Volvo XC90: The return of Scandinavian luxury

Volvo’s hiatus from the luxury class sales wars is about to end. Dormant and almost irrelevant since Ford cast aside this brand almost a decade ago, Volvo has utilized purchaser Geely Motors’ (Chinese billions) assets to create some impressive new products. This week’s XC90 is the first, with the S90 sedan and V90 Cross Country wagon the following, and just released, products.

The second-generation XC90 is barely recognizable from the first gen-model. The rear silhouette is somewhat similar — with the thick hips under the tall taillights. Up front, an open-face grille and wide stance combine to create a larger crossover — in fact, the widest contestant in the class. Central to the forward view, Volvo employs Scandinavian cult-figure Thor’s hammer as its signature LED running lamps. Powerful

Perhaps most revolutionary about this three-row wagon, however, is the powerplant used. Volvo has designed a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (for all models), which isn’t revolutionary by any means, as this seems to be the default displacement for many automakers’ new motors. But Volvo is employing both a supercharger and a turbocharger to create a real “Mighty Mouse” motor. The supercharger is designed to work at low engine speeds to provide ample torque for city driving, prompt starts, the thrust you need to get moving. As revs build, the supercharger takes a break and the turbocharger builds boost for higher rpm operation and steady power as the speeds rise.

Incredibly, it all works superbly with nary a hint of any ebb or flow of power as you ply the throttle, just seamless reactions and heady forward progress. The engine is virtually silent, the transmission (an eight-speed Geartronic unit employing stop-start technology with the engine) is transparent, and the realized fuel economy exceeded the EPA estimate — 20/25/22-mpg — with 23.8 mpg actual. No need to give up on the venerable gas-fed engine yet.

Volvo also is offering a T8 plug-in hybrid model with an electric-only range of approximately 25 miles. Volvo claims a four-hour recharge interval. This trim, however, is significantly more expensive than the base model XC90 T5 Momentum; $68,100 vs. $45,750. Our T6 Inscription — top trim for this mid-level model — stickered for $66,750 against a base price of $51,

Volvo has enjoyed a long reputation for safety; lots of safety features and a stiff body that protects occupants in any crash. Today, many automakers match up well with these construction claims as crash standards mandate innovative construction techniques aided by numerous electronic crash avoidance technologies. Volvo persists in attempting to maintain its reputation with an extensive portfolio of safety systems, including pedestrian and cyclist detection and braking assist, adaptive cruise control with pilot assist (the steering can operate hands-free for limited time intervals), as well as lane departure assist programming that also reads traffic signs and imparts this data via the driver information panel on the windshield. The usual cache of airbags and three-point safety belts reside throughout the comfortable cabin.

On the dash, XC90 buyers get a Tesla-like touchscreen placed vertically that dominates your interfaces with all of the car’s controls. Swipe your fingers across the screen for various menus, like an iPad, or use a small assortment of redundant buttons and knobs for key/basic functions and you’ll eventually adapt to the Volvo’s sensitivity. While able to handle many tasks, provide oodles of entertainment, and actively expand what information can be gleaned from your car, these systems remain a driver distraction while operating the car and are NOT as convenient or intuitive to use as conventional buttons, dials, or

Volvo calls its central 9-inch screen Sensus. It compensates for any perceived shortcomings by offering myriad pieces of data, including displaying the song titles currently being played on all of your preset buttons, as well as doubling down as your On-Star-like distress assist program. The 10-speaker Bangs & Olufsen speakers also handle 330 watts of satellite radio signal quite capably.

To be different, Volvo uses a large button on the console that the driver must twist to start the ignition. Not a push-button, not a key, not on the dash, this switch begs the question of different to be better or just to be different? The latter seems the most plausible, as it is inconsistent with other attempts to remove the key and activating the owners vehicle and is as non-intuitive to use as the touchscreen.

Otherwise, the cabin is no longer the austere environment of previous Volvo’s — the XC90 is absolutely impressive with walnut in-laid panels, soft saddle leather seats and trim, plus an airy feel aided by a huge panoramic roof. The power windows however feel slow, the sunvisor is small (with no extender panel for side glass) and the cabin could be quieter on the highway, yet this is a handsome presentation that equals or bests the thresholds established by Audi. Volvo clearly benchmarked its competition and didn’t settle for second

In the showroom wars, the Volvo XC90 has climbed to second place, trailing only Infiniti’s new QX60 crossover, with over 21,700 units sold through the end of August (the latest data as this is written). That means that the XC90 is outselling the model that it targeted — the Audi Q7. Not bad for the first year. The XC90 is also the top selling Volvo model — by far. For reference, the highly touted and attention gathering Tesla X — roughly the same layout and space as the XC90 — has sold 1,725 units for the same interval, as total Tesla sales are actually less so far in 2016.

The XC90 can tow up to 5,000 pounds. It comes with 20-, 21- and 22-inch wheels — get friendly with your tire store. It drives smoothly. The Volvo looks really good. The XC90 is going to be big for this reborn brand.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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