2016 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design review
Robert Pepper’s 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: This is only the second version of the popular seven-seat XC90 since 2002, and it’s more evolution than revolution. Why change a winning formula?
2016 Volvo XC90
Pricing $101,670 + onroad costs ($121,225 as tested plus onroads) Warranty 3 years unlimited km Engine 2.0L supercharged and turbocharged petrol 4 cylinder, 235kW@ 5700rpm, 400Nm @ 2500-5400rpm Transmission 8 speed automatic Drive on-demand AWD Dimensions 4950mm (L); 2008mm(W); 1776mm(H) Turning circle 11.8m Seats 7 Tare weight 1965kg Fuel tank 71L Fuel consumption 8.5L/100km combined cycle Fuel petrol 95 RON Spare space saver Towing 750kg unbraked, 2250kg braked, max TBM 140kg
Editor's RatingWhat's the interior like and how practical is it?What's the communication and infotainment system likeAround townOpen roads and cruisingOffroadHow safe is it?Practical Motoring says: The XC90 remains a benchmark SUV for seven-seat practicality, and with the right options, usable safety gear. The asking price is more than many other vehicles of the same size, but the overall experience makes the big Volvo value for money. However, if you're after a heavy-duty towcar, offroader or the sharpest handlers in the segment then look elsewhere.
What is it?
WHEN THE HISTORY OF THE SUV is written the XC90 will have a special place in the chronology as one of the gamechangers, along with the likes of Range Rover, Pajero and Discovery 3.
It was back in 2002 that the biggest Volvo was released and it became an instant hit because it featured an intelligent, spacious seven-seat design, looked modern, drove nicely, offered lots of safety gear and deservedly became the benchmark 7-seat soft-duty SUV. So successful was the car that it surived another 12 years without a significant change until 2014 when it was updated to the second edition, and that was launched in Australia last year.
Our review car is the top-level R-Design petrol, and our test was over a week during which we took the Volvo for a three-hour cruise to a friend’s holiday home for a weekend – a very typical XC90 task – where it got a further workout as a seven seater. We also did some dirt road driving, a little offroading and of course, the school run.
Everybody liked the XC90’s looks. The car attracted several compliments and not one negative comment.
This new version still looks like an XC90 but a more modern take on the car, and that’s definitely a positive. The XC90 always managed to be reasonably stylish without attracting the SUV/4WD hate crowd and this revision improves and continues that trait. It doesn’t try to be big and imposing, or overtly sporty, or try-hard trendy. It’s an image many will be comfortable with, albeit one a fraction more staid than some would like.
There’s nothing groundbreaking about the overall engineering – a GKN all wheel drive system, the usual electronic aids, eight-speed transmission and in the case of the T6, a modern petrol engine. Actually, there is something unusual there because that engine is both turbocharged and supercharged – that’s done to maximise efficiency across the rev range.
WHAT’S IT LIKE INSIDE AND HOW PRACTICAL IS IT?
Back in 2005 I rated all the seven-seat SUVs on the market and the XC90 ranked first for its interior. A bit over a decade later the basic design still holds up well, and this is why.
The third row is a 50/50 split and level with the boot lip. The seats fold completely flat and latch in place. There is a huge amount of room, nearly 600mm, behind the third row when up.
The cargo area has a roof light, two side lights and a light in the top of the boot, so it’s well lit compared to others. There’s four strong tie-down points in the boot, intelligently located. Volvo include a cargo net that works in two positions, and it is stored in a neat little compartment accessible when the third row is up.
There’s room for a few more odds and ends where you store the cargo net.
At the side of the boot there’s a couple of usefully strong hooks for bags. Each of the third-row occupants gets a drinks holder and a little storage comparment. Headroom for me (5ft 11 inches) is a fraction too little, but otherwise is fine.
There are three child restraint points, all high up on the back of the second-row seat where they are easy to access. The middle second row seatbelt is built into the seat, not hanging from the roof, and the outer second-row seatbelts are height adjustable, ideal for kids and something very rarely seen.
The second row is a triple split and folds completely flat to offer over two metres of loadspace. Each of the three seats can be moved forwards and backwards, and the middle seat can accommodate an adult in reasonable comfort, albeit with a firm seatbase. The vehicle will also seat three abreast, not something every SUV can do comfortably.
There are two strong nets on the back of the front seats, and the fact they are nets is ideal as you can see what’s in there. So many things have been lost inside seat pockets that aren’t at least partially transparent.
The middle second row can be reconfigured as a booster seat, a feature that will be most welcome for kids of that size between car seat and full seat.
Heating for the second row is a very reasonable $400 option.
That’s a lot of praise, but there is room for improvement. The second and third row seatback angles are not adjustable, and the effort required to adjust the seats could be reduced a bit so an 11 year old girl would find it easier. There’s no way to operate the third row up or down from the back of the car – one might reasonably expect a release, if not electric seats like some Ford Everest and Haval H9 variants. The third row has no child restraints, and while there is a cargo blind it is a bit fiddly to use, and there’s nowhere to store it when the third row is up.
Up front the XC90 could do a bit better. There are insufficient storage compartmentsfor driver and passenger, and the centre console is a little small. There’s no USB for the second row or third row. You do however get one 12v socket up front, one in the middle and one in the boot, and just one USB port in the centre console. However, it’s good to see that the glovebox is split-level and cooled. The heated front seats are a $650 option.
At the rear of the car we found our tester had a foot-operated power tailgate, but nobody could get it to work consistently, and we had several people try. This new model has a one-piece tailgate, in contrast to the previous model which had a horizontally split tailgate. The difference is personal opinion, but a one-piece is cheaper and lighter and doesn’t restrict access to the back. The two-piece means you have a built-in mini table, and the back of the car becomes a handy box to throw things into without fear of them falling out over the boot lip.
The XC90 even doubles as a bed. With that flat two metres of loadspace there’s enough room for all but the tallest of adults to sleep, and certainly more than enough for two pre-teens to declare it their nest and rug up for the night. Apparently, that was preferable to sleeping in a tent. Consider the car endorsed, Volvo.
Overall, the XC90 retains its position as one of the very best family-friendly, practical and stylish seven seaters. There is enough there to warrant extra money over cheaper alternatives which do not offer the seating flexibility, sense of design or refinement. However, it is a little surprising that Volvo has not moved the market forwards as it did with the original XC90 – there’s no wow factor, nothing special about the interior that makes the car stand out, just all the basics done well and all the usual mistakes avoided.
Click any image below to start the XC90 interior gallery showing all its seating positions.
WHAT’S THE COMMUNICATIONS AND INFOTAINMENT SYSTEM LIKE?
The XC90 has a touchscreen and Volvo boasts they have reduced the number of physical buttons. Mixed feelings here – firstly, in my view no touchscreen is ever as a good as a set of buttons and switches which can be operated without looking and quickly flicked to the appropritate setting. However, the Volvo touchscreen is about the best I’ve used: simple, intuitive, large, clear and responsive, such a refreshing change from the smaller ones with randomly organised interfaces which send you into a stabby-fingered rage. It is modelled on a smartphone with swipe left/right, a home button and taps.
There’s so much to like about it; it’s easy to enter and cancel navigation, Bluetooth audio shows an image of the artist, all the settings are in one place and the map can be set to take up different screen spaces. Volvo includes some apps that require an Internet connection, so connect we did and they all started demanding updates before hanging and refusing any further coaxing. Test over. Well, nearly – the final word is that the screen is prone to smudging (the photos are always real-world so you can see for yourself), but Volvo is a step ahead and has provided a special little wiping cloth with instructions.
The owner’s manual is mostly electronic, which means the car needs to be on and functional for it for work. However, it is easy enough to use, although being a bit quicker to respond wouldn’t hurt. The picture below is when we were trying to figure out how to get the tailgate to operate consistently:
In contrast to the main screen the driver’s dash is a bit of a disappointent. It can show navigation information and music details, but otherwise doesn’t really complement the main display in the same way as, say, the Prius. And that’s surprising, given the display is a pure TFT screen. Volvo could have, and should have done a lot more with it.
The sound system in our tester was the premium $4500 option from Bowers and Wilkins, which unusually for premium audio manufacturers use capital letters in their name. Despite that, there were no complaints about the sound and while I am no audiophile I did note the rich quality of the music. Still, as ever with such systems, I’m not entirely convinced the extra is worth it. You can option a CD player for $160 if you like yesteryear’s technology. There’s a good array of speakers, including a set in the third row.
Performance, ride and handling
What’s it got?
All XC90s are on-demand all wheel drive, which means they mostly drive the front wheels with the rears coming in on demand. This second generation is also fitted with an 8-speed automatic as standard. Our car also had a heads-up display which projects speed, navigation information and the current speed limit onto the windscreen. The vehicle will also recognise speed limit signs and then display the current speed limit.
Our tester had the “Polestar Performance Optimisation” modification which Volvo says “improves the performance of your Volvo. It makes the car more active to drive and it increases safety in situations where you need extra performance, for example when overtaking or entering a busy highway. All this without affecting the Original Warranty of your Volvo.”
The cost for the modification is $1858.05 plus half an hour’s labour, and it’s just a software change. The result is an increase in peak power from 235 to 246kW, torque from 400 to 440Nm. Accleration from 0-100 is down to 6.4 seconds from 6.5. Fuel consumption and emissions are unchanged, and the change can be rolled back although there’s no refund as a result.
I asked why the Polestar change wasn’t standard given it “increases safety” and I didn’t get an answer that explained the reasoning. Will 1/10th of a second on the 0-100 sprint save you from trouble? I’d argue not.
The engine is also quite unusual as it has both a turbocharger and a supercharger. These two operate the same basic way – both use pumps to ram more air into the engine so it is more efficient, but a turbo has its pump driven off the exhuast gases and a supercharger has a direct belt drive off the engine. Superchargers work best at lower revs, and turbos at higher revs.
There are four driving modes; Eco, Comfort, Dynamic and Offroad which can be selected only at low speeds. These change the throttle response, gearshift points and electronic systems calibration.
The good first. Visibility is excellent, thanks to smallish A-pillars and good window design, particuarly at the back. And if that’s not enough, our car had the 360 degree surround camera system. The XC90 is also manourevable, and with the combination of cameras and sensors mean tight space work is easy. The keyless entry works on all four doors with a touch, the power tailgate can be opened remotely, and there’s good lighting all round.
The heads-up display means you don’t often need to look down. There’s also sufficient power, but now we come to the negative which is how that power is delivered. I suspect it’s the fault of the Polestar “optimisation”, as the XC90’s combination of power delivery and transmission does not make for a relaxed drive. For example, the transmission is too eager to slam down a hasty gear when it doesn’t need to, such as unhurried but not dawdling acceleration on exit of a roundabout. I think Volvo confused ‘sporty’ with ‘dramatic’. Driving the car in Eco mode calmed it a bit, but not enough.
I called my colleague Paul Murrell to discuss this as he’s driven an untreated XC90 and he said he didn’t particularly note the behaviour I found, but did say the transmission was a bit gear-happy.
Next, the stop/start system will cut the engine just before you’re stopped under light braking, and restart it again once you actually are stopped and that can lead to a jerk. So overall, the engine/transmission is a disappointment and I’d like to drive one without the Polestar pack to see if it’s any better. Regardless, given the very modest increases offered I’d be saving the $1900 or so it’d cost and putting it towards, well, anything else.
Other niggles; the interior heat/cool fan is far too noisy, and the touchscreen may be one of the best but it’s still a touchscreen and therefore hard to operate when travelling and bouncing.
On the plus side, we noted that all of the Volvo’s many chimes are pleasing to the ear and even when they are warning or admonishing do so in a way that is a friendly reminder, as distinct from the strident harshness of, say, a Jeep.
We tried the self-parking. It is terrible at finding a parking space – cruised by many of them in a train station carpark and then a shopping centre several times – but once it does realise a space is free it works well enough. It made the people behind nervous as it wanted me to back up very close to the car behind but no matter, Volvo had it all under control. As usual with these things a half-skilled driver can do the job quicker and better, but if you’re not confident with your parking the XC90 will help for both parallel and perpendicular.
The parkbrake is now electronic, and can be auto-applied when the car halts. It will auto-release as you pull away. Little things like that are not unique to the XC90 but do make for an easy and relaxed drive.
The speed limit recognition worked well for the most part, but can’t recognise LED-lid speed limit signs on overhead gantries (Westgate Bridge for Victorians) and it has no clue that a 40 sign for a school is only applicable at certain hours. Also, Melbourne’s new signs that have 90 for trucks and 100 for cars respectively confused it no end. So, good idea Volvo, but drivers – don’t be relying on it just yet. A nice feature is that if you pass a speed limit sign doing more than the limit the car will merrily chime at you. To be clear, this was discovered when travelling at 50km/h in a zone that is normally 60km/h but signposted 40km/h for school times.
Overall, the XC90 should be in its element around town, and it pretty much is except for the power delivery. Smooth that out and it’d be nigh on perfect.
The XC90 is an accomplished cruiser. The adaptive cruise control is very good indeed, easy to adjust in either 5 or 1km/h increments, and easy to see what it’s set to. The lane keep assist and other driver aids are beautifully calibrated and really do help the driver. The seats are wonderfully adjustable for both front seat occupants, all seating positions are well heated and the fronts are highly adjustable, the ride is comfortable and there is sufficient power. The navigation works very well – so it’s easy to change routes, cancel or zoom in or out, and you get navigation info on the instrument display as well as the HUD.
The LED headlights are, as they generally tend to be, highly effective. They are also “Active Bending Headlights” which means they illuminate the direction of travel as your corner. You don’t notice it around lit suburbs, but it is helpful on dark country roads.
The XC90 really is a car you’d want to take interstate, able to cover long distances in relaxed and safe comfort. But it is of course not perfect. The cruise control doesn’t hold speed downhill…and, well that’s all the negatives we can think of. Good job, Volvo.
Now for the twisty, sporty bits. Here the XC90 is adequate. Volvo might think the R-Design is sporty, but it’s not. If you take control of the gears yourself it’s better, but while there’s nothing wrong with the handling it’s competent not exciting, and it’s slightly more front-drivey than ideal. There is a Dynamic drive mode… wouldn’t bother.
Dirt Roads & Offroad
Our test car had the $3850 22-inch wheel option which not only ruined the ride on dirt roads but also made me paranoid about wheel damage and punctures, so I can’t deliver a full opinion on the car’s rough-road performance.
However, with the reduction in road grip the front-drive bias became more apparent – accelerating out of a corrugated corner for example – and that’s too much to be an ideal dirt-road cruiser. The Volvo is definitely no sharp rally car.
We were never going to do a full offroad test, but I did enough playing in a wet dirt-road motorbike trailer park to learn a few things. First, the Haldex all wheel drive system which Volvo has used in the XC90 has been replaced by a GKN system. This is excellent news as Haldex have never made very good all-wheel drive systems, being far too slow to bring the rear wheels into play. I remember my first XC90 test which ended with the front wheels spinning and error messages on the dash – the new GKN system isn’t perfect in that regard, but it’s a huge improvement.
There’s also an Offroad driving mode which, happily, disables (or at least reduces) the stability control while leaving the brake traction control alone. Pay attention, all you other SUV makers, that’s the way these things should be done. This good bit of design means that once the Offroad mode is engaged the XC90 can make surprisingly good progress across slippery and uneven terrain, better than say a Kluger or Lexus SUV but nowhere near that of a 4WD like the Discovery. If you come to a halt with diagonal wheels in the air, then attempt to move off, the traction control is initially harsh but apply a little more power and it becomes smooth and effective. Ground clearance isn’t stated but I measured it at about 210mm, which is pretty decent for a vehicle of this nature.
The offroad work XC90s are going to do is likely to be snow and sand, maybe some shallow mud. I didn’t get a chance to properly evaluate the car across those terrains, but based on what I was able to test I’d say it’d be reasonably effective once in its offroad mode, albeit not in the class of a more offroad-oriented vehicle, and much better than its predecessor model.
We didn’t tow with the XC90 but there’s still a few things to mention. The maximum braked tow is 2250kg, which is quite low for a two-tonne SUV. Even worse, the maximum towball mass is 140kg. In Australia, we work on 10% towball mass so that 140kg is a way off 10% of 2250kg which should be 225kg. Also, for trailers above 1800kg Volvo recommend a stabiliser hitch which is another bit of complexity and cost, and they recommend not towing on grades greater than 12% (about 6 degrees).
The unbraked tow maximum is the usual 750kg, but only with a 50kg towball mass which is acceptable. Interestingly, Volvo say it is permitted to exceed the gross vehicle weight (including towball load) by 100kg provided the speed is kept to 100km/h or below.
On the positive side, the XC90 comes standard with all-wheel drive and trailer stability control. Manouverability is good and the surround camera system is high quality. Overall, you wouldn’t buy an XC90 as a heavy-duty towcar, but it looks like being perfectly adequate for loads of up to 1500kg which is a decent sized camper trailer or small caravan.
How safe is it?
Safe, and even safer if you option what should be standard. The options are fully discussed below, but I’d be ticking the safety boxes as Volvo’s tech is decent value, and actually works effectively. The lane keep assist is effective and while you can feel it, it never becomes annoying. The automatic emergency braking (City Safety) can be fooled when passing a single parked car, but otherwise you’re not really aware of the tech. Hard braking is stable and predictable, with ABS, EBD and EBA all helping figure out how to stop quickly. And visibiity is great all round.
There’s minor little touches such as the car not letting you disengage the parkbrake to pull away without putting a seatbelt on either. The vehicle has Run Off Road protection which is where it realised it has left the road and doom is impending so it tightens the seatbelt and generally prepares for a crash. This feature we did not test, and nor did we get the Drive Alert fatigue detection to trigger.
The ANCAP rating is of course 5-star, and that is with the most stringent 2016 criteria. Specifically, the car rated 37.02 out of 38 for adult prorection, 40 out of 43 for child protection, and 9.55 out of 13 for safety assist technology. The reversing camera is excellent, very high quality and has a zoom function plus moving guidelines. Not all reversing cameras are equal! The front/rear sensors work well, and the infotainment unit shows what bit of the car you’re about to hit, and there’s an audio warning.
The spare wheel is a space saver and there is no way you’re fitting anything else in its bay, so if you need to use the spare you will welcome a punctured full-sized wheel into the boot. Still, that’s better than a runflat.
Pricing and range
The XC90 comes in three trim levels starting with Momentum, then Inscription, then R-Design. There’s three engines, the D5 diesel (165kW / 470Nm) and the T6 petrol which is both supercharged and turbocharged (235kW / 400Nm), and a plug-in hybrid petrol version called the T8. Our tester was the T6 R-Design with about $20,000 worth of extras.
So there are seven XC90 variants, listed here exclusive of onroad costs:
Unusually, the diesel is cheaper than the petrol and by a significant margin too. There’s also no 2WD option. Here’s what each specification level gets (same for diesel and petrol), and what the level above adds or deletes:
- 7 seats
- All wheel drive
- 8 speed automatic
- City safety – collision detection and brake support
- Driver alert control and lane depature
- Trailer stabilty control
- Road sign reading
- Run-off road protection
- 12.3″ touchscreen
- Front and rear parking sensors
- Power tailgate
- Parking camera
- Soft load net
- Power front seats
- Space saver spare
- LED lights
- Hands free tailgate opening
- Intellisafe Surround (see options discussion below)
- Leather clad remote key
- High level interior illumination
- Paddle shifters
- 2400kg braked towing (others are 2250kg braked)
- 50L fuel tank (others are 71L)
- No space saver spare
2016 XC90 Options
- Intellisafe Assist: adaptive cruise, lane keep assist, queue assist, distance alert, speed limit – $2600
- Intellisafe Surround: blind spot, cross traffic alert and rear collision warning – $1275 (Momentum only)
- Driver Support Pack – 360 camera, HUD, Intellisafe Assist – $4000 (Momentum requires $1275 Intellisafe Surround)
- 360 degree camera – $1750
- Apple Carplay – $650
- Premium Sound Bowers & Wilkins – $4500
- Heads-up Display – $1900
- Heated front seats – $650
- Heated rear seats – $400
- Tyre pressure monitoring – $300
- Heated steering wheel – $300
- Heated windscreen – $350
This is a different, and better approach to that of, say, the Japanese – almost all the features are available as options across the range, instead of being used to differentiate trim levels. Now you might be wondering why there’s a $6000-odd difference from Momentum to Inscription, and $1000 to from Inscriptionto R-Design. Me too, if I’m honest. In line with my usual practice the only changes I’ve listed are practical ones, but there’s a lot of cosmetic differences such as illuminated metal treadplates, cross brushed aluminium decor inlays, walnut decor inlays, dual tailpipes, different upholestery and a dizzying array of wheels. That’s where the extra cash goes.
So out of that lot I’d be very tempted to start with the diesel Momentum becuase, for once, that’s cheaper than the petrol. Then I would pick the Intellisafe Surround and Driver Support Pack (total $4000 + $1275 = $5275), the 360 degree camera and the HUD, all of which are very useful and good value. I’d also tick the heated front and rear seats, plus the tyre pressure monitoring which again are handy and excellent value. Our tester came with 22″ wheels. I would not suggest you spend the extra $3850 as they look silly because the brakes look lost inside the big rims, a bit like an over-iced Lancer. Judge for yourself below:
The ride becomes harsh, the wider (275mm) and heavier tyres will reduce fuel consumption, and you’ll most likely grind them against a kerb. The sensible and better looking choice would be the 235/60/18 stock wheels, possibly the 19″ if it takes you fancy.
Why would you buy one?
The case for the XC90 is very clear. It’s just about the best seven-seat SUV on the market because it has an intelligent, practical interior and a collection of genuinely useful safety aids. It’s what you buy if you want a quality seven-seater and can afford to go beyond Japanese equivalents.
That said, there are three areas in which the XC90 wouldn’t be your first choice. The first is towing, as with a 2250 or 2400kg rating it’s well below par compared to say the Discovery which can manage 3500kg. The second is handling. Despite Volvo’s marketing, the XC90 is adequate but it is no BMW X car. And the third is offroad. While it is hugely improved over its predecessor (from which the only possible direction was up) the XC90 is not and never will be an offroader. Again, potential buyers are directed to the Discovery, the Landcruiser LC200 or the Nissan Y62 Patrol. But if all you want to do is mostly road work in practical seven-seat style, then the XC90 should be near the top of your list.