It’s probably the sharpest and most responsive SUV I’ve driven to date, which is a pretty big compliment.
The new Volvo XC90 has to be one of the most talked about redesigns in recent memory. Rightfully so, as it’s the first major redesign of the globally-successful XC90 after a 13-year run. I was lucky enough to get a short drive in a fully decked-out XC90 Inscription (reviewed here) much closer to its launch. In that short time, the new SUV’s visual presence and luxurious interior left a lasting impression on me. When my much-anticipated week with the car arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I’d been slated into a Passion Red 2017 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design. The tester is the first R-Design XC90 I’ve seen and it definitely stood out amongst the various XC90s scattered around the parking lot at Volvo HQ.
The R-Design is intended to be the performance-oriented trim package, although it’s important to note that it’s more of an appearance package than it is anything to do with performance. On the outside, the R-Design package adds aggressive front and rear fascia skirting, big side skirts, LED headlights and standard 20” wheels. My tester came on the $1300 optional 22” wheels wrapped in Pirelli performance rubber. With the bright color, massive wheels and excess R-Design flare it was nearly impossible not to catch some stares while driving around. At initial launch I loved the XC90 styling so much because it managed to have such a strong presence on the road, while still maintaining understated class. The R-Design throws that understatement away, and in the process removes some of the XC90’s charm for me.
On the inside, the R-Design adds some specialized suede and leather racing seats that look absolutely incredible, and to compliment the seats you get the R-Design steering wheel, shift knob and sporty aluminum pedals. Another nice touch not available on the base model is the aluminum mesh trim that’s added to the door panels and tied into the rest of the interior. This is an interesting material that adds a nice bright touch to the interior. The R-Design seats, as sexy looking as they are, serve as my only real gripe with the interior of my tester, and it’s that they’re not really all that comfortable for some people.
At 5’11, I found the seats to be rather comfortable and very supportive, my 5’2 wife however, complained that the seat bottom was way too long, even with the extension fully retracted, for her legs to be comfortable. My 5’8 dad confirmed the same when he sat in the XC90 – great seats, but not if you’re short. That nit-pick aside, the rest of the interior is an outstandingly well-designed space. Massive amounts of head and legroom for front and second-row passengers, and enough in the third row for a couple of adults in a pinch. Cargo room is adequate with the third-row intact, and downright cavernous with the seats folded.
Dashboard storage is well done was well with a big glove box, decent size centre console, deep door pockets and even a couple of bins in the cargo area for less frequently used items. Overall fit and finish inside the XC90 is exactly what you’d expect from a top of the line Volvo with impeccable fitment, high quality materials and zero squeaks, rattles or creaks; even the carpets are a nice thick cut pile. There’s also a huge sliding panoramic glass roof with power shade, the majority of the roof is actually glass and while it’s typically my habit to keep sunroofs and shades shut, I did open this one up one night and it really does change the feeling inside the cabin.
Curiously, you start the XC90 using an almost rotary dial mounted to the centre console – odd, and slightly reminiscent of Saabs from days gone by, but easy enough to get used to. The drive mode selector is also located right behind the ignition dial; it looks and feels so good that it had me adjusting the drive modes for no reason other than to play with the dial. The Volvo’s dashboard is dominated by what looks like a really big iPad – Volvo’s new Sensus infotainment system. The touchscreen works just like tablet, where you swipe right and left or up and down to navigate the various screens and menus. It looks great, and responds well, but it took me awhile to get used to it. The Sensus system also comes with a number of popular apps built into it, and it has its own WiFi hotspot, which is handy for those extended family trips.
Things really get interesting for me behind the wheel of the XC90. I actually love the way the XC90’s platform handles – it’s probably the sharpest and most responsive SUV I’ve driven to date, which is a pretty big compliment. The ride quality does suffer significantly through, but my guess is that foregoing the optional 22” wheels will go a long way to helping improve this. That said, even a non-R-Design XC90 will tend to ride a little firmer than others in the luxury SUV segment, and that’s just something you need to live with in exchange for the added responsiveness and high-speed composure. The XC90 cruises very well on the highway, with solid tracking and only limited road noise – this would make for a truly exceptional road trip vehicle.
I am a little saddened to say this, but my only real disappointment with the XC90 is the engine. My tester, denoted by the “T6” nomenclature is not actually a turbo six-cylinder as the badging might lead you to believe. It’s actually a 2.0L twin-charged (turbocharged and supercharged) four-cylinder, which outputs a hefty 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. An impressive feat of engineering – yes, but in my opinion it still needs some refinements. I say that because the rest of the XC90 is so well refined that the engine’s hoarse growly sounds and noticeably rough power delivery actually let the rest of the SUV down.
My particular test vehicle also came equipped with a Polestar tune ($1,400) which bumps the power up to 330 horsepower and is said to significantly improve throttle response. It’s pretty fast, and boasts more than enough power, but you want it to feel effortless, and the twin-charged mill just doesn’t deliver. It’ll rev and growl and force the eight-speed automatic to downshift a couple times, which makes the exercise feel a whole lot more strained than it needs to be. The other optional powerplant, the “T8” is the same engine, but mated to a plug-in hybrid drive forming a combination that puts out over 400 horsepower and 472 lb-ft of torque – that application is a whole lot smoother.
What the drivetrain did prove pretty good at during my week with it was saving fuel, despite driving around in three-row AWD beast, I averaged 10.5L/100km commuting into the city in rush hour traffic every single day. That’s impressive, and again speaks to the virtues of making trade-offs. What you give up in refinement you gain in fuel savings here, and as much as I’d love a silky smooth six-cylinder in the XC90, there’s no way it could return this kind of fuel economy.
The 2017 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design starts at a palatable $61,300. The R-Design package adds $4,550, and my tester came with the Polestar tune plus a few packages brining the as tested price to $72,700. That’s a lot of money for a vehicle that’s mostly likely going to be a family hauler. However, if you’re going to splurge, do it right, and the XC90 is undoubtedly a solid choice. I may not be in love with the engine, but I still think this is one of the better luxury SUVs on the market, and you can bet that it’s going to be a staple vehicle in upscale neighbourhood. Also, it took Volvo 13 years to release a new XC90, and the time and effort put in truly shows when you spend some time with it, so my guess is that this generation is poised for yet another long run, meaning you could buy this now and a decade from now, it’ll still look and feel current.