2015 Volvo XC90 T6
I while back, in my review of the Volvo S60, I discussed the Swedish concept of lagom, which is the state of being acceptably good. The Swedes also have another, related concept, called Jantelagen. Basically, it means that, if you show your success too ostentatiously, you should be scorned and reviled.
Frankly, the Swedes seem to hate and fear success, which seems a bit wacky. What this means in automotive terms is that, driving around in a high-status BMW X5 is a violation of Jantelagen, while driving around in a Volvo XC90 is not. And that seems wacky, too, because it’s totally wrong.
Previous XC90s were a bit clunky, austere and outdated. In other words, they were Volvos. But, for 2015, Volvo completely redesigned the XC90, and, frankly, if it wasn’t a Volvo, the new XC90 would be considered the biggest violation of Jantelagen imaginable. Indeed, having driven the 2015 BMW X5 back-to-back with the XC90, I can tell you that the XC90 is better in every conceivable way.
How it looks
Volvos have always had a distinctive style that’s expressed across every car in their lineup. For many years, every Volvo was square and boxy. Now, every Volvo has a much more fluid design, and an excessive amount of rear lighting. Volvo designers love taillights. They love them! The XC90’s taillights stretch from the roof, almost down to the bumpers.
OK. OK. We get it. Lots of taillights are safer.
Beyond the inordinate fondness for rear safety lighting, the rest of the XC90’s exterior is attractive, and not surprisingly, simple and elegant. It’s hard to make any SUV—which is basically a big passenger box with a motor stuck out front—look distinctive and attractive but Volvo has managed to do it. From the front, the XC90 is smooth and rounded, and the sheet metal is refreshingly free of excess creases, unlike the previously mentioned X5 or Mercedes GL. The XC90 is clean and simple.
For some reason, manufacturers have decided that the bodywork of a modern vehicle has to have an endless succession of wrinkles, and crinkles and fidgets. Well, Volvo is having none of that. I assume too much styling in the bodywork violates Jantelagen.
Of course, if you have the money, you can Jantelagen this baby up. The XC90 starts at $49,800 for the base model, but the specs on the model I tested included a $4,000 wheel package, a $5,000 bodywork package, and other expensive fiddly bits that drove the price up to just north of $75,000. So, the Swedes may disavow ostentation, but apparently they aren’t fanatics about it.
Where the XC90 really shines on the blatant embrace of ostentation is not the exterior, where everyone might see it, but on the interior, where only you and your passengers can. Because the interior of the XC90 is wonderful.
The perforated, heated, and air-conditioned Napa leather seats that come with the $5,600 Inscription trim are adjustable in every way imaginable, extremely comfortable, and very supportive. And, speaking of Napa leather, it’s everywhere: the top of the dashboard, the door sills, the armrests…everywhere. The whole interior is a cornucopia of soft, rich, buttery leather. It’s the horror story that mommy cows tell their baby cows to get them to behave. Bad little cows go to Volvo.
In addition to the leather, there’s plenty of walnut wood trim on the dash, doors, and center console. Volvo hasn’t overly-polished and varnished the wood, so that it feels and looks like plastic. It’s real, beautiful wood, and it looks and feels like it.
Of course, this is, again, a vehicle produced by Volvo, so I’m sure that both the leather and wood were sustainably gathered from animals and trees that volunteered for this treatment, after long, productive lives of promoting social unity, which ended when they died of natural causes.
Then, there’s the room. Not only are your passengers coddled in leather-swathed comfort, they have room to relax as well. Sitting in the second row of seats provides plenty of leg and knee room, along with individual air-conditioning controls for each person. Even the passengers in the storable third row of seats have extra room, with the XC90s third row providing 31.9 inches of leg room.That’s two more inches than Audi gives you in the Q5. It’s 7.1 inches more than the Chevrolet Tahoe’s third row gives you. Alternately, you can simply dump your passengers and fold down the two rear rows of seats, giving you a very generous 85.7 cubic feet of cargo space, compared with 66 cubic feet for the BMW X5, 68.3 cubic feet for the Jeep Grand Cherokee, or 57.3 cubic feet for the Audi Q5.
All of which is nice, but it’s sitting in the driver’s seat where the interior of the XC90 really impresses. Previous XC90s were rather spare, austere, and conventional when it came to controls and instrumentation. The 2015 XC90 has leapfrogged past that into a whole new world.
There is nothing analog to the XC90’s instrumentation at all. The center console is dominated by a large, color touchscreen that gives you access to the entertainment, navigation, and vehicle systems. Access to those systems is also controlled by switchgear on the fully adjustable, telescoping steering wheel.
The center screen also serves as the viewscreen for the XC90’s backup camera, which not only shows you a rear view when you’re backing up, but can also display a top-down, 360º view of everything around the vehicle, along with turn tracks for the wheels.
The drawback to the touchscreen is that you have to actually, you know, touch it, which leaves your filthy, filthy fingerprints all over it. On the other hand, the user interface for it, unlike most vehicle UIs is actually…not terrible. At least it doesn’t have 5,000 submenus to suck in your attention until you drive into a ditch, like the system on the Cadillac Escalade.
The driver’s instrument cluster is also digital. A color screen displays a speedometer on the left, tach, fuel, and status gauges on the right, and in the middle, the navigation screen, along with various vehicle status readouts, is displayed. In addition, a heads-up display is mounted to the top of the dash, displaying the instrumentation directly onto the windshield. The instrumentation is essentially the same level of technological sophistication that you’d see in a Mercedes S-Class, on a vehicle that costs substantially less.
Overall, the interior of the XC90 is modern, luxurious, and classy. It’s a huge step forward in making the interior of a Volvo a nice place to be. Volvo interiors have always been relatively nice, if a bit spare and minimalist, but the XC90 takes it to an entirely new level. The XC90 feels like a fully modern car, in a way that very few other cars do. For instance, the BMW X5 has the same interior styling that BMW has put in every car since 1992. The manual switchgear, analog gauges, red LED lighting…it’s the same formula that BMW has given us for over two decades now, and after driving the XC90, the BMW’s interior seems stale and old. Even the BMW iDrive system, with it’s large color screen, seems like an outdated technology, compared to the XC90.
How it drives
In previous years, the “T6” part of the XC90’s name would indicate that the vehicle is powered by a turbocharged 6-cylinder powerplant. It’s been a standard naming convention for Volvos for over a decade, along with a plain “T” for Turbocharged, and “T5” for a turbocharged 5-cylinder motor. I don’t know what T6 means anymore for Volvo, since the XC90 is powered by a 2.0L, 4-cylinder motor. It’s like calling a 4-door sedan a “Grand Coupe”. It can’t possibly be a coupe if it has four doors.
There is a new, 400 HP version coming later in the 2016 model year, as well, which is designated the T8. It will not, as one would suppose, be powered by an 8-cylinder motor, but rather by an additional 80 HP electric motor added to the current 4-cylinder engine, to create a hybrid powerplant. I guess we’re just naming European cars with utter chaos now.
Anyway, a two-liter four-banger wouldn’t, in the usual course of events, propel a 4,394 lb. SUV forward with much authority. Volvo, however, has added both a supercharger and a turbocharger to the XC90’s engine, giving it an output of 316 HP and 295 lb. ft. of torque. The blowers do, therefore, provide the necessary authority, and the XC90 hits 60 MPH in 6.1 seconds. That’s not just quick for an SUV, it’s properly quick, in general. The speed is helped along by an 8-speed automatic gearbox that both keeps the XC90 in the power band at need, and operates perfectly unobtrusively. The transmission is manually shiftable, by the way, though I can’t imagine why anyone would care. Power is sent to all four wheels at need when some soft-roading is going on, though, since this is a Volvo, power is biased to the front wheels in course of normal driving, during which it can also attain a highway mileage rating of 25 MPG.
Volvo has also dialed in the ride. The XC90 has an air suspension that changes the ride height and stiffness to various positions, depending on which of the four drive modes you select. In both Comfort and Dynamic mode, the ride is equally compliant, taking up the bumps in bad pavement without discomforting you. The XC90 is not, despite the peppy performance, a sports car, however. Even on Dynamic mode, there’s some noticeable body roll, though slight, and the ride is more biased towards luxury than sport. But rough pavement doesn’t upset the chassis, while the XC90 insulates you from the bumps.
Steering is well-weighted, and responsive, though, of course, lacking in any true feel for the road. Again, this is not a sports car. What you want is for the vehicle to predictably steer in the directions your inputs indicate, and the XC90 does that with perfect aplomb. Winding the wheel all the way over to the stop produces a surprisingly small turn radius, by the way, and one which is about two feet smaller than the previous generation’s, despite the fact that the 2015 model has a 117.5” wheelbase, which is 4.9” longer.
The XC90’s car-like handling is also very pleasant. American SUVs, like the Chevy Tahoe, Ford Expedition, or Dodge Durango, handle like trucks, which is to say, glacially and ponderously. There’s none of that truck foolishness for the XC90. Despite being an SUV, it tends to tempt you to power out of corners, and to take turns a little faster than you might in another SUV. It tempts you to be just a little bit reckless, though not so much that you don’t remember that you’re in a heavy vehicle, and that momentum is still a thing. Braking distance is, after all, a rather lengthy 184 feet from 70 MPH, and roadholding is only 0.77g, so you don’t want to get too crazy with it. Still, it’s more fun to drive than you’d expect from an SUV.
Volvo is famously concerned about safety, so the XC90 has every safety feature imaginable. Somewhere around 2020, I expect Volvo will have made it impossible for anyone to die while driving in, or being struck by, a Volvo—including pedestrians. The XC90 has the automatic stopping feature to prevent you from rear-ending another vehicle, it can park itself if you buy the expensive option to do so, and there are more airbags inside the thing than you can possibly imagine.
Now, we have to be honest about something. All this technology, all the electronics, all the superchargers and turbos; they’re a long-term problem. The thing is, first buyers of the XC90 will, if they’re smart, lease the vehicle and get relatively inexpensive payments, and all maintenance taken care of during the lease period. Those people will be deliriously happy with it. Second and third buyers of the new XC90…well, we’ll see. The blowers, electronics, and air suspension are all possible points of failure. Very, very expensive points of failure. If there’s a long-term reliability problem with these components, owning a second-hand XC90 in a few years might be a nightmarishly expensive prospect. I’m sure the Audi Allroad 2.7T seemed like a fantastic car a decade ago, too, before it turned into the single most unreliable station wagon ever built, with every minor issue being a $3,000 problem.
What’s good about it
Well…um…everything. It looks nice, it feels modern. It’s luxurious. It’s quick and fun to drive for an SUV. It’s an exceptional vehicle. With a starting price of just under $49,000, it’s an exceptional value for money, too.
Oh, yeah, it’s safe, too. It has great NTHSA safety ratings and lots of airbags. It is a Volvo, after all.
What’s bad about it
Adding options to the relatively reasonable base price is horrendously expensive. Just the Inscription package—which, by the way, is the one you want—will add $5,600 to the base price. The nice stereo is another—wait for it—$2,650. The 360º camera system is $1,800. So, your $49,000 base price just inflated to $60,000. The options will kill you on this thing, financially. Be prepared to settle for a bit less of an XC90 than you actually want. Also, if you plan to buy it outright, be advised that long-term maintenance costs might be impossibly unsustainable. You’ll be the guinea pig for that, so, good luck.
The 2015 Volvo XC90 is a really good car. It’s not just a luxury car in austere Swedish terms, it’s a luxury car by any standard. Practically every other Volvo in their lineup seems clunky and outdated by comparison. The XC90 is the gem in Volvo’s lineup. It would be a gem in anybody’s.
I doubt Volvo set out to reject Jantelagen with the XC90. But that’s exactly what they did. I have literally no idea why anyone would by a Mercedes GL, BMW X5, or Audi Q5 instead of the XC90.
Now that I think about it, I have no idea why anyone would want to buy anything else.