2016 Volvo XC90 Review [Inscription Model]

Lighter, stronger, and of course, safer, we review the 2016 Volvo XC90 Inscription SUV focused on craftsmanship, comfort, and elegance for its second-generation offering.

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While our economy is in a slump it can be difficult for a household to justify running two vehicles, but for larger families transitioning to a single large vehicle may be a wiser option.  There are lots of large capacity vans, crossovers and sport utility vehicles on the market, and these mobile living rooms are perfect for shuttling kids to and from, hauling mega-packs of toilet paper and frozen pizzas from Costco, or to facilitate weekend getaways to the cottage.

Luxury SUV demand on the rise

While interest in passenger vans has waned in the past couple of years, the demand for luxury SUVs and crossovers is at an all-time high at the moment, as affluent buyers find these vehicles  appealing due to the fact that they can haul a tremendous amount of cargo and provide a comfortable environment for passengers. Add to this the all-weather capabilities that come with having all- or four-wheel-drive at your disposal and you have the perfect rig for transporting the family and friends to the mall or the ski hill.

Luckily the current slump in fuel prices helps offset some of the other costs associated with the purchase and maintenance of these double extra-large vehicles.

Design: new XC90 is bigger, adds more luxury

2016 Volvo XC90 Review
2016 Volvo XC90 Inscription. Photo: Russell Purcell

The second generation Volvo XC90 recently rolled into showrooms and its arrival has had an immediate impact on sales, as the new XC is slightly bigger and more luxurious than its predecessor, but it also comes loaded with a whole host of new safety and technological features. Add to this the Volvo brand’s now legendary reputation for producing safe, reliable and exceptionally well built cars, and you know the XC90 is a winner.

In fact, the sleek seven–seater has won dozens of awards world-wide, including the ultra-prestigious 2016 North American Truck of the Year title, while the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada has deemed it to be the Best New SUV / CUV over $60,000. The climb to the top of the ladder is not an easy task, as the luxury SUV segment is hard-fought and populated by an ever-increasing pool of contenders, but the all-new XC90 is truly, an exceptional automobile. 

Increased space inside

What sets the Volvo apart from its many rivals is the fact that the designers have managed to create a tremendous amount of interior volume in what is basically a mid-sized platform- albeit one that is stronger, lighter and safer than that of the outgoing model. Fitted with a full complement of seven usable seats the new XC is spacious enough to accommodate all but the largest families, and all positions prove comfortable enough for the average adult-sized frame.

2016 Volvo XC90 Review
2016 Volvo XC90 Inscription. Photo: Russell Purcell

Exterior styling

The first generation XC90 featured a unique style that made it instantly recognizable as a Volvo – slab-sides, tall taillights, a flat nose with bold grille, and a passenger cabin illuminated by tall windows. However, sales had taken a downturn as the design was looking dated due to the fact that it had been on the sales floor basically unchanged since its initial introduction back in 2002.

More refined

The new model looks more refined and upmarket, and features a body that has obviously been tweaked and perfected in the wind tunnel. We still get tall tail lamps, a long nose and toothy grille, but overall the XC90 looks less utilitarian. 


2016 Volvo XC90 Review
2016 Volvo XC90 Inscription. Photo: Russell Purcell

The front fascia features headlights that look more sculpted than before. These high-tech LED lamps are backed up by LED daytime running lights, LED cornering lights, and LED fog lamps. High-pressure cleaning jets are on board to keep the headlamp lenses clear of debris.

Rear styling

The rear end of the vehicle also benefits from a roof mounted spoiler, a well-integrated bumper fascia, high intensity taillights to enhance safety, and twin tail pipes. A power operated upswing tailgate allows easy access to the carpet lined cargo area.

Heftier wheels

Pronounced fender flares and oversized, 19-inch alloy wheels help give the vehicle a more aggressive stance that makes the vehicle look less top heavy and hints at its more capable road handling.

Horsepower: a 316-hp engine under the 2016 XC90’s hood

The XC90 features Volvo’s Drive-E engine, which is a 2.0-litre inline four-cylinder engine that is fitted with both a turbocharger and a supercharger to help make the most efficient use of incoming fuel and exiting exhaust.  This technological marvel produces a healthy 316-hp and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. This innovative engine is mated to an eight-speed sequential-shift Geartronic automatic transmission and a well sorted all-wheel-drive system. 

2016 Volvo XC90 Review
2016 Volvo XC90 Inscription. Photo: Russell Purcell

While not a rocket ship, the Volvo still manages to make short work of long stretches of highway with little drama. Acceleration is brisk and linear as the vehicle sits gently back on its haunches before settling down and entering cruise mode. Sprints to 100 kilometres per hour from a standstill can be executed in about 6.5 seconds.

Hybrid version coming soon

For those looking for more power, Volvo will soon offer the option of transplanting a plug-in hybrid engine under the hood. The T8 Twin Engine upgrade will add about $13,000 to the build sheet before taxes, but the potent combination of the turbocharged and supercharged gasoline engine and an electric motor will develop 400-horsepower and 472 lb.-ft. of torque. This latter engine is said to allow the vehicle to travel up to 40 kilometres on electric power alone.

On the road: how does the XC90 Inscription handle and perform?

2016 Volvo XC90 Review
2016 Volvo XC90 Inscription. Photo: Russell Purcell

The driver is able to customize the vehicle to best suit conditions or intent by using the Drive Mode Selector. This system offers five distinct driving modes – Eco, Comfort, Off-road, Dynamic and Individual. Each setting will make alterations that will tweak throttle response, shift pattern and the weight of the steering.

XC90 Off-road

More adventurous types will appreciate that there is a dedicated setting Off-road setting should you wish to venture off the pavement. During the AJAC TestFest evaluations I was able to take the XC 90 through a rather sloppy off-road course which included challenging climbs, a variety of road and terrain surfaces, as well as challenging descents. The XC 90 tackled all these challenges without drama or hesitation, and at no time did the vehicle feel unsettled, despite the fact it was sporting high-performance touring tires that are more at home on traditional road surfaces.


The XC90’s suspension is comprised of double wishbones up front and a new integral link rear axle that incorporates a transverse leaf spring. By setting the Drive Mode Selector to the Dynamic mode both the steering and suspension tightened up enough that you feel confident carrying a little more speed into corners, and it enhanced the level of communication the driver feels through the steering wheel. For such a heavy vehicle there is very little body roll. The XC 90 is large, but not top-heavy, and Volvo has done an excellent job of engineering in competent drivability and handling response. The new XC90 can also be ordered with an optional five mode, electronically controlled air suspension system should ride comfort be your main priority.

2016 Volvo XC90 Interior

2016 Volvo XC90 Review
2016 Volvo XC90 Inscription. Photo: Russell Purcell

The interior is well designed with most controls, dials, and instruments within easy reach of their intended operator. The seats are firm and wrapped in fine leather, and attractive wood and alloy trim is used to class up the cabin. Visibility is excellent out front and to the side due to the tall seating position and extended windows, but you will definitely learn to appreciate the large side mirrors rear camera and an arsenal of proximity sensors. The optional Vision Package was fitted to our test vehicle, and if I was considering this vehicle for my own family, I would see the $1,800 cost as an investment in safety. The Vision Package adds auto dimming capabilities to all the mirrors as well as brings along the ability to retract the side units (which proves handy when forced to park in tight city-sized parking stalls), as well as Volvo’s proven Blind Spot Information System with Cross Traffic Alert. But the real advantage offered by this upgrade is the arrival of Visual Park Assist, a clever system which gives you a 360-degree visual reference of what is surrounding the vehicle. This proves very handy when navigating in tight spaces like parking structures or crowded alleys, but also when positioning the vehicle during parking.

While interest in passenger vans has waned in the past couple of years, the demand for luxury SUVs and crossovers is at an all-time high at the moment, as affluent buyers find these vehicles  appealing due to the fact that they can haul a tremendous amount of cargo and provide a comfortable environment for passengers.

Other standard safety marvels include Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection, lane Departure Warning, Driver Alert, Road Sign Information, Road-edge and Barrier Detection with auto steer

A powerful four-zone climate control system (complete with Interior Air Quality System filter) will keep the clan riding in comfort on stuffy summer days and blustery winter trips to Whistler.

2016 Volvo XC90 Review
2016 Volvo XC90 Inscription. Photo: Russell Purcell

Our test unit was a T6 all-wheel-drive model (US buyers can buy front-wheel-drive variants, but all Canadian units are fitted with all-wheel drive) blessed with all the luxury trappings and technological goodies that come with the top-of-the-line Inscription trim package. It should be noted that there are three trim levels- T6, R-Design, and the aforementioned Inscription- but even the base T6 is equipped to a level that would embarrass the higher trim levels of most of its competitors. 

Other standard fare on the XC 90 Inscription includes premium Nappa soft leather upholstery, leather dashboard and upper door panels, panoramic sunroof, 12.3-inch graphical instrument cluster, ventilated front seats, navigation and a high-performance audio system with 10-speakers.

9.3″ tablet-like touch screen control console

2016 Volvo XC90 Review
2016 Volvo XC90 Inscription. Photo: Russell Purcell

The crown jewel of the cabin controls is the 9.3″ tablet-like touch screen control console that resides on the centre stack. This high definition screen operates much like the popular tablets we use for both work and play, but many of its functions can also be accessed using steering wheel controls and a voice-control system, all linked to an interface Volvo calls Sensus. The Sensus program  allows the user to access cloud-based apps such as Internet radio, connected navigation, parking, and music streaming, but it also permits operating system mirroring of both Apple and Android devices in the touch screen display, as well as a handy Wi-Fi hot application to allow personal devices to be used within the car.

Our test unit was also equipped with the optional Bowers & Wilkins audio system which will satisfy the audio purist with its 1400-Watts of clean power and 19 carefully matched speakers.


There is plenty of cargo room (2427 L to be exact) and a plethora of storage bins and cubbies located throughout the airy passenger cabin. All seating positions have abundant legroom, and there are plenty of grab handles to help pull guide yourself in or to stabilize yourself when on a bumpy adventure. The second row seats partially recline for passenger comfort, but they also slide forward to allow passengers to access to the two adult-sized seats that make up the third row seating area. An integrated child booster cushion in the centre seat is available. Both second and third row seats fold flat to create a large, carpeted cargo area which is easily accessed via a power-operated upswing hatch.

With a maximum towing capacity of up to 2,250 kg (4,960 lb), the XC90 is perfectly capable of transporting a small trailer or boat. 

2016 Volvo XC90 Review
2016 Volvo XC90 Inscription. Photo: Russell Purcell


There is a lot of competition in this segment of the automotive marketplace but the new Volvo XC90 is worth a long look as few companies can compete with this brand when it comes to safety, build quality, and overall dependability. When it comes time to choose a vehicle to serve the transportation needs of your family, these are factors you cannot overlook.


2016 Volvo XC90 Inscription Specs

  • Type:  5-door, 7-passenger mid-size SUV
  • Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
  • Engine: 2.0-litre, Inline-4-cylinder supercharged and turbocharged
  • Horsepower:   316 @ 5,700 rpm
  • Torque (lb-ft):  295 @ 2200 – 5400 rpm
  • Transmission: 8-speed Geartronic automatic
  • Curb weight:  2,760 kg
  • Wheelbase:  2,984 mm
  • Length:  4,950 mm
  • Width:  2,140 mm
  • Height:  1,775 mm
  • Towing capacity:  2,250 kg
  • Cargo capacity:   2427 L
  • Fuel consumption (L/100km): City: 11.5 (24.5 mpg) / Hwy: 9.5 (29.7 mpg)
Russell Purcellhttps://www.flickr.com/people/autoexposurecanada/
Russell Purcell is an award-winning automotive journalist and photographer based in Vancouver, B.C. His passion for automobiles was sparked at the tender age of six, when a family friend gave the wide-eyed first grader a ride to school in a track prepared Porsche 911 RSR. He continues to fan the flames by building an impressive library of automotive related books as well as a vast collection of interesting automobilia and motoring artefacts. Russell is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, and is active on Twitter as RoadTestRuss.