Give Volvo credit for staying true to its roots all these years. It remains the maker of boxy family hauling machines that are long on safety. Too bad for Volvo that the rest of the automotive world has caught onto the safety gig.
Well, actually the rest of the automotive world is increasingly intent on building big boxy vehicles too, call it the SUV-ing of America, and I suspect, eventually, the rest of the world.
So we should not be surprised that Volvo has a new big SUV, the XC90. This is Volvo’s big boy, the 7-passenger hauler that rides on a massive, for Volvo, 117.5-inch wheelbase and is nearly 195 inches long. That fits between a Jeep Grand Cherokee and a Cadillac Escalade for overall size, but its wheelbase is longer than both.
To me this looks a bit like a Grand Cherokee, and there’s nothing wrong with that as it’s modern and athletic in stance. Certainly Volvo’s tall vertical taillights are a styling cue that sets it apart from the boxy SUV crowd. The tested XC90 T6 AWD Inscription is near its top-of-the-line, which is a hybrid with 400 horsepower.
This had plenty with a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter I4 that makes 316 horsepower. While the XC90 weighs in at a bit more than 4,500 lbs., this powerful 4-cylinder does the job of propelling it to highway speeds quickly and smoothly. A fine 8-speed automatic really slips through the gears effortlessly and emphasizes the Volvo’s luxury feel.
There are four drive modes controlled by a roller on the console. Eco, Comfort, Dynamic and Off-Road are the choices with Comfort the one you’ll generally want. Dynamic is the same as Sport on other makes. It firms the steering effort and provieds the ute with power-oriented shift points and a stiffer ride, something this one really doesn’t need.
Sadly the supercharged and turbocharged 4-banger still drinks premium fuel at a rate rather more than one might expect. I got 18.9 miles per gallon, almost exactly what the trip computer estimated in about 70% city driving. The EPA rates this vehicle at 19 mpg city and 26 highway.
But this is a luxury ute, so gasoline expense is likely a lesser consideration than comfort and convenience. The XC90 is big on those, but more on that in a sec.
Handling is good in the SUV and the AWD system gives it good footing in sloppy weather. As luck would have it, I got to drive this in our Wisconsin winter’s first blast and traction from the 21-inch all-season tires was excellent. The 21-inch alloy wheels add $800 to the price tag by the way.
Ride though is bumpier than I’d expect in a vehicle at this price point. It never was severe, but this definitely borders on sporty stiff. You feel tar strips and expansion joints with a little thump each time you cross one. Buyers of luxury utes may expect a more cushioned ride.
Inside the Denim Blue Metallic (dark metallic blue that costs $645 extra) test vehicle was a brown interior with dark brown dash and door tops and medium brown perforated leather seats with lighter brown stitching. The thick leather wheel is brown and heated, and there is a handsome wood trim on the dash, doors and console’s cup holder. That cover retracts, but is a bit difficult to pop back out to serve as a cover again. There’s a satin chrome ring around the infotainment screen and on the steering wheel.
Let’s stick with that touchscreen, which is a large 9-incher that looks like a computer tablet turned vertical. It’s big and easy to see. That’s the good news. The bad is that setting favorites and finding channels is an effort while you drive. I found myself looking at the screen to adjust radio stations more than I was looking out the windshield on a couple occasions, not a good driving practice.
So set it and forget it before you drive. This screen also is where you set the climate controls and heated/cooled seats and heated steering wheel ($750 extra). Again, good that it remembers the driver’s settings between stops and starts, but the passenger’s seat heat must be engaged each time you start the vehicle.
Buttons on the console or dash would be preferable to those on the touch screen
Seats though are powered and easy to adjust and set to a comfortable position. They are supportive, meaning they squeeze your butt and back just enough to hug front seat passengers. Rear seats also are comfy and the third row not bad for being a third-row seat. These fold flat to the floor too, keeping that cargo area massive when you only have five folks aboard.
I like that the driver’s seat has three areas to adjust for lumbar, back and leg cushions. You do this with a button on the seat’s side, but see the changes registered on the infotainment screen. There are three memory settings for the driver’s seat too.
Oddly the Volvo does not have a power tilt/telescope steering wheel. I would expect that in a premium luxury ute.
It did have a monster panoramic sunroof overhead though, with a power retractable sun shade. There are sun shades for the side windows too. In back the hatch is powered and can be released from a button on the dash’s far left.
Other niceties include lights over the rear doors and on the exterior door handles. There’s also a mighty 1,400-watt Bower & Wilkins stereo with 19 speakers that will blast loud enough to wake the neighbors, if you were that sort of person. It runs $3,200, so maybe worth it if you’re MSO’s new musical director.
For safety there’s an SOS push-button overhead to call for assistance, but these big sun visors only flip. They don’t slide.
Most likely more important than the SOS system is the bevy of other electronic safety devices. Volvo says its Pilot Assist program makes this a semi-autonomous vehicle. It includes not only lane departure warning, but tugs your steering back to the center of the lane when you wander to one side’s line or the other. There’s adaptive cruise control too, and then the usual modern safety features like blind-spot warning, cross-traffic alert that detects pedestrians, automatic braking for said obstacles and collision avoidance. So we’re getting pretty close to you being a passenger, even if you’re the driver. Liking to drive myself, I was a bit put off by not being able to easily (if even possible) turn off the lane departure, or tone down the head-up display.
Volvo also includes hill descent control for owners that will be taking their utes into the wilderness. Be careful though, this isn’t an old Jeep that you’ll not mind scratching up.
The test ute started at $56,695, including delivery, or $62,745 with the Inscription package that this featured. That includes various Inscription badges and logos, plus bright grille bars, duel integrated tailpipes with body-color insert, the pretty walnut inlay, high-level interior lighting, giant leather key fob and the handy illuminated door handles.
A $2,500 Advanced package also adds park assist to the front and rear, Active Bending Lights with Thor’s Hammer running lights, auto high-beam lights and washer, visual park assist with a 360-degree camera and head-up display.
All told that brought the test ute to $70,840, a premium luxury price indeed. But the base XC90 T5 Momentum (goofy trim names) with simply a turbocharged I4 that makes 250 horsepower, starts at $48,195. And moving up to the T6 R-Design that’s more performance oriented edges up to $61,645. T8 models are plug-in hybrids and begin at $67,295.
But get this, there’s a T8 Excellence model that removes the third row seat and replaces the second row with upscale captain’s chairs, folding tray tables, Orrefors crystal glasses and includes (you won’t believe this) a rear-seat refrigerator. I’m not making this up!
Price of admission? $105,895! Nuf said!
FAST STATS: 2019 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription
Hits: Big ute with 3 rows of seats, good power and handling, plus AWD. Giant sunroof and power shade, power hatch, heated/cooled seats and heated steering wheel, supportive seats, tablet-sized infotainment screen, 4 drive modes, lighted door handles
Misses: Goofy touchscreen hard to use while driving, but better than the Lexus touchpad, poor real world gas mileage, ride bumpier than price would indicate. Sun visors don’t slide and no easy way to turn off lane departure or head-up display.
Made in: Gothensburg, Sweden
Engine: 2.0-liter, supercharged and turbocharged I4, 316 horsepower
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Weight: 4,565 lbs.
Length: 194.9 in.
Wheelbase: 117.5 in.
Cargo: 85.7 cu. ft. (rear two rows’ seats down)
MPG: 18.9 (tested)
Base Price: $56,695 (includes delivery) $62,745 (w/Inscription)
Invoice: $59,040 (Inscription)
Inscription package (Trim with Inscription logo, bright grille bars, duel integrated tailpipes w/ body-color insert, linear walnut inlay, high-level interior lighting, leather key fob, illuminated door handles, Inscription badge on tailgate), $6,050
Advanced package (park assist front & rear, Active Bending Lights added to LED headlights w/Thor’s Hammer running lights, auto high-beam, headlight cleaning system, visual park assist w/360 view camera, head-up display), $2,500
Heated rear seats, heated wheel, $750
Metallic paint, $645
Integrated center booster cushion, $300
Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system, $3,200
21-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels, $800
Test vehicle: $70,940
Sources: Volvo, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage