First Drive: 2016 Volvo XC90 T6

Volvo\'s XC90 SUV has finally gotten the attention it deserves.

When it was introduced for 2002, the Volvo XC90 laid one of the cornerstones for the three-row luxury utility vehicle market. Unfortunately for Volvo, the XC90 has been stuck on the ground floor since while virtually every other luxury automaker has built on top the very foundation it helped set.

Now flush with money from new parent company Geely, Volvo finally has the resources to update its decade-old people hauler. But has it been worth the wait?

At first blush, it appears so. Drawing design cues from the Concept Estate, Concept XC Coupe and Concept Coupe show cars, the 2016 XC90 is an undeniably handsome utility vehicle. Things are even better on the inside where the XC90 looks like the showroom of a modern furniture gallery.

The XC90's spec sheet is impressive as well. The T6 model seen here receives its motivation from an all-new 2.0L four-cylinder engine that is both turbo and supercharged. Higher-spec T8 models, which will be arriving in showrooms this fall, get a hybrid setup that includes an electric motor to power the rear axle.

And it's a Volvo, so of course the XC90 is loaded with the latest safety tech.

Swedish through and throughAlthough Volvo is now Chinese-owned, it remains very much a Swedish company. Geely may have signed all the checks, but Volvo was wholly in charge of the development of the new XC90.

To that end, Volvo wanted to incorporate the very best of Swedish design into the XC90. To accomplish that, Volvo designers started with a simple, two-box shape; no BMW X6-like fastback here. From there, Volvo added some of its signature design cues, such as a stubbed-nose and vertical tail lamps mounted to a sloping tailgate. The XC90 also includes a few new cues that will be Volvo staples moving forward, including ‘hammer of Thor' headlights.

The result of all that subtle Swedish design is an SUV with understated elegance. No single design cue really stands out, but they all just kind of go together, netting the best-looking three-row utility vehicle on the market today.

The interior of the XC90 is very much the same story. It's clean and simple, yet comes across as modern and inviting. The highlight for techies will undoubtedly be the tablet-like screen in the center of the XC90's dash, but we were far more impressed with the materials and fit and finish seen throughout the SUV's cabin.

Wood accents are beautifully grained and keep their natural finish. Chrome accents are tricky to get right, but Volvo designers picked just the right amount of the shiny stuff to contrast the XC90's natural wood and leather hides. Even the speaker grilles of the Bowers & Wilkins sound system are artfully crafted into the XC90's door panels.

And that's what makes the XC90 feel special - the attention to detail. Look closely and you'll notice the XC90's dials feature a knurled metal finish. On the front setbacks you'll find the Swedish flag. And in homage to Volvo's invention of the three-point seatbelt in 1959, the XC90's buckles sport the inscription ‘Since 1959.' Even the XC90's key fob is color-coded to the vehicle's interior.

Volvo predicts a number of current Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi owners will leave their luxury SUVs behind for the XC90. Those that do won't be disappointed.

Best of both worldsThese days it's pretty common to find a new vehicle with a supercharger or turbocharged under the hood. However, both of those methods of forced induction come with inherent downfalls. Superchargers are good for low down grunt, but sap engine power. Turbos are more efficient, but don't come on until higher in the rev band. In order to cancel the bad and maximize the good, Volvo fitted the XC90's engine with both kinds of forced induction.

The supercharger bolted to the XC90's 2.0L four-cylinder is a belt-driven unit that features a unique clutch setup. The supercharger huffs away under 3,500 rpm, providing instantaneous acceleration. Once the revs climb beyond 3,500 rpm the supercharger decouples from the drivetrain and hands things over to the turbocharger, which operates best at higher rpms.

The result of all that engineering wizardry is a relatively small engine that generates big power figures — 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque to be exact. That's good enough to scoot the XC90 T6 from 0-60 in 6.1 seconds.

With that kind of gadgetry under hood we were expecting to be blown away by the XC90's economy. We weren't. The XC90 T6, which ships standard with all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission, is good for 20 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, netting a combined rating of 22 mpg. Those figures are just fine, but don't really stand out in the segment. For example, the BMW X5 xDrive35i, which has two more cylinders and roughly the same power as the XC90, returns 19 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.

But for those that want to have their cake and eat it too, Volvo will begin U.S. sales of the XC90 T8 plug-in hybrid in October. The T8 retains the T6's 2.0L gas engine (although horsepower is slightly reduced to 313) and adds an electric motor at the rear end. The combined output of the entire system is 400 horsepower and 472 lb-ft of torque.

The T8's electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack pushes the XC90's curb weight from 4,627 pounds to 5,059, but the added power easily overcomes that weight penalty. The T8's top speed is unchanged at 130 mph, but the more potent version of the crossover only requires 5.3 seconds to accelerate from 0-60.

Final fuel economy figures haven't been finalized, but Volvo expects the T8 to get 59 mpg in the city. The T8 will also be capable of running on battery power alone (at speeds up to 80 mph) for about 17 miles.

The entire packageCruising the unusually rain-soaked roads of Southern California, we found the XC90 to deliver just the kind of ride and comfort you'd expect from a high-end luxury utility vehicle. Equipped with Volvo's optional air suspension, our XC90 tester soaked up just about any road imprecation we could throw at it. Interestingly, the XC90 comes fitted with a leaf spring in back (Volvo says the composite unit helps with packaging), but we never sensed any kind of wayward handling due to the centuries-old technology.

A Sport mode is available via a toggle switch on the XC90's center console, but it's best to ignore that. The XC90 is far more at home cruising in comfort than being pushed hard into canyon corners.

The XC90 is chocked full of the latest safety tech, including adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and blind spot warning. The XC90 even has a unique seat design that is engineered to crumple in extreme accidents, which Volvo says can reduce spinal injuries.

During our evaluation all of those safety systems worked in unison as advertised. The XC90 can technically drive itself in certain situations, but it's not fully autonomous just yet.

The XC90's cabin is extremely quiet, but we preferred to fill the air with tunes from its banging Bowers & Wilkins sound system. The systems is nothing short of amazing, providing the kind of highs and lows that would satisfy any audiophile. And that result was no accident — Bowers & Wilkins was handed an example of the XC90 18 months ago and was tasked with tailoring a sound system to fit the XC90's acoustics. In fact, the sound system is so embedded into the XC90's architecture that one of the rear wheel wells is used to vent air for the subwoofer.

Controlling that system is a new tablet-like screen mounted in the XC90's dash. Our initial impression of the unit was good, with the system responding well to our inputs. The layout isn't the most logical we've come across but it certainly isn't a maze, either.

The gauge cluster of the XC90 is also one giant screen. Everything there is well laid out, and we really like the fact that the posted speed limit is marked by a red dash on the speedometer.

But as techie as the new XC90 is, we couldn't help but notice its lack of USB ports. While vehicles like the new Honda Pilot offer five USB ports, the XC90 has just one located in the center armrest.

The XC90's front buckets are comfortable and supportive, and even offer a bit of side bolstering. Those front seats have also been designed to be thinner, which frees up some leg room for second row passengers. Volvo touts the third-row of the XC90 as being big enough to fit two adults, but in reality it's still best suited for smaller children. Cargo space is ample, however, even with the third-row up.

Leftlane's bottom lineIt's been a long time coming, but the second-generation Volvo XC90 has been worth the wait. Representing the best of Swedish design and technological innovation, the 2016 XC90 is the total package — brains, brawn and beauty. Hopefully Volvo doesn't let this one wither on the vine for the next 13 years.

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Momentum base price, $48,900.2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Momentum base price, $68,100.2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription base price, $54,500.2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription base price, $71,600.2016 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design base price, $52,900.2016 Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design base price, $70,000.

Photos by Drew Johnson.

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