2017 Volvo XC90 – Road Test Review – By Ken “Hawkeye” Glassman


It has been a very long time since I’ve reviewed a Volvo. So I was anxious to get my hands on the 2017 XC90 T6 Inscription with AWD.  As I did a quick walk around of the vehicle, the styling showed a fairly generic shape, especially when viewed from the side.  It doesn’t have a long front overhand, nor a steeply raked windshield.  The front end shows the traditional Volvo grill, which in my youth looked outdated, as it was mostly seen on boxy shaped boring sedans.

But on the XC90 it looks more stately, sitting between the headlights that wrap into the fenders, and a lower fascia that cleverly houses the fog lights at the outer edges of the air dam.  Out back the taillights run a thin line flanking the liftgate and taper all the way up to the roofline. The result is an understated elegant shape that makes the XC90 look smaller than other 7-passenger vehicles.  The exterior styling will neither excite, nor offend. Like Volvo’s from back in the day, it looks practical.

Inside the cabin is a different story, and this is where the Volvo puts some distance between itself and the competition. It’s Swedish modern, without a lot of garish chrome or piano black.  Rather there is the proper amount of brushed aluminum accents, and real un-lacquered light colored walnut wood trim on the dash and all four doors.   The test vehicle was outfitted with a two-tone tan and black interior, and it looked very classy and upscale.

The heated and cooled perforated leather seats with contrasting stitching, are about as good as seats get, much more comfortable than the those in the Lexus  RX 450, for example.   The panoramic moonroof allows light to pour into the cabin, and there is a fair amount of side glass to make the interior seem even more spacious.

The rear seats are comfortable and recline, as well as slide forward to aid in reaching the third row seats.  But the presence of that third row, cuts down on the leg room for 2nd row passengers, and taller people will feel cramped, especially if the front row seats are moved back.  Alas, Volvo hasn’t yet solved the problem of making ingress and egress to the rear easy, nor how to make those seats comfortable and roomy enough for anyone other than small children.

With the third row seats upright, cargo volume is average at 15.8 cubic feet.  Fold those seats down flat, and cargo rooms expands to 41.8 cubic feet.  Flattening the second row, you 85.7 cubic feet, which will be appreciated for trips to the garden center, camping expeditions, or going antiquing.

Another thing noticeable is how quiet the cabin is when going down the road at speed, even with the roof open. And that is appreciated when listening to the stand-alone optional Bowers & Wilkins sound system, which is marvelous, and indulgent at $2,650.

What we liked most about the XC90 is how it drives.  The T6 engine is a 2–liter, 4-cylinder direct injection engine with both a turbocharger and supercharger, and it makes 316 Horsepower and 295 ft.lbs. of torque.  That is an increase of 66 horsepower and 37 ft. lbs. of torque over the standard 2-liter turbo only base engine.  The XC90 felt very peppy and it is mated to an 8-speed manumatic transmission, which shifts smoothly and quietly.

That package makes this Volvo a fun large SUV to drive.  It has plenty of get up and go from a stoplight, and the transmission downshifts quickly when pulling out to pass.  When the turbo kicks in, the car really takes off.  A plug-in hybrid motor is also available, the T8, and that engine makes a combined horsepower output of 400 horsepower and 472 ft. lbs. of torque. And the start/stop feature of the T6 is about as good as it gets for unobtrusive operation. Premium fuel is recommended on all XC90’s.  The T6 fuel economy is rated at 20 City and 25 Highway.

But engine power is not the whole story factoring into the fun factor.  The suspension is more than up to the task to allow a driver to push the XC90 around challenging roads, and makes the driver feel like the car is much lighter than the 4,600 lb. weight.  The driver can switch drive modes from Comfort, Eco, Dynamic, Off Road, or Individual, which allows the driver to tailor settings to individual taste.  We kept it in Comfort most of the time, but switched to Dynamic when we felt more aggressive and wanted the shift points of the engine to wring out to higher rpm.

The most stunning driving aspect was how the car, with 9.3 inches of ground clearance, cornered so flat, with very little body roll, and still never feel harsh.  The electronic rack-and-pinion steering is quick and responsive, and offers excellent feedback.  Side to side transitions were easy and athletic, and the best compliment I can give this XC90 is that is doesn’t drive like a large SUV, but rather more like a sporty sedan.

And this car was fitted with optional 21” Pirelli Scorpion tires, which offers plenty of grip, and fills out the wheel wells quite nicely. I’ve driven many SUV’s both large and small, and the Volvo is easily the most fun and nimble to drive.

As much as I enjoyed how the XC90 rode and drive, I equally disliked the infotainment and controls to operate the car.  This car is almost completely devoid of knobs, switches and buttons.  If you look at the photos of the center stack, you’ll only see push buttons for the defrosters, hazard flashers, and a round knob for radio volume and forward and back for the radio/CD player.  Virtually everything else must be operated from the touchscreen.  And while the touch screen is preferable to a round control knob, I found it cumbersome to have to do everything from turning on the heated seats and steering wheel, to adjusting the climate controls.

The screen is not huge and it is vertically oriented at 7-1/2” high by 5-1/2” wide, so it isn’t as good for looking at the nav map, or for split screen information.

The system used three basic screens to swipe through.   One controls setting and operations for things like Sport Mode selections, Lane Keep Assist (which is excellent by the way) Park Assist, cross traffic alert, back-up camera, and Heads up Display (another excellent feature).  Screen 2 controls things like the Nav system (don’t count on voice commands for inputting addresses) and the various Media and Phone settings.

The third screen gets to various applications for the AM/FM/XM radio, Bluetooth, Messaging, weather searches, and other apps like Pandora, Spotify, etc.  Then you have to drill down into sub menus to get to the operations.  I found it distracting, cumbersome, and not very user friendly.  Now since I am not interested in a car becoming a mobile computer, I tend to dislike much of the new tech capabilities and operations found in most cars today.

So I had my 35 year old, electrical engineer, and tech geek son-in-law go through the system.  He too, thought it cumbersome, despite the swipe and pinch features, and would have preferred buttons and switches to access many of the ordinary functions.  I hate having a great driving car spoiled by things that have nothing to do with its main function as a method of transportation.

Now I’m sure an owner will, over time, become familiar with how this system works.  But studies show that a huge percentage of drivers do not use much of the tech features that their cars are equipped with, especially mature drivers. And those are the ones most likely to be able to afford the heavily tech laden vehicles.  The reasons are because many don’t care about a lot of what is offered, and many say it’s because the features are too complicated to use.  Having switches and buttons and dials to control the most often used features is more appealing to many drivers.  This is a conundrum that automakers will be facing for years to come.

The XC90 comes in four trim levels: the base Momentum with T5 or T6 engines, the Inscription with T5 T6 or T8 engines, the sporty R-Design with either T6 or T8 engines, or the Excellence with T8 only.  Our test Inscription started at $51,600.  But most of the comfort, safety, and technology goodies in the car came from adding five packages and five stand-alone options. The total of all the options reached over $20,000, making the as-tested price $72,805.   So all buyers can be assured that they will get an excellent vehicle when they look at this Volvo.  And they’ll get to decide how much more they wish to spend on options they want or don’t want.