2017 XC90
Patrick Rall's picture

A Lifetime Volvo Critic Falls in Love with the 2017 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription

Having grown up in a “Volvo household" while having a passion for American muscle cars, I really wasn’t all that excited to spend a week driving the 2017 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription, but after that week in the T6 – I have to admit that I have become smitten with the high tech Swedish SUV.

Before getting into the many reasons why I love the 2017 Volvo T6 Inscription, a quick look at why I grew up with a general distaste for Volvos.

Growing Up in a Volvo Household
When I was growing up in the 1980s, my parents absolutely loved the Volvo 200 Series. At times, they had more than one 240 and they were almost always station wagons. They were clunky, awkward cars that offered poor performance (my parents never got performance models) and terrible driving dynamics, but as a “luxury brand” of the 1970s and 1980s, I really should not have expected my parents’ Volvos to impress me or my friends. We all drove high performance American cars, so the brick-like Volvos that my parents had were a real bore to drive.

Sure, compared to our American performance cars, the Volvo 240 was far more comfortable inside and they offered a much more comfortable ride, but when I was 16 years old, I couldn’t have cared any less about ride quality or interior comfort. All I knew was that their Volvos were slow, boxy and tragically unhip.

In fact, when I got caught street racing in high school, my punishment was that I had to trade in the keys to my 400hp American car for my mom’s 1992 Volvo 240 sedan which felt like it had somewhere in the area of 16bhp. It had heated leather seats and power everything, but for a young driver who liked to go fast – driving my mom’s Volvo was truly a punishment that I wouldn’t have wished on anyone.

Over time, the Volvo 240 died off and my parents were forced to upgrade to their current car – a V70 XC that, like the 240s, my mom loves. It is a much better car in my opinion, and while it handles a bit better and offers better performance, it still isn’t the kind of car that I look forward to driving.

After growing up in a household of slow, uninspiring Volvos, I wouldn’t say that I dislike the brand, but I really have never had any interest in Volvo. Because of this, when many of my journalist friends raved about the new Volvo T6, I really didn’t get all that excited. However, after spending a week driving the critically acclaimed SVU, I have to go so far as to use a cheesy cliché and state that this is most certainly not my mother’s Volvo.

Whereas my mom’s Volvos were slow and uninspiring to drive while also having relatively low-tech cabins at European luxury sedans go, the 2017 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription is the most technologically advanced vehicle I have ever tested – and I loved every second behind the wheel.

An Exhilarating Driving Experience
The 2017 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription is a big, 3-row SUV and it is powered by a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0L 4-cylinder engine with 316 horsepower and 295lb-ft of torque. That’s right – this big SUV is powered by a 4-cylinder engine with compound forced induction, featuring a supercharger and a turbocharger working together to make this little 2.0L engine pretty powerful, but on paper, the XC90 T6 still seems a little light on power.

Fortunately, as soon as I got out onto the road with the Volvo XC90 T6, I found that it actually makes good use of that available power. Pulling out into fast-moving traffic was a breeze and this big SUV had no issues keeping up with traffic as I cruised around town. The XC90 is quiet and smooth even on rough road surfaces, with just enough power to provide the motivation this big Volvo needs to get moving.(More on the next page)

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That is all fine, but “just enough power” probably doesn’t sound like it would lead to an exhilarating driving experience, and it doesn’t – until you engage Dynamic driving mode.

In most vehicles, sport mode might sharpen up throttle response a bit or extend the automatic transmission shifts in order to improve performance. In some vehicles, sport mode has very little effect, but in the 2017 Volvo XC90 T6, Dynamic mode turns this SUV into a whole different vehicle.

In Dynamic mode, the throttle response of the XC90 T6 is lightning quick and whatever lag might be present in normal drive mode is completely gone when switched to Dynamic. When you hit the accelerator hard, the XC90 puts all of that power to the wheels with enough emphasis to slam you back in your seat – quickly accelerating well beyond any posted speed limit in my area without a whole lot of delay. In addition to the incredible throttle response, this sport mode keeps the XC90 automatic transmission in a gear that affords you instant power, so when you are cruising along in sport mode and you mash the throttle, there is no delay as the transmission works to find the right gear.

I am not exaggerating when I say that when in Dynamic mode, the 2017 Volvo XC90 T6 offers shocking levels of performance, making great use of the available power. The Dynamic mode makes the XC90 so much stronger feeling that I could comfortably tell passengers that it had over 400 horsepower V8 – and they wouldn’t have questioned it.

Really, I would say when in Dynamic mode, the acceleration of the twin charged 2.0L engine might be too aggressive for some older folks – but I loved the way that the XC90 felt when in Dynamic mode.

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Another aspect of the Dynamic driving mode is the improved handling via the adjustable steering system and the FOUR-C active air suspension setup. The electronic power steering system adjusts itself with the driving mode chosen, with Comfort mode offering the most assist and the least feedback while Dynamic mode offers the best feel of the road and the least assist. More importantly, the FOUR-C air suspension system has unique calibrations for each of the driving modes, with Comfort making the ride as smooth as possible while Dynamic mode has a suspension tuning that is stiffer – bolstering the cornering and acceleration performance.

In addition to Dynamic mode, the XC90 T6 has an off road mode that uses the air suspension to increase ride height, and while I don’t expect that many people will take this big SUV off-roading, I found that off road mode makes it a little easier to navigate some of the rougher unpaved roads in my area.

Finally, when you feel less like driving and more like just enjoying the ride, the Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription offers the Pilot Assist system, which comes just short of turning the XC90 into an autonomous vehicle. When Pilot Assist is engaged, the vehicles computer system handles the throttle, the braking and the steering – you just set a desired speed and the XC90 does the rest. It doesn’t exactly drive for you, instructing you to put your hands on the steering wheel if you should become too relaxed, but the Pilot Assist system makes the most tedious driving exercises far more relaxing.(More on the next page)

For example, when making a 45 mile highway drive from my house to a meeting in Detroit, I entered the highway and set the cruise at 70 miles per hour. During the course of that 45 mile drive, at no point did I have to touch the brakes or throttle, even when traffic brought my motion to a halt. I did have to steer on sharper turns, but for the most part, the XC90 is able to take highway turns with no more than some backpressure on the steering wheel. Pilot Assist isn’t an autonomous mode, but it is far more than just an advanced cruise control system. It does everything that cruise control does, but it also keeps the vehicle in the lane – even when the road curves. Also, the system is predictive, as when you are stuck behind a slower moving vehicle on the highway and you turn on the turn signal to change lanes – the Volvo Pilot Assist system detects whether or not that lane is open. If it is clear, the XC90 will begin to accelerate up to your chosen speed. This is a nice feature, as some of these automatic cruise control systems take time to build up speed when caught behind a slower vehicle – causing you to force other vehicles coming up behind you to slow down. The Volvo doesn’t force others to slow down, as the Pilot Assist system gets you up to speed as soon as you begin to change lanes.

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If you spend a great deal of time easing through slow-moving traffic each day, the Volvo Pilot Assist system takes most of the work out of the drive – handling the gradual steering, the brakes and the throttle in every situation shy of sharp turns.

The 2017 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription “only” has a twin charged 4-cylinder engine with 316 horsepower and 295lb-ft of torque, but with the special tuning measures of the Dynamic drive mode – this delivers far more driving excitement than you would expect from a vehicle of this size. It offers a smooth, quiet ride under normal driving circumstances, presenting the feel of a proper luxury SUV, but when you want to enjoy the drive – the XC90s Dynamic mode has you covered.

The Luxurious Interior is a Techie’s Dream
The driving dynamics of the 2017 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription are reason enough for me to really enjoy this big sport utility vehicle, but this is a premium luxury vehicle and when designing the cabin, the Volvo team made sure that the XC90 Inscription package had every imaginable piece of luxury technology.(More on the next page)

First up, we have the sporty leather seats, which are heated, cooled, power adjustable and fitted with an advanced massaging system. These front seats have deep base and side bolsters, which cradle the body and hold you firmly in place while cutting through life’s corners. These seats have adjustable bolsters and an adjustable thigh extension, which work with the basic seat position controls to make this a comfortable ride whether you are a tall or short, thin or thick.

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The 2nd row seats have outboard positions which have a heated bucket design with similar bolsters that hold passengers in place, but the base of these 2nd row seats aren’t as deep as the front seats. This allows the 2nd row passengers to make more use of the middle seating position without the outboard cushions making the seat uncomfortable, but Volvo did this without cutting into the comfort level of those commonly-used outer seats.

Finally, there is a 3rd row of seats which are best suited for short adults or children, as the leg space is a little tight for anyone over 5’3” or so. These seats aren’t as comfortable as the rest of the XC90’s seats, but if you really need to haul 6 other people, the rear-most seats will serve as a good short-term solution. I wouldn’t drive myself and 6 others across the country, but if you are carpooling with a couple of diminutive folks (who are closer to the 5-foot height range – the Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription will haul 7 people in the lap of luxury.

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Next, we have the high tech amenities of the Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription, which could be the aspect of this big, beautiful luxury SUV that makes or breaks the sale. If you want to have as many modern gadgets as possible in your vehicle, and you want that technology to reach as many aspects of the vehicle as possible – this might be your dream vehicle. However, if you are a the type of driver who has a hard time figuring out how to navigate the simplest of touchscreen information systems – this Volvo might be a total nightmare.

Unlike many luxury vehicles that have a wild buttonfest on the center stack, the 2017 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription has absolutely no buttons – just a big touch screen mounted to look like a premium tablet. There is a single touch-sensor button below the touchscreen and a few traditional controls further down the center stack – including a hazard light switch, the dedicated defroster buttons, a knob for the radio volume, a pair of buttons to change the music track and the glove box button – but those are literally all of the buttons and knobs in the center stack of the XC90 Inscription.(More on the next page)

Literally every aspect of the interior is controlled by that big touchscreen, so if you aren’t comfortable with modern tablet and “swipe” technology – you might be frustrated with the interior functions of the 2017 Volvo XC90. The touchscreen is broken into five main sections (navigation, media, phone, climate control and a fifth that changes based on what programs you are running at the time) and three main screens which are accessed by swiping from side to side. By touching one of the sections (nav, media, phone or climate), you are taken to another screen with more information for the system chosen. At first, this system seems a bit daunting, as you almost always find yourself flipping through pages to make basic changes while driving, but after spending 10 minutes in my driveway playing with the XC90’s infotainment system – I had a firm grasp of how the system worked.

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Within each of those sub-screens, functionality is simple and intuitive, so as you learn the system, it becomes easier to use. The Volvo infotainment system is extremely high tech – perhaps the most advanced vehicle I’ve tested – but it is a layout that makes more sense the more frequently you use it.

In addition to the super premium infotainment screen on the center stack, the Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription also has a gorgeous full-color gauge cluster which includes one of the most detailed in-cluster map programs I have seen. All of the features of the driver information center are controlled by a few simple touch-buttons on the steering wheel and the digital gauges are sharp-looking and easy to read - day or night.

Finally, there are a handful of other features of the Volvo XC90 Inscription that can’t be ignored, such as the unique turn-key start button located in the shift console, the 360-degree exterior camera system, the heated steering wheel and the Bowers & Wilkins premium speaker system – which is easily one of the best vehicle sound systems I have experienced while testing new vehicles. At $2,900, the B&W sound system is pricey, but if you love your music – you will love this sound system.

In the end, if you want a large luxury SUV which offers pretty much every bit of modern technology possible, the 2017 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription interior is guaranteed to get your blood pumping. The interior looks simple due to the touchscreen-central infotainment system, but when you consider all of the features of this vehicle – including the premium infotainment system, the high end driver’s information center and the plush leather seats – there is nothing that this luxury SUV leaves you wanting.

The Final Word
If you look at the specifications of the 2017 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription on paper, it might not seem all that impressive – but this is truly a vehicle that is far greater than specifications can reveal. The twin charged 4-cylinder engine makes this big SUV a ton of fun to drive without compromising the ride quality that you demand from a modern luxury SUV, so whether you are driving to work in dense traffic or cruising along a desolate country road – the XC90 is comfortable and fun to drive. Gone are the days where driving a roomy Volvo forced you to suffer through days of soulless motoring, as the XC90 is fun to drive on the highway, around town and even on dirt roads.(More on the next page)

Factor in the premium cabin with heated/cooled/massaging front seats, tons of space and one of the most advanced infotainment systems I’ve experienced and you have one of the most impressive SUVs I have tested. If you shy away from modern entertainment technology, the infotainment system might turn you off, but for the luxury SUV shopper who wants everything that the luxury world has to offer – the 2017 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription checks every single box.

The only downside to the 2017 Volvo XC9 T6 Inscription is the price, as with an MSRP (as tested) of $72,805, this is a luxury vehicle with a luxury vehicle price. However, my test vehicle had every option possible, tacking on $21,205 over the base price (including destination) of $51,600 and when you compare this loaded luxury SUV to most comparably equipped vehicles – the XC90 T6 Inscription is quite a bit less expensive than the competition.

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No longer do I look at the Volvo brand as a vehicle that delivers a punishing driving experience – and I recommend that anyone else who questions the modern Volvo brand based on the company’s older models check this machine out in person. It changed the way that I look at Volvo and I bet that it will have the same effect on everyone who spends time behind the wheel.

All of the fuss made about this Volvo SUV isn’t cooked up by cunning marketing techniques – this vehicle is really that good.


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