by: Mike Ginsca
Volvo. When someone says that word, safety immediately comes to mind along with the word “boring” and perhaps “boxes on wheels”. But Volvo is leaving the latter behind and incorporating words such as “sophisticated” and “luxurious” in addition to safety as word to describe their vehicles. The XC90 is a leap in that direction and paves the way for other Volvo cars to come.
Performance – Just like the newest generation of Mazda SUVs, Volvo is also ditching big engines in favor of smaller and more efficient powertrains. However the 2.0L inline-4 under the hood of this SUV is very different than any others that are being offered at the moment. It is both supercharged and turbocharged. Volkswagen tried making an engine configuration like this before in the Golf and failed spectacularly but the 2.0L unit in this XC90 is well refined and smooth. This configuration of forced induction was selected by Volvo’s engineers because the supercharger provides torque at low rpms for quick off the line acceleration and the turbocharger provides torque at higher rpms for overtaking or spirited driving. The engine is seamless in delivering all 320hp to the 4 wheels and there is no noticeable change in performance when the turbocharger takes over.
However there is a noticeable change (mostly audible) when the engine turns off and the SUV runs on electric motors only. Yes, the XC90 T8 is actually a hybrid SUV. The electric motors provide an additional 87hp for a net total of 400hp when you want to drive not at all like a sensible Swede. But when you just want a calming drive in a busy city, the electric motors can deliver up to 20km of electric only driving. That’s just enough range to get to work, plug it in to recharge, and drive back home on electricity only.
On the handling front, the XC90 is not a sport SUV like the Porsche Cayenne but it can hold its own thanks to direct and responsive steering. Like many other electro-assisted steering systems, it is light when maneuvering at slow speeds and begins to feel more taught at higher speeds. But unlike other electronically assisted steering systems, this one also provides good feedback to the driver and doesn’t have a numb feeling like as though you’re just turning a giant knob with nothing attached to it at the other end. So it gives you the confidence to push the 2,100kg SUV when driving along an interesting and twisty road but the brakes could use with some fine tuning. They behave like an on/off switch and it takes some time to get used to modulating the braking force without making it seem as though you’ve crashed.
Comfort – The quiet nature of all-electric driving makes it seem like other noises are amplified and on highways there is a noticeable amount of noise intruding into the cabin from the tires and wind. But on city streets it is the most comfortable SUV for less than $100,000 that I’ve driven. Some of it is due to the insulated cabin (at slow speeds) but most of it is due to the fantastic air suspension system (a $2,350 CAD option). Driving over the potholed and cobble covered Water st. in historic Gastown is like a torture test for most vehicles but in the big Volvo it feels like any other street. The air suspension copes well with the bumps and ruts of poorly maintained roads but the system also prevents too much body roll during fast cornering.
Inside the cabin of the Volvo XC90, the design is sophisticated and contemporary. Minimalistic is perhaps the best word to describe the look of the dashboard. There are only 8 physical buttons on the entire dashboard and one of them is for opening the glove box. The only other vehicle that has this minimalistic approach to design is the Tesla Model S. Like the Tesla, the XC90 has a large central mounted touchscreen that controls almost every other feature of the vehicle. The screen is fast and responsive and can be used with your gloves on when the weather is below freezing. It does take a bit of time to get acquainted with the menu options and controls but every option is no longer than 1 swipe or 1 tap away.
The rest of the cabin is just as sophisticated as the dashboard. The light coloured leather and panoramic roof give the feeling of openness. Front occupants have an almost infinite amount of adjustability for the seating positions. The middle row is also very spacious even for taller occupants like myself. A third row is also available but like any other mid-size SUV, it’s best suited for small children. Opening the power liftgate with your hands is a thing of the past. Just swing your foot underneath the bumper and the liftgate rises by itself. Behind the second row of seats, there are 651L of storage space and fold those seats flat and you’ll get 1,950L of space to fill up.
Odds and Ends – Just like Kristina, the redesigned XC90 is a beautiful thing to look at. It still has the “boxy” overall shape that Volvo’s are known for but the edges have beautiful curves and it looks like a normal SUV. The biggest distinction that the XC90 has over other SUVs are the taillights that drop from the roof to the bumper and the headlights that have daytime running lights in the shape of Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir.
Of course this being a Volvo, safety is still top priority which is why the XC90 is packed with more tech than an iPhone. Blind spot monitor, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, forward braking, automated parking, and pedestrian detection are just some of the gadgets that are meant to prevent accidents. But if an accident is unavoidable, the Volvo XC90 received a rating of Good (best possible) from the IIHS in crash testing. Volvo is also continuing to make their vehicles safer by claiming that “By 2020, nobody shall be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo”. A bold claim with just 3 years to go but at the rate of technology advancements, it is possible.
Overall the new Volvo XC90 is a beautiful looking SUV inside and out. It is on the forefront of safety technology with a price of around $65,000 CAD with the aforementioned safety technology features equipped. This T8 Hybrid trim level does bump up the price to almost $80,000 CAD and it makes you wonder if it’s really worth paying the extra $15,000 for a hybrid that is only capable of 20km on a charge. Sure if you live in a city and the commute is short it will make sense but it will still take years before you save that money in paying less at the pumps. The T6 Inscription with the same options as this T8 might be the better bang for your buck.
Thank you to the owner for providing the vehicle.
Editor at large and gearhead. Can drive anything on 4 or 2 wheels... sometimes 3 wheels too.