Test Drive: The All-New 2016 Volvo XC90

The highly capable seven-seater SUV draws on Scandinavian design heritage and delivers on expectations

An hour outside of Barcelona in a sleepy seaside town that only sees action a few months of the year sits the culmination of an $11 billion dollar investment. Volvo‘s 2016 XC90 is the product of not just the global investment that came from Chinese automotive firm Zhejiang Geely Holdings, in many ways it’s a consummation of Swedish design ethos in car form. The Gothenburg-based automaker went all-in when it came to bringing their Swedish heritage to the forefront of their new line-up, something previous parent company Ford arguably went through lengths to water down. And while the entirety of that investment surely isn’t in just one vehicle, it’s the world’s first material look into what’s to come from Volvo—and we had two days behind the wheel on Catalonia’s most scenic roads.


Any driver stepping into a Volvo knows that safety a major tenet of the brand. As inventors of the three-point seatbelt, Volvo’s engineers are creating the next generation of safety innovations, and the XC90 is packed with them. Keeping in line with the brand’s ultimate goal of zero fatalities in a new Volvo car by 2020—or Vision 2020—the latest XC90 is arguably the safest on the road.


Active lane assistance, auto-braking for pedestrians and cyclists along with road edge detection are just a few of the advancements we put to use in the XC90. Each works seamlessly and only comes to the driver’s attention when it is engaged, unlike some systems that can be more distracting than helpful. Coming up into a roundabout, we were thankful to not have to employ our shoddy Spanish language skills with a Catalan claims adjuster—the collision avoidance auto-braking saw to that.


Safety aside, the XC90 is an extremely capable driver with the acceleration abilities to navigate the most cluttered freeways and the clearance to take you off-road. Multiple driving modes adjust suspension on the fly and the available T8 twin-engine plug-in hybrid features a full-electric mode. Opt for mixed hybrid-combustion and you’ll net a whopping 59 mpg on the highway—all while carrying six of your friends. Both the second and third row of seats comfortable accommodate a full-size adult (the auto industry has dubbed this dubious metric “Oscar”). Plus, everyone in the car can bask in natural light thanks to the panoramic sunroof.


In terms of driving experience, the XC90 isn’t touted as a sportscar—but that’s not to say it’s a grocery-getter. The standard all-wheel drive T6 is equipped with a four-cylinder engine that operates on Volvo’s SPA engine architecture, aimed at reducing overall parts across models and improving engine efficiency. The 316 horsepower engine has plenty of kick thanks to a turbo and supercharger, making for a speedy 0-60 in 6.1 seconds. The XC90 handles like a car two-thirds its size and, from the driver’s spot, it’s easy to forget there are two rows of seats in the rear and a best in class cargo capacity of 85.7 cubic feet.


At its core though, the XC90 embodies the Swedish value of humility. It’s not an in-your-face SUV and luxurious touches are all highly considered and refined: it’s a call for the detail-driven, design-conscious consumer. Volvo designers looked back far into the history books for aesthetic touch-points and perhaps the most abstract is Thor’s hammer in the headlights of the car—a detail we first saw on the Concept Coupé. However it’s the interior where Scandinavian design is most evident. Uncluttered, the Napa leather interior flows organically into an available walnut finish that—unlike the wood accents found in many luxury interiors—actually calls to mind a part of the home, a fine piece of mid-century modern furniture for instance.


At the center console, Volvo makes its strongest case for simplicity: a nine-inch touch screen with intuitive voice control that is as responsive as the tablets and smartphones we have come accustomed to. Recognizing multiple gestures such as pinch-and-zoom, double-tap and more, getting behind the wheel for the first time was like cracking open an iPhone for the first time: intuitive and without the need for an instruction manual. Plus the available handmade crystal gear shifter from fellow Swedes Orrefors doesn’t hurt in further setting the XC90 well-apart from the pack.


The 2016 XC90 is exciting for a number of reasons. On one hand, the car itself is a triumph. The lines are daring without losing sight of proportions. Internally, the balance of power and efficiency is an uplifting look at the future of a sustainable automobile that’s still tough. However, what’s most inspiring is the brand’s ability and willingness to embrace its rich design heritage like never before. This is truly the most Swedish car we’ve seen—outwardly and inwardly—and we’re looking forward to seeing more.

Volvo offered a special First Edition XC90, limited to just 1,927 units (1927 being the year the company was founded). The special release sold out in under two days, with the majority of orders coming from the US. This suggests the 2016 XC90 could just be the what Volvo needs to return to its former glory, both in the US and abroad. The T6 model starts at $48,000 with multiple trim options available. Visit your Volvo dealer to pre-order now.

Images by Hans Aschim