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A blog about the cars I drive

Innovative Volvo XC90 is beautifully rendered

This review originally appeared in The Spokesman-Review.

2016 Volvo XC90 interior

Today’s Volvos are graceful and well-proportioned. They are also unafraid of drama; witness the protuberant grille of today’s tester and its “Thor’s Hammer” LED driving lights.

Not long ago, I wrote that Volvo, that longtime bastion of virtue, had begun building cars that might be described as “sexy and alluring.”

And it’s true; esthetically speaking, Volvo’s current fleet plays in the big leagues. In 2012, Volvo hired Volkswagen’s Thomas Ingenlath to head design. Ingenlath, who had led Volkswagen’s Potsdam Design Center, has nimbly updated Volvo’s design language. Today’s cars are graceful and well-proportioned. They are also unafraid of drama; witness the protuberant grille of today’s tester, the XC90 midsize crossover, and its “Thor’s Hammer” driving lights.

The Volvos I’ve driven have been beautifully designed, inside and out; exceptionally comfortable, with excellent seats, top-shelf materials and solid build quality.

Volvo also is proving itself an engineering innovator, leveraging advanced technologies in unexpected ways. Let today’s tester, the T8 Inscription Twin-Engine Plug-In Hybrid, be Example A.

The XC90 is a large crossover. It’s available in five-passenger and seven-passenger configurations, in three distinct trims and with a choice of three powertrains.

The XC90 embodies Scandinavian elegance. Soft-touch surfaces dominate and Volvo’s infotainment system is neatly integrated into the dash layout, with a horseshoe of hard buttons flanking the 9-inch vertically oriented touch screen.

Upper trims feature high-end leathers and distinctive wood or carbon fiber trim. The crystal shift knob on the high-end Inscription is provided by Orrefors. An available 19-speaker Bowers Wilkins audio system produces pristine audio.

Of course, all this is more or less expected from a car whose suggested retail price brushes against $45,000 and can tickle $85,000.

Less expected is Volvo’s reliance on four-cylinder powerplants to develop six- and eight-cylinder power.

The base engine is a 250-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four. The midrange choice is a 316-hp 2.4-liter four, fitted with turbocharger <em>and</em> supercharger.

The 400-hp hybrid system integrates the 2.4-liter engine — super- and turbocharger intact — into a gas/electric hybrid system with two electric motors. One contributes power; the other drives the rear wheels.

The system produces a steady, invigorating blast of power and, paired with the XC90’s eight-speed automatic, runs the 0-60 sprint in a rapid 5.3 seconds.

The hybrid earns 25 mpg in combined driving and a 53MPGe hybrid rating. It can be driven up to 14 miles on electricity alone.

The system is powerful and efficient but betrays its piston count with a subtle four-cylinder buzz under full throttle. The automatic stop/start function also operates less smoothly than others in this class.

It also can be finicky; due to software glitch or operator error, the system discharged itself the first night in our possession and was finally trundled off to the dealership.

We tested two trims, one with 18-inch wheels, and the other with the optional ($1,800) air suspension and a set of 21-inchers. In both cases, the ride was firm and body motions controlled. But an orientation to comfort prevailed. The XC90 is not a slouch, though. Composed and confident, it has the feel and verve of a smaller car.

All the expected safety gear is onboard, of course, including a frontal-collision warning (including pedestrian/cyclist protection) and automatic braking.

2016 Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription
Vehicle base price: $41,313
Trim level base price: $68,100
As tested: $84,005
Options included Nappa leather; ventilated front seats with power side bolsters; walnut inlays; blind-spot warning; cross-traffic alert; 360-degree surround-view camera; heated rear seats; heated steering wheel; park assist; adaptive cruise control; lane-keeping assist; metallic paint; integrated 2nd-row booster seat; 21-inch alloy wheels; premium audio system; air suspension.
EPA rating: 25 mpg/53 MPGe
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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