Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 Drive-E Momentum

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This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

Review by Jacob Black, photos by Jonathan Yarkony

The XC90 is enormous. Imposing. Gargantuan. Large. Big. Huge. A behemoth.

A different set of classical music played in my head every time I walked towards the 2016 Volvo XC90. Sometimes, it was the “da-da-daaahh” of Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor. Sometimes it was “Fate Knocking” from Symphony No.5. Sometimes, if it was hidden around a corner and I was walking toward it very slowly, I’d hear Also sprach Zarathustra (aka: that bit from 2001: A Space Odyssey).

The XC90 is enormous. Imposing. Gargantuan. Large. Big. Huge. A behemoth. The headlights are imposing long before the silhouette of Volvo’s tribute to Mjölnir embedded in them becomes apparent. The Volvo logo slashes across the grill, but cut off as it is makes it look like the sword couldn’t reach across its full width – this only makes the front look bigger than it is.

And it is big, in both size and stature. So big, in fact, Volvo had to give it two separate aspiration systems. Some say they hired the guy from South Park who liked to cross-breed weird animals, some say Doctor Emmet Brown wasn’t shot by Libyans at all and actually lives hidden in a Volvo bunker. Either way someone in Sweden decided to graft a turbocharger and supercharger together like some sort of unholy forced-aspiration doomsday device.

Available with an AWD powertrain for the first time in the XC90, the Drive-E format uses the two different types of force-feeding to give the most efficiency alongside the most pleasing throttle response. The supercharger is there to provide torque early in the rev range and the associated chuckle-inducing throttle response. Up top, the turbocharger winds up providing efficient, effective combustion to keep the 71L fuel tank from emptying too fast.

The two chargers mean Volvo could get away with a paltry 2.0L four-cylinder engine in this otherwise enormous car. The power plant is good for 320 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque and when plied in “Dynamic” mode I found it more than adequate. On one traffic-light launch to get across to a slip lane, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the 1,993 kg XC90 hustled off the line.

On the fuel economy front, I expect large SUVs to end up between 10-12 L/100 km on account of all the city driving I do. Parking several floors below ground level at both home and work doesn’t help either. This one finished the week at 11.7 L/100 km – a hair below the 11.8 L/100 km city rating given by the EPA. Highway and combined ratings are 9.4 and 10.7 L/100 km respectively. That’s not mind-blowing but it is pretty tidy for a large, seven-passenger SUV with a huge frontal area.

Did I mention this is a big car? 

It is. Yet despite its heft the “Mjölnir” motif in the headlights is an ill-fitting metaphor. Thor’s hammer was allegedly so heavy it could only be wielded by Thor himself but the Volvo XC90 is actually very easy to drive. The punchy powertrain makes for effortless overtaking, and throttle response is smoothed out by the different aspiration methods. The eight-speed transmission is as smooth as any I’ve experienced – this is a true luxury car with the relaxed driving quality to match that tag.

The steering is appreciably direct but is light enough for even the most pampered of drivers to handle. The ride quality is flawless. The cabin floats over the various imperfections in the road serenely without ever feeling vague.

As we’ve mentioned many times before Volvo’s seats are brilliant and will comfortably support you for hours. They seem to actively relax you as you drive, it’s uncanny.

A large greenhouse makes for great visibility and the commanding driving position hides the size of the car in even the tightest of parking garages. The “one-touch” rear headrest collapsing system is a nice touch when you’ve unloaded all the passengers and want more rearward visibility.

Now, some people will poo-poo using a car with this sort of beastly size and Herculean ground clearance for the morning school run with one kid, but while dropping my daughter off at school I had a moment of extreme gratitude for the Volvo’s robust suspension and ground clearance.  See, to get into the carpark we need to go through a boom gate. There is only one. And on this morning the boom gate was stuck down. A huge queue had formed behind the gate and everyone was standing around generally looking frustrated and grumpy. Not me. Because nothing bad has ever happened to me before when I went off the beaten path in a Volvo crossover… I drove up to the lowest of the kerbs, got out to make sure I had enough clearance, then drove up and over, across the muddy, grassy hill and plodded down the other kerb and out the driveway, leaving my fellow child-dropping friends in my wake. I think that makes me an urban off-road warrior – only instead of bouncing about in my seat I was calm and unruffled.

Inside, the motif is less “urban warrior” and more “you can’t afford this hotel”. The detailed switch gear gleams shiny silver and feels substantial under your fingertips. The dimples and ridges feel fantastic and look even better. I was enamoured instantly with the start switch. In what I read as homage to fellow Swedish manufacturer Saab (RIP Saab), Volvo has the button placed on the centre console between the seats. To start, you twist the large oblong switch to the right once, and the theatrics begin.

The enormous 9.3-inch screen in the centre stack comes to life, the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster (optional as part of the Momentum Plus package) flashes vibrant graphics and the car smoothly transitions from dormant to poised.

The instrument cluster is a work of art, especially once you program a destination in the nav system. The map displayed between the large dials for speed and tach is glorious. I also appreciated the large touchscreen with swipe and pinch controls just like a regular iPad. The buttons are large and well-spaced which mitigates the most common issue with touchscreens – miskeys.

Unfortunately, we experienced a few issues with the system – and no, not just the fingerprints.  The centre-stack screen has a fantastic top-down, 360 degree camera for parking. Unfortunately, two of the times we used it we experienced the screen freezing, and couldn’t get the camera to work again without entirely re-starting the car.

Likewise, the screen in the dash had some glitches. On one call with Senior Editor Jonathan Yarkony the screen froze on the call screen, so I spent five minutes trying to hang up when I already had. This was doubly frustrating, because I wanted to talk a bunch of smack about him to my wife and was worried he’d overhear. I also experienced some difficulty tuning radio stations using the tuning buttons next to the volume control – but thankfully the Sensus library screen was easy to use. It also showed me the tracks playing on the stations in the list, so I could choose based on the best song playing at any given time.

The Sensus screen is really intuitive to anyone who has a smartphone or a tablet, and incidentally is fully integrated with an available smartphone app that I didn’t get a chance to download and try out. Slick and impressive as it is though, Volvo would want to update it ASAP to get rid of the glitches we experienced. It’s hard to imagine someone paying the money for this rig and putting up with issues like that.

Which brings me to another point – at $68,325 as tested this Volvo is by no means cheap, but it feels like it should cost more. The materials are all high quality – even the little Swedish flag poking out from the side of the front seats. The interior is slick and elegant, the sort you’d find on the very highest-end Germans with rich detailing and deep colours.

We’ve driven cars upwards of $100,000 that don’t feel as elegant or luxurious as this. There is a lot of car here for the money.

Front-row occupants have more than enough space for both heads and legs, with the driver and passenger given more than ample shoulder room. The second row is a usable space for three adults and the transmission tunnel is kept low enough to not be intrusive. Third row access is reserved for the limber, with a high step-in and a narrow opening to get back there, and Jonathan reported low head room and just-barely sufficient leg room for an adult, but the seats themselves decent and high enough off the floor that knees won’t be pressed up into your chest.

Oddly, the pull-strap that folds down the middle seat of the second row was broken. We could attribute that to a previous ham-fisted journalist but it bears mentioning – especially if you intend to use the third row often, which you won’t. If you did you’d buy something even larger, or maybe a minivan. Volvo offers the third row here almost as a “good guy” bonus. They built in enough room for five people to sit comfortably with all their luggage stowed away in the back then decided, “Hey, we could whack a couple of spare seats back there!” – but in Swedish, obviously.

With the bonus seats thrown in and raised, cargo space is listed as a fairly paltry 249 L, but with enough depth and height for a couple large suitcases standing upright. Fold that third row down and you have a family-friendly 615 L likely measured only up to the cargo cover as it is a large generous space. Drop all the rear seats and the 2,427 L abyss laughs at your attempts to fill it.

Did I mention this is a big car?

As you might expect, the XC90 has a feature list to match. Rear-seat passengers will appreciate the enormous moonroof that spans most of the roof – my daughter was a big fan – as well as four-zone (4!) automatic climate control, 10-speaker premium audio and SiriusXM. The driver will appreciate Volvo’s many driving aids including blind-spot assist, back-up camera, lane-departure warning, road-sign information, pedestrian and cyclist detection, cornering fog lights, park assist and road-edge and barrier detection with automatic steer.

At this level, the XC90 misses out on the exceptional adaptive cruise control and will have to suffer with regular old cruise. That wouldn’t be a problem for me except the steering-wheel cruise controls still had the buttons for setting radar distance – and I thought it therefore did have full adaptive cruise right up until it was immediately apparent I did not. On the plus side, the ABS works well. And had I actually rear-ended the poor frightened Yaris ahead of me I could have called for help with Volvo SOS. We’d have needed it to. Yarises are very small.

Have I mentioned this is a big car?

The Volvo XC90 really is a lot of car for its money. This edition backs up the bulk with opulence. Comfort comes in many forms – and almost all of them are at work here.

It used to be that Volvo was the “alternative to luxury cars” – but this 2016 Volvo XC90 might have surpassed its rivals.

4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance

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Model Tested 2016 Volvo XC90 Momentum T6 Drive-E
Base Price $60,700
A/C Tax
Destination Fee $1,195
Price as Tested $68,325
Optional Equipment
Momentum Plus package (Full LED Headlights w/ ABL, AHB2 + LED DRL, 12.3-inch full graphical instrument cluster, headlight high pressure cleaning, illuminated tread plates, interior illumination, Dark Flame Birch décor inlays) - $2,600, Vision Package (Blind-spot information and cross-traffic alert, visual park assist, retractable side mirrors, auto-dimming mirrors) - $1,800, Climate Package (heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, heated washer nozzles, heated windscreen) - $1,800, Metallic Paint - $800, 20-inch alloys - $975