Driven: 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

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The Volvo Xc90 crossover SUV was completely made over for 2016 | Bob Golfen photo

The 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 is a splendid SUV, a clean-slate effort by the Swedish brand – flush with Chinese money – to create something quite special. The styling is gorgeous, in a blocky SUV kind of way, and the interior in the test truck was just about the classiest luxury cabin that I have seen this side of a Bentley. Just beautiful, and rich with the scent of leather and wood.

The all-wheel-drive XC90 is as loaded with electronic gear as humanly possible, much of it to maintain Volvo’s longstanding safety mission. Among the lengthy laundry list of driving aids are those designed to keep you from wandering out of your lane, crashing into another vehicle in any variety of circumstances, running over a bicyclist, falling asleep at the wheel or parking the car using your own feeble abilities.

Control of the Volvo's numerous systems is done via a large, tablet-like video interface | Volvo
Control of the Volvo’s systems is done via a large, tablet-like video interface | Volvo

On the unusually clean, almost architectural dashboard, there is just one rotating knob and a tiny cluster of switches. No other controls. All systems and accessories are accessed instead by a tablet-like 12.8-inch video screen. So it would seem such simple analog devices as on-off buttons are quaint items from the outmoded past. The ultra-modern setup looks fresh and cool, although there’s a steep learning curve for mastering even the simplest of tasks, much less the intricate chores of which the system is capable.

I suppose that once you became accustomed to the interface you wouldn’t have to look at it or poke at it as much as I did. (There’s a special wiping cloth provided for cleaning off the tablet/video screen as it gets smudged with fingerprints, which happens fairly quickly.) Volvo says your muscle memory will become adapted to the system, but I wasn’t with the car long enough to experience such a thing. What I did experience was an overly complex interface with far more features than I would expect to use in an automobile. I have a smart phone for most of that.

And it can be distracting for the driver. But even if your attention wanders as you attempt to change the radio signal or adjust the climate control, or say hi to Auntie Em on Facebook, the Volvo has your back covered with electronic driving aids and warning signals to keep you from becoming a highway menace.

The XC90 gets bright new styling for 2016 | Bob Golfen
The XC90 gets bright new styling for 2016 | Bob Golfen

Like most car people, I’m not all too crazy about self-driving cars, which seems more and more like an inevitable development for the future. Naturally, I’ll be glad when computers take over to negate the bonehead moves of other drivers. But for myself, not so much.

After driving the XC90, I feel as if I have seen the future. Volvo, the bastion of driving safety for decades, has available electronic features for its all-new XC90 that makes the SUV shamefully easy to drive, and can keep you from drifting off the road even if you drift off behind the wheel.

The Volvo has fairly aggressive lane-departure control, which not only warns you that you are veering out of your lane but gently pushes you back with automatic steering control. Couple that with the adaptive cruise control that slows down or speeds up with traffic ahead, and anti-collision braking, and the car has largely taken over highway driving.

During a long freeway drive, I felt as if I could just set it and forget it, and essentially allow the SUV to keep us in the lane and not hit the car in front. Hands off driving! But wait, Volvo doesn’t allow you to game the system; after a few pushes back into your lane, a warning light appears urging you to grab the steering wheel again or else. Fair enough.

The  XC90 is one of the larger crossovers | Bob Golfen
The XC90 is one of the larger crossovers | Bob Golfen

Most of this stuff is not unique to the Volvo, it’s just the sheer number of high-tech features that’s so impressive. The only things that Volvo claims is “world’s first” for the XC90 are the run-off-the-road protection package and an automatic braking function that keeps you from nailing another vehicle when turning in an intersection.

But enough about the brave new world of electronic wizardry, which Volvo says helps make the XC90 one of the safest vehicles ever produced. Let’s get down to the actual, rather than the virtual, SUV that is all-new for 2016.

The XC90 drives with sharp precision, with steering, handling and braking that are all first rate, putting this mid-size crossover SUV among the best of the breed. The Pirelli Scorpion performance tires no doubt help. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is both supercharged and turbocharged, boosting its output to 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, and fed through an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive with Instant Traction. Performance is strong and fuel mileage is decent, at least for a 4,600-pound truck.

Adjustable driving-mode settings allow you to choose best fuel economy, best performance, best traction or all-around drivability, which is where you generally keep it most of time. The highway ride is seamless and comfortable – another Volvo tradition is exceptionally well-designed seats. There was no wind roar or road noise whatsoever, although there were occasional buzzy sounds from the engine under acceleration or hill climbing.

The dashboard of the Volvo is beautifully elegant in its simplicity | Volvo
The dashboard of the Volvo is beautifully elegant in its simplicity | Volvo

The base price for the XC90 T6 all-wheel drive is $49,800, but the pile-on of optional packages and ala carte features drove up the bottom line of the test vehicle to an eye-widening $68,875. The packages included the Inscription package of luxury features, $5,800, with such things as Nappa leather seats and interior panels; the beautiful Linear Walnut Wood inlays, which are not glossy but burnished like fine Scandinavian furniture; and LED headlights with “Thor’s Hammer” daytime running lights (it’s a Viking thing).

The Vision package adds $1,800 for such features as a 360-degree surround-view camera and blind-spot vision and cross-traffic alert. The cold-weather Climate package that adds $1,950 includes heated rear seats, steering wheel and headlight water nozzles, as well as a heads-up graphic display. The Convenience package at $1,800 has such driving aids as Park Assist Pilot, Adaptive Cruise Control with Pilot Assist (which is among the best such systems I have ever used), Lane Keeping Aid and Homelink,

But wait, there’s more. The absolutely terrific Bowers and Wilkins Premium Sounds system will set you back a whopping $2,650, but boy does it sound great. The air suspension adds $1,800, metallic paint is $560, 21-inch alloy wheels are $750, etc., etc. And that’s how you come up with a luxury SUV that climbs close to $70,000.

But at least it’s something that’s superior in many ways. My only knocks against the XC90 are the unnecessary complexity of the tablet-like video interface, which is impressive and remarkable but not something most people want or need, and the air-conditioning system, which was not terribly effective during Phoenix’s stinking hot summer days. This SUV is built a lot closer to the Arctic Circle, after all.

Pricey with the desirable options but now a luxury SUV that competes against such top-drawer craft from Range Rover, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, the Volvo XC90 has most certainly moved up a few notches in accommodations, features and performance. And nobody beats Volvo for safety.

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

Vehicle type: Five-passenger, five-door crossover SUV, all-wheel drive
Base price: $49,800 Price as tested: $68,875
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged inline-4, 316 horsepower at 5,700 rpm, 295 pound-feet of torque at 2,200 rpm Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 117.5 inches Overall length/width: 194.8 inches / 79.1 inches
Curb weight: 4,625 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 20 city / 25 highway / 22 combined
Assembled in: Gothenburg, Sweden

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