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2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription review (video)

With the seven-seat SUV market now more competitive than ever, carmakers are needing to come up with fresh and innovative approaches to cut ahead of the clutter. Enter the 2016 Volvo XC90. On initial impressions, it certainly shows them all how to do exactly that.

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription-LED headlights

This is Volvo’s first all-new vehicle under Geely Holding, the company’s new Chinese parents. It features a brand-new platform, also a first, called the Scalable Product Architecture, which will be used to underpin many of Volvo’s future showroom range.

It also debuts a number of new technologies for the company including semi-autonomous driving capability, as well as a fresh new design theme hallmarked by the Thor hammer LED headlights. This theme will also be incorporated on future models.

In Australia the XC90 comes in three model grades; D5, T6, and hybrid T8 (arriving later in 2015). These are then divided up by three trim levels (also to be used to segment future models); Momentum, Inscription, and sporty R-Design. Here we’re testing the T6 Inscription that comes in at $100,950 (excluding on-roads).

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription – THE SPECS

Engine: 2.0-litre turbo supercharged four-cylinder
Output: 235kW@5700rpm / 400Nm@2200-5400rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed auto
Drive type: Four-wheel drive
Wheels: F: 20×9.0, 275/45  R: 20×9.0, 275/45
ANCAP: Five stars
Tare weight: 1965kg

Power-to-weight: 8.3:1 (kg:kW)
Official fuel economy: 8.5L/100km
Economy during test: 10.1L/100km
Fuel capacity/Type: 71L/95 RON
Power efficiency: 27.6kW:L/100km
0-100km/h as tested: 6.7 seconds
Priced from: $100,950

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription-colour

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription – THE PACKAGE

Vehicle design, like any other form of creative artistic work, can’t really be judged. It’s a subjective thing, like someone’s opinion. But we’re sure you’ll agree the design of the XC90 is quite an attractive one. It really stands out in a crowd of conservative SUV designs, especially those from Germany. And out on the road it has the presence and glamour of an A-list celebrity, spiking curiosity and interest in almost everyone around it.

Inside is a similar story. Volvo has very obviously turned to its Swedish roots with the decor, infusing modern and crisp furnishings into an uncluttered and free-flowing layout. This test vehicle is fitted with optional ($700) Linear Walnut wood veneers which we think are some of the best trimmings we’ve seen in a production vehicle. You immediately appreciate the authenticity of the wood, both looking at it and by touch. It feels genuine.

The new XC90 showcases an all-new dash layout too. Gone is the ‘floating’ centre fascia seen on most current showroom models, and in is a more conventional panel with a 9.0-inch touch-screen interface. The interface is just like a tablet/iPad in that you can swipe to skip menus and click on any area. We think it’s a big step ahead of the somewhat cumbersome rotary controller and non-touch-screen system used in most other Volvo models. It provides a lot more freedom in terms of functionality and you can easily hit the home button to return to the main menu/desktop screen.

Volvo seems to have had a few lessons from the Germans and English in terms of its standard features list, as a lot of equipment is part of the package but there are plenty of items that you have to pay extra for. Some of these extras should be standard in our opinion, especially considering this is a $100k vehicle. Head-up display is a whopping $1900 option – such technology is standard on the $47,990 Holden Calais V. A 360-degree parking camera system is also a costly extra, demanding a premium of $1750 on all variants. For a brand renowned for setting safety benchmarks, it would be reasonable to expect these particular aids to be standard.

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription-dash

Of course there are options that should remain options, such as the awesome Bowers & Wilkins sound system which is $4500 (as tested). If you couldn’t give two hoots about sound quality or music in general, then you obviously don’t need this. But, if you love music (like most of us) then this is one box you just have to tick. The clarity, bass, and sheer acoustic precision is paramount. We actually spent some time driving this test vehicle purely to listen to our favourite tracks. The system comprises of one amplifier, a sub-woofer, and 19 speakers. It’s a real standout system.

Another option worthy of your hard-earned savings is the $2600 IntelliSafe Pilot Assist system, with radar cruise control and queue distance control. Essentially this provides fully autonomous driving in heavy traffic conditions at speeds below 50km/h. Yep, the XC90 will steer, brake, and accelerate all by itself in these conditions. You do have to input a degree of steering angle every 20-30 seconds or so just so the vehicle knows you’re awake, but it’s a fascinating technology, and quite surreal the first time you use (trust) it.

As for cabin space and comfort, the XC90 is easily one of the largest seven-seat SUVs on sale in Australia. Headroom and legroom is abundant in the first and second rows, and the third row is useable for adults thanks to the second row which can be slid forward to open up some legroom, and thanks to the foot well which drops down slightly. There are climate controls for the rear passengers, and venting for all three rows. Cargo space is also impressive, rated at a massive 1102 litres in five-seat configuration. Even with the third row popped up the cargo area boasts 451 litres.

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription-cargo space

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription – THE DRIVE

Despite being a super-large SUV, the XC90 has been designed to be – and is – as practical and easy to drive as a smaller vehicle. Forward visibility is great, with thin A-pillars providing a clear view ahead, while the perched up driving position makes you feel dominant over other traffic on the road.

When Volvo says the XC90 is all new, it really means it. Under the bonnet is an all-new 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder engine. This replaces the 3.0-litre turbo inline six found in previous ‘T6’ models. Some might miss six cylinders, but with 235kW available at 5700rpm, most won’t be missing anything in terms of performance.

Maximum torque peaks at 400Nm, available from 2200rpm up to 5400rpm. This is down on the old high-spec 440Nm-plus T6 six-cylinder, however, being available at a broad rev range means this is ample urge to get the 1965kg beast moving off the line, during overtaking, and up long steep hills. Flat out, we timed 0-100km/h in a swift 6.7 seconds, which is about as quick as most bona fide hot hatches. The credible performance is partly thanks to a quick-changing and relatively short-ratio eight-speed automatic transmission, with all-wheel drive.

Around corners, the XC90 T6 Inscription, which comes with 20-inch alloy wheels wearing 275/45 tyres as standard, hangs on with pure conviction. We wouldn’t label it as the most engaging or the most capable-handling SUV, but it is very eager to turn in and quite confident mid-corner, and certainly competent enough to manage most situations an SUV owner is likely to expect of it. We found the electric power steering (EPAS) to be a little touchy in some conditions, but this simply takes a short time to get used to.

This test vehicle has the optional air suspension package ($3760), which provides an excellent ride. It’s able to adjust ride height according to loads and the drive mode you have selected, while absorbing bumps and road imperfections like a sponge. Body rolls is evident but well within acceptable tolerances, and with the air suspension, mid-corner bumps have little effect on the XC90’s directional stability.

As for the safety tech, some of which is optional as mentioned, the XC90’s radar cruise control is flawless. It monitors other vehicles on the road better than any other system we’ve tested. You can set the gap size you’d like to carry from the car in front, and it won’t suddenly brake for no reason when a faster car pulls in front of you out on the highway. The Pilot Assist system, as mentioned above, is also superb, making the frustrating commute to and from work a relaxing journey. You can sit back and enjoy some bird-watching out your side window if you like. Although we love driving here at PD, it’s exciting to see such technology already becoming available in Australia. (Check out our point-of-view video further below for a quick demonstration, from about the 13:30 mark).

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription-20in wheels

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription – THE VIDEOS

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription – THE VERDICT

The new XC90 is a truly outstanding vehicle. You get the feeling Volvo hasn’t made it simply to fill a gap in its showroom; instead, it seems like a genuinely well thought out model that has been built for its users. It blows most other premium seven-seat SUVs out of the water in terms of design, space, exclusivity, and luxury ambience. The presentation and drive experience is prestige, and it comes with some very impressive, class-leading technology. If this is what we can expect from upcoming Volvos, we look forward to the future.

– Cabin space, ambience and comfort
– Cool Swedish design, inside and out
– Advanced safety tech
– Optional air suspension and Bowers & Wilkins stereo
– Tablet-like touch-screen interface
– Powertrain performance

– Some options should be standard (considering price)
– Light-coloured interior, including floor carpet, gets dirty quickly
– Pricey

Brett is the editor and founder of PerformanceDrive. He's obsessed with driving, having played with Matchbox cars until he was tall enough to drive a real one. After initially working as a mechanic, Brett earned a degree in journalism and entered media as an editorial assistant at Top Gear Australia magazine. He then worked at CarAdvice.com.au. His dream is to live next door to the Nurburgring in Germany.