For the Volvo Enthusiast



15 March 2017

When the redesigned XC90 launched in 2016, it was more than just a second generation of Volvo’s popular full-size SUV. The all-new XC90 represented Volvo’s wager on its future with the first of their new Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) modular vehicle platform. Would there be mass adoption in this highly competitive segment? One year later, it is clear the gamble paid off with a broad collection of automotive awards, industry accolades, and sales exceeding expectation and production capacity. Volvo is once again competitive and delivering a compelling alternative in the premium, seven-seat SUV category.

Volvo enthusiasts agree that Doug Frasher’s design of 2003-2014 XC90 still looks good after all these years. For 2016, Thomas Ingenlath and the design team created another distinctive design language with classic Volvo design cues. Volvo studied the competition, applied lessons learned from the first XC90 and integrated modern Scandinavian design themes to produce sophisticated luxury experience around the driver. The XC90 was their first vehicle to utilize a large, touch-enabled center stack, like an Apple iPad, to access most driver controls.

For 2017, the XC90 improved semi-autonomous driving technologies with Pilot Assist II, enabling the vehicle to follow marked highways at speeds of up to 80 mph. Additionally, Volvo expanded safety technologies to Run-off road mitigation, which uses auto-steer to help keep drivers on the road. City Safety received an update with Large Animal Detection. The 2017 XC90 also benefits from a year of software enhancements making Volvo’s in-car connectivity and driver interface system, Sensus more stable and efficient.

The Sensus user experience, how to do things within a user interface, requires a driver to set more because physical buttons that were easily accessible by touch are no longer present.   Gone are the dials and buttons for HVAC controls.  The user interface, the look and feel of things, is not initially intuitive for certain quick and simple tasks.  Volvo’s goal was to eliminate as many physical buttons as possible, and they did. As a result, drivers need to rethink decades of user experience design practices with physical buttons.   Like Apple removing the headphone jack on the iPhone 7, some driver’s may not agree with Volvo’s user experience methodology.   

The center stack touch-screen technology is impressive and one of the best implementations in the automotive industry. Start-up time can take up to a minute for everything to be fully operational. This may not sound like a considerable amount of time but drivers on a fast-paced road-trip may find the time to turn on seat heaters, adjust the cabin temperature a bit frustrating. In time, faster computer processors will resolve boot-up delays in future models. The key to a successful experience with the Sensus environment is to “set it and forget it” and do not consider making changes until your next stop. The Sensus interface is comprehensive. I recommend that new owners take the time with their sales staff to learn the menu structures and function button placements.

Volvo offers the 2017 XC90 with four distinct trim levels: Momentum, R-Design, Inscription, and Excellence. Each equally impressive with unique design and styling cues. Three powertrain options are also available, the 250hp T5, the 316hp T6 and the 400hp T8 hybrid. The T5 offers front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive with a 5-seater configuration. The T6 and T8 offer all-wheel drive and a 7-seat configuration. The Excellence is a four-seat configuration designed for the affluent, chauffeur-driven experience. The Excellence deserves an elevated powertrain befitting its aspirational design.

For this test drive, I compared a Momentum, Inscription and R-Design. The Inscription key fob is wrapped in matching Amber leather and the R-Design with perforated black leather standing out from the standard plastic of the Momentum. The interior of each trim package provides a unique visual appearance and comfort level. While there are several interior color choices on the Momentum and Inscription, the R-Design comes only in black. If you have been following Volvo, the newer R-Design models have been offered black for several years but I believe it is time for offer alternative colors. Beechwood Brown, Hazelnut Brown and Cranberry Red would be a nice trio for the R-Design interior color pallet. Attractive dark and light wood inlays are options for the Momentum and Inscription while the R-Design comes standard with Metal Mesh aluminum inlays with an option for a Carbon Fiber inlay.

Overall the interior is impressive, inviting and well balanced. The dash and door panel materials are high-quality with a nice blend of soft-touch plastics, supple leather and wood trim. The fit and finish are excellent with even gaps and silent smooth operating hinges on the arm rest and glove box. There is a button on the lower dash to open the glove box and not a handle on the door itself. This took a few attempts to get use to but I found the button to be a nice feature and keeping a clean design across the large glove box door.

For the SPA-based vehicles, Volvo continues its heritage of making one of the industries more comfortable seats with the latest safety technologies. I have put thousands of miles on many different Volvo seats and on my 1000-mile trek to and from the Detroit Auto Show, the XC90 R-Design seats were superior to my 2015 V60 R-Design’s sport seats. I found the 2014-2017 60-series R-Design/Polestar seats to be the most comfortable until the 2016 XC90 R-Design. The XC90 R-Design offers a Nubuck suede center insert providing additional lateral grip. The XC90 Momentum can be ordered with the same aggressively bolstered Contour seats wrapped in all leather. The XC90 Inscription offers Contour seats with slightly less aggressive bolsters but adds cooling ventilation and back massage comfort. I really enjoyed the massage feature and would like to see if offered as an option for the other trim levels.

One option many of our readers ask us, is the Bowers & Wilkins 19-speaker sound system worth it? Short answer: I believe it is worth the $3,500 price tag if you love to listen to music. Engineering acoustics within the confines of a vehicle is a significant challenge. While in motion, intrusive noises and speaker placement can alter overall sound quality. The Bowers & Wilkins system acoustically envelops a listener into the music. Instrument-based music sounds exceptional with the Gothenburg Concert Hall setting. Classical music in a Volvo has never sounded so good. I do recommend checking the Bowers & Wilkins box on your order sheet, you will appreciate the splendid sounds that will transport you to a less stressful place during your two-hour morning commute in stop and go traffic.

My 2017 XC90 Inscription tester came with the optional air-suspension. This option provides an additional two inches of ground clearance. When the driver selects the Off-Road mode, the suspension lifts the body and remains lifted for speeds under 25 miles per hour. Handling characteristics are similar that of the standard steel springs suspension. The air shocks absorb road bumps, bridge expansion joints and pot holes more comfortably than the springs. The air-suspension will lower the vehicle at highway speeds in Dynamic mode. Additionally, the vehicle can be set to lower when parked to aid passengers during exit and entry.

Like the interior, the three trims offer unique exterior design elements. The front fascia has a unique lower valance and the iron mark grille is distinctive for each trim. The R-Design delivers an appropriately aggressive appearance while the Inscription’s face is appropriately elegant. The roof cargo rail design on the Momentum is elevated above the roofline, while the R-Design and Inscription have a lower integrated rail.

Pricing starts for the T6 Momentum starts at $52,250, T6 Inscription at $56,250 and $57,050 for the T6 R-Design.

Momentum highlights:
– Laminated Panoramic Moonroof w/Power Sunshade
– LED Headlights w/ Thor’s Hammer Daytime Running Lights & Auto Highbeam
– Collision Mitigation Support, Front
– Sensus Navigation

R-Design highlights:
– 20″ 5-Spoke Tech Matte Tech Grey Diamond Cut Alloy Wheels
– R-Design Grille
– Metal Mesh Aluminum Inlays
– R-Design 3-Spoke Steering Wheel

Inscription highlights:
– 20″ 10-Spoke Tinted Silver Diamond Cut Alloy Wheels
– Inscription Grille
– Linear Walnut Wood Inlays
– 12.3 inch Digital Instrument Display

On the open road, the XC90 is a Scandinavian sanctuary with good road handling and surprisingly good performance for a seven-passenger SUV. The 2017 XC90 T6 Inscription is wonderful crafted, exquisitely designed with luxurious comfort. It is difficult to choose which trim level is best because each offer unique features and design elements. The Inscription stands out because of the massage and cooling equipped seats while retaining much of the supportive bolsters found in the R-Design Contour seat. The Inscription is the choice for everyday living and long-distance driving. The XC90 was the first of the SPA platform and 90-series vehicles. The future of Volvo is here and the road ahead looks exciting for the brand and Volvo enthusiasts.

Check out the test drive photo gallery below.



Additional Photos