ARTIPELAG, Sweden – Onyx black doesn’t seem a very Volvo-like color, and it’s certainly not photography-friendly for an international launch gala. But onyx black is, indeed, the color that Volvo has chosen for the launch version of its 2016 XC90 unveiled just outside of Stockholm on Tuesday. You may begin ordering the 2016 Volvo XC90 at 10 a.m. (EDT) on Wednesday, September 3, for $66,825. Buyers will get the earliest possible example of Volvo’s new scalable product architecture (SPA) with the T6 316-hp, supercharged and turbocharged inline-four engine, coupled with an Aisin-Warner eight-speed automatic transmission powering all-wheel drive, plus 21-inch eight-spoke wheels and onyx black paint. The interior has amber Nappa leather seats with a charcoal leather dash and linear walnut inlays. Volvo will build just 1927 examples (for the year the automaker was established) for global consumption.
U.S. deliveries are expected by March or April 2015. The base 2016 Volvo XC90 goes on sale early next year with standard T6 engine, AWD, navigation, panoramic sunroof, connectivity and 19-inch wheels for $49,825.
Wheel sizes for the new 2016 Volvo XC90 range up to 22 inches, and there’s an American SUV-sized Volvo “Iron Mark” in the grille and macho, sideways T-shaped “Thor’s Hammer” DRL headlamps. If this seems like the kind of kit you’d expect from Hummer if it was still around instead of a warm-and-fuzzy family CUV introduced as a “masterpiece of Swedish architecture,” consider this: There will be a plug-in hybrid added to the XC90 lineup before the end of the 2016 model year.
It will combine the 316-hp T6 engine with an electric motor behind the rear axle for a combined 400-plus horsepower. Volvo says the plug-in XC90 will go more than 40 kilometers, or about 25 miles, on pure electricity, and Peter Mertens, senior vice president for research and development, says there will be no production constraints on the powertrain’s demand. He expects the hybrid to take “a significant share” of XC90 sales, though he wouldn’t predict a number.
Like the first XC90, which ran from 2002 through the 2015 model year with only face-lifts, the new XC90 is Volvo’s most American-centric model. Volvo expects one-third of the new XC90’s production to go to the U.S. and another third to be sold in China, says CEO Hakan Samuelsson. Production will be about 50,000 for the first full year, and up to 80,000 when capacity peaks.
Good thing that the 2016 Volvo XC90’s design will please both current XC90 owners and the small but faithful group of Yankees who love the brand’s station wagons. The new model is longer, lower, and wider, with a prominent greenhouse and a beltline that emphasizes the overall height, eschewing the “wedge” look that makes certain cars and CUVs look sportier at the expense of outward visibility. You don’t have to squint much to see the CUV as just a tall station wagon. Volvo says the XC90 has a drag coefficient of just 0.30.
“We wanted to give it an airy look,” says Volvo design chief Thomas Ingenlath.
The new model’s handsome proportions also owe a lot to the SPA platform, with its rear-wheel-drive, dash-to-axle proportions modeled with spectacular results on the 2013 Frankfurt show Volvo Coupe concept.
“It starts with the position of the (transverse) engine,” Mertens explains. “If you look at the whole architecture, the main parts are front overhang -- the center of the wheel, that’s where you define that architecture, the hard points. Then you have the wheelbase, then you have the heights and widths and everything. Everything in that architecture is completely flexible. You can do whatever you want with it. The trick is to put the wheels under the engine as far as possible.”
The result is that Volvo’s new front-wheel-drive SPA platform suggests rear-wheel drive, achieving what Audi did with a complicated FWD/longitudinal engine architecture.
Volvo is enthusiastic and confident about the user friendliness of its “virtually button-free,” vertical tablet-style control touchscreen in the center of the XC90’s dash, a feature that will quickly migrate across the line. The interior also features a gearshift lever made of crystal glass from the Swedish glassmaker Orrefors, diamond-cut controls for the start/stop button and volume-control, optional Bowers & Wilkins 1400-watt Class D stereo amplifier with 19 B&W speakers, and optional ventilated massaging seats. Air-ventilated subwoofers are integrated into the XC90’s body, which turns the entire interior into one big subwoofer, Volvo says.
We had limited time trying out the touchscreen, though we’re pleased to say its reactions are at least as good as the touch-and-swipe screen of an iPhone. Connectivity and apps built in to the system are designed to work with both Apple and Android operating systems.
Volvo’s ever-expanding host of active safety and semi-autonomy features will make it possible for XC90 drivers to safely glance at the center touchscreen. New additions to the City Safety system are a protection package that tightens seat belts when sensors detect that the XC90 is about to run involuntarily off-road. An energy-absorption function between the seats and seat-frame cushions the vertical forces of landing hard on the terrain, to help prevent spinal injuries. The City Safety system can detect a car, bicyclist, or pedestrian in the XC90’s path. Another feature automatically brakes the XC90 if the driver turns in front of an oncoming car.
“The new technologies will take a significant step closer to our vision that no one will be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car by 2020,” Mertens says, with safety, connectivity and autonomous-driving keys to the goal.
The new SPA platform is also designed for a new S80 flagship sedan, the next XC60, S60, and an S60L for China, and potentially a production version of the coupe concept somewhere down the line. Volvo also is developing a platform called CMA, which will underpin the S40 and smaller models and upmarket Geelys, and a lineup of turbocharged 1.5-liter, three-cylinder engines based on the new four. Volvo’s new 2.0-liter turbodiesel shares its block with the gas 2.0, though it has no plans to offer the diesel in the United States.