Orange County Register Reports on the new XC90

Having been raised in the ’70s with a pumpkin orange Volvo wagon as the family car, I have a soft spot for the Swedish automaker. Never mind that my most vivid recollection is vomiting in the back seat during a summer road trip to Mount Rushmore. There was just something about the novelty of Volvo that appealed.

When Volvo announced it was updating its XC90 SUV, I was intrigued. Might Volvo give me a reason for a redux, now that I am a parent myself?

A family wagon for the modern age, the 2016 XC90 is a triple play. With a starting price of $49,895, Volvo is not only pushing the brand more squarely into the luxury category from the middle-brow, hippie-ish No Man’s Land it’s long inhabited, it’s breaking new ground with a world-first seven-seat, plug-in hybrid electric version (starting at $69,095) and the introduction of innovative, envelope-pushing safety features.

Drivers can have any engine they want in the XC90, as long as it’s a 2.0-liter four-cylinder. While Volvo will offer a diesel version of the XC90 in Europe, U.S. buyers will only have the option of a turbocharged and supercharged T6 or a turbocharged, supercharged and electrified plug-in hybrid T8.

The Little Engine That Could, it packs a lot of punch, especially considering the load it’s hauling. The T6 tips the scales at a Range Rover-esque 4,394 pounds. Yet in almost 200 miles of driving the T6 on Tuesday, I averaged 21 mpg, even when operating most of the time in its friskiest of power settings – dynamic.

The trick to Volvo’s new engine is that the supercharger doesn’t operate full time. It’s primarily used to defeat turbo lag, operating in the lowest part of the power band for more seamless and powerful acceleration until the turbo can take over with more efficiency.

It’s innovations like Volvo’s that will hasten the V-8’s demise. But it isn’t only its alacrity that appeals. Coupled with an automatic eight-speed transmission that unobtrusively conducted its business and multiple drive modes that felt truly distinct, it was a true pleasure to drive.

Priced $16,000 above the starting price, my $66,705 test vehicle was equipped with multiple options and packages that enhanced the experience, including four-corner air suspension and all-wheel drive that made the XC90 feel lower to the ground and less wobbly in the canyons than I was expecting for a tall vehicle that can tow and drive off road. My long drive ran the risk of leaving me weary by day’s end. But that was not to be. It was as comfortable as it was compliant, as it should be for a car that costs as much as a Porsche Cayenne or entry-level Tesla Model S.

Like Tesla, the centerpiece of its cabin is a swipe screen, only smaller. If the one in the Model S is a full-size iPad, the one in the XC90 is a Mini. The advantage to the swipe screen is that it declutters the cabin, allowing inhabitants to revel in its creature comforts.

Trimmed in real leather from dash to seat to door panel and real metal from speaker housing to its few knobs, my test car was the midlevel Inscription trim, which improves the caliber of the leather to Napa, the wheels to 20 inches and adds other tactile and aesthetic improvements. The wood trim in my test vehicle was, like the good Swede it is, blonde.

Like a salmon swimming up stream, Volvo is acting counter to current market forces with a large, seven-seat, upscale SUV designed to appeal to affluent families and empty nesters. Let Mercedes-Benz and BMW chase the entry-level luxury buyer – Volvo is seeking buyers who already routinely vacation in Fiji and procure spa treatments from Four Seasons.

Overall, the interior felt premium and well engineered, especially the seats. In addition to being heated and cooled, the front seats also have cushion extenders for those with longer legs. The second row of seats is equipped with a built-in booster seat for a child, while the third row seats are the same size as those in the second. Accessing the third row, however, could be easier. Getting back there requires a level of coordination and agility more commonly found in kids, which is pretty much who the seats are for. Ample leg room for adults is only achieved by scavenging it from the second row, each seat of which moves forward individually.

Regardless of where the occupants are seated, Volvo’s intention is that no one inside will be harmed. If there’s one word drivers associate with Volvo, it’s safety. And with its overhauled XC90 as a demonstration model of leading-edge ideas, Volvo continues striding toward a zero death rate in its vehicles by 2020.

Structurally, Volvo has increased the use of high-strength steel around the vehicle cabin from 7 percent to 40 percent. It’s also using a new crumple structure in the front end to more effectively absorb energy in different sorts of front-end crashes.

But it’s electronics that seek to prevent crashes to begin with. Examining real-world crash data, Volvo learned that half of fatal auto accidents involve a run-off-road scenario, often at high speed and at night. Such crashes often result in spinal injury, so, in the XC90, Volvo is debuting a suite of technologies to mitigate their incidence. Gyroscopes and sensors detect when the car is leaving the road and automatically tighten the seat belts; the seats also physically move downward to better absorb the lateral energy from landing.

Categories: Performance, News
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