completely flat too. So the XC90 has vacuous storage if you need it. However, with all seven seats in place, the storage room for our standardized Family Wheels trunk test is pretty limited… especially when compared to our other recent review of the Kia Sedona minivan. But when you compare it to other vehicles specifically in the crossover category, Volvo says it now has the highest cargo capacity available.

One thing I’m not crazy about in general, although I know all companies are going this way, is keyless entry. At one point, I got out of the car (with the key in my pocket) to shoot some video of my wife driving the XC90. An alarm sounded in the car because it no longer sensed a key in the cabin. With the madness of day-to-day family life and carpooling, I can totally see this happening to us and being a big pain.

Safety:

Where do I begin? Volvo has made a pretty serious statement with the XC90 saying it’s one of the safest vehicles ever made. And this is all leading up to its Vision 2020 strategy where the company says by that year, regardless of the severity of the collision, there will be no more fatalities in Volvo vehicles… full stop.

Here are just a couple of the safety systems I was impressed by. Volvo’s City Safety program is all about keeping the driver safe at speeds between 4 kms/h and 50 kms/h. Camera and radar technologies are constantly scanning for other vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians and if a collision is imminent, it first warns the driver and then acts autonomously if the driver doesn’t react fast enough. The Intellisafe program is also pretty impressive. If a car is approaching at high speed from behind, the XC90 will flash its brake lights at the other driver. Then if a collision seems imminent, seat belts will automatically tighten and brakes will be applied to help minimize injuries. These are just a couple examples that indicate, despite its new ownership, Volvo is staying true to its obsession with safety.

Takeaway:

Simply put, if I had $60,000 sitting around, I’d buy this car. The XC90 isn’t just the future of Volvo but many of its smart technologies will be the benchmark of safe, luxury SUVs. And when you compare the XC90 to its direct competition in the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Mercedes GL, you get far more vehicle for your buck. In fact, the base model XC90 undercuts similarly equipped competitors by around $10,000. You can see some of my cons below but these are pretty minor issues. For a safe, well-designed family SUV, Volvo has just seriously upped the game.

Family Wheels pros:

  • Top safety marks
  • Doesn’t need premium fuel
  • Intuitive infotainment system
  • Excellent finishes even on the base model
  • Second row leg room great for car seats or growing kids

Family Wheels cons:

  • Noisy interior fan
  • The central console armrest is a little too high
  • Foreseeable problems with keyless entry (for our family that has key issues)

Family Wheels target: families with up to four kids, great child seat room in second row, decent third row space too for younger kids

Family Wheels driver comfort score: 4/5

Family Wheels rear passenger score: 4/5

Family Wheels trunk test score: 3.5/5 (3rd row up), 5/5 (3rd row down)

Family Wheels driveability score: 4.5/5

Family Wheels fuel economy score: 4/5

Family Wheels value score: 4/5

~ Thanks to Valentine Volvo of Calgary for loaning us this vehicle for the day!

~ Paul Karchut is an award-winning journalist based out of Calgary. For reviews, giveaways or to contact Paul, visit FamilyWheels.ca or find him on Twitter: @FamilyWheels.


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