The valet immediately stopped his walkaround. “Four? In a car so big like this?”
I nodded. “Yep. But it makes 316 horsepower.” The valet jumped aboard with an “I gotta see this!” expression and whisked the Volvo away. I think he parked it.
Supercharging and turbocharging, plus direct injection and other refinements—that’s how you wring 316 horsepower from a displacement smaller than a half-gallon of milk. It’s also partly how this stylish new Volvo became one of just seven vehicles (and the only SUV) named as one of our 2016 AUTOMOBILE All-Stars.
At last fall’s All-Stars competition, I spent enough time behind an XC90’s wheel to vote it enthusiastically onto our elite roster of winners. But last week I was able to spend quality time in one, driving it around town, on freeways, on errands, to Home Depot—like a real owner, in other words. And my test car wasn’t just any XC90. I sampled the cool R-Design version (add $4,000 to the base level), which dresses up the entire vehicle with premium Nubuck and Nappa leather seats and trim, lots of sporty exterior tweaks, and rakish metal-mesh aluminum inlays on the dash, console, and more. Also helping to make quite the entrance: Bursting Blue metallic paint ($560) and a set of studly 22-inch, five-spoke rims ($1,000). Even our All-Star winner didn’t look this fetching.
If the R-Design looks dressy on the outside, it’s inside where its real charms lie. This is a beauteous space: airy and Scandinavian-modern, with deeply padded leather seats, a thick, four-spoke leather wheel, and a 12.3-inch central display that’s as effortless to use as an iPad (an infrared film means you can operate it with the slightest touch, even wearing gloves). Right away, I climbed way back into the standard third-row seats to check out their roominess, and I found them “pretty darn decent.” (Volvo claims the third row’s 31.9 inches of legroom is best in class.) Fold the rear seats down and you get a generous 85.7 cubic feet for cargo. There’s also a hidden compartment under the load floor.
Four cylinders? You wouldn’t know it pulling away from your first stoplight. The XC90 surges forward with a feeling of muscle that’s almost amazing given only four sparkplugs firing away up front and the rig’s 4,600 pounds. Yeah, there’s a bit of rumble from the inline four, but it’s mostly muted by the turbo and the extensive cockpit insulation. The standard eight-speed automatic (with shift paddles on the wheel) works like a good coach to keep the four-banger whirring away at optimal rpm, enough so that in daily driving you don’t really miss having more cylinders, though admittedly the blown four can’t match a stout V-8 for smoothness and torque. The real payoff: 22/25 city/highway mpg (compared with, say, the seven-passenger Land Rover LR4’s supercharged V-6 at 15/19 mpg).
The 2016 XC90 is a masterful cruiser. The ride is relaxed, the steering well-damped and delivering a pleasant heft, the palpable feeling of strength and security bolstered by a host of electronic safety systems—including blind-spot detection with cross-traffic alerts, lane-keeping assist (I noticed the wheel moving like a ghost in my fingertips before I even realized the test car was so equipped), and a collision-warning system that flashes red and beeps loudly if you’re closing in too fast on the car ahead (when I turned just barely into oncoming traffic to get around a parked truck, the system went crazy). The XC90 is darn-near impossible to roll over too, thanks to Roll Stability Control.
Volvo makes some of the best seats in the business, and the XC90’s are no different. You’ll come out to the garage with your iPad ’cause the living room doesn’t offer chairs anywhere near as good. Other on-board niceties include an optional 1,400-watt, 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system ($2,650) that’s also likely better than what you have at home, plus a 360-degree camera with bird’s-eye view to make parking in the tightest spaces as easy as manipulating your TV remote. By why even lift a finger? Park Assist will do most of the work for you, steering itself as you modulate the brakes and throttle. It slipped me into a neat parallel space without a hiccup.
While by default the XC90 runs in Comfort mode, I found myself regularly switching to the Dynamic setting. Partly that’s because the throttle and gear responses are quicker, but also because it deactivates auto shut-off at stoplights, a feature I deplore. I also found myself loving the big touchscreen display, which allows you to call up nearly every convenience feature and system-status display with a finger touch or two. It works as good as it looks.
If you’re shopping for a seven-passenger luxury rig, you’d be making a huge mistake not to check out the XC90. It’s a well-mannered and classy drive, nearly without peer in safety and security systems, plenty roomy, and respectably economical for such an accommodating rig (I averaged about 21 mpg over a week of urban and highway driving). And that’s why our 2016 All-Stars roster included Ferrari, McLaren, and Volvo.
2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD R-Design
ON SALE: Now
PRICE: $50,795/$67,155 (base/as tested)
ENGINE: 2.0L supercharged, turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/316 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 295 lb-ft @ 2,200 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT: 4-door, 7-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE: 20/25 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H: 194.8 x 79.1 x 69.9 in
WHEELBASE: 117.5 in
WEIGHT: 4,600 lb
0-60 MPH: 6.1 sec (est)
TOP SPEED: 130 mph