2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD: More Powerful Small Engine

By Frank A. Aukofer, August 1st, 2015

At first blush, the 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 seems as if it couldn't punch its way out of a kiddie car parking lot. Here's this big hunk of a stylish three-row luxury crossover utility vehicle, built by teams of Paul Bunyan workers in Sweden that intimidates onlookers even standing still. It weighs nearly 6,000 pounds -- almost 3 tons.

Manufacturer photo: Volvo's four cylinders use both a supercharger and a turbocharger, with direct fuel injection
Manufacturer photo: Volvo's four cylinders use both a supercharger and a turbocharger, with direct fuel injection

Then you learn that it is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine of a size that not long ago -- and even occasionally now -- was installed in compact economy cars. On top of that, Volvo says it has abandoned all but small engines like this. No more sixes and V8s.

Ah, but this is no ordinary four-banger. It's in the vanguard of an industry that has embraced computer software and advanced technology to deliver smaller but more powerful and economical engines. It's analogous to using sewing machine motors to power 18-wheelers.

Okay, maybe that's a bit much. But consider what motivates the Volvo XC90 T6. It forces gobs of air and fuel into the four cylinders by using both a supercharger and a turbocharger, with direct fuel injection. The supercharger, which is engine driven, gets things going off the line, and the turbo, which runs off of exhaust gases, takes over to enhance horsepower and torque.

The combination boosts the XC90's engine to 316 horsepower with 296 lb.-ft. of torque, or twisting force. It's enough to propel the T6 to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds, with a top speed of 143 mph, while delivering fuel economy of 20/25/22 mpg on the EPA's city/highway/combined cycles. That's according to the manufacturer's specifications and there's little reason to doubt the numbers.

Manufacturer photo: Volvo's four cylinders use both a supercharger and a turbocharger, with direct fuel injection

The grunt gets to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode. Curiously, considering that the XC90 T6 sells for premium prices, there are no paddle shifters on the steering wheel. The driver who shifts for himself must use the shift lever.

Likely that's because the Volvo designers believe that few XC90 customers will bother with manual shifting. This is, after all, an opulent luxury vehicle oriented more toward silent running over long distances in comfortable surroundings. Also, the XC90's AWD system is more intended for frozen or muddy driveways than actual off-roading.

Volvo emphasizes that by equipping all the introduction test cars with the XC90's optional air suspension system. It costs $1,800 extra, but delivers a stable compromise between handling and ride control.

The XC90 is available in three T6 trim levels: Momentum at $49,895, R-Design at $53,895, and Inscription at $55,490. The tested XC90 T6 was an Inscription with the air suspension and a load of options that brought the sticker up to $66,705.

That might seem a bit stiff -- until you get a look at the XC90's interior, which is awash in quality workmanship, fine natural wood and leather, and fabrics and trim worthy of some of the finest luxury cars.

Manufacturer photo: Volvo's four cylinders use both a supercharger and a turbocharger, with direct fuel injection

Standard equipment includes leather upholstery with heated front and second-row seats; power front seat thigh extenders; navigation; a panoramic glass sunroof (it does not open); Bluetooth connectivity, HD and satellite radio; four-zone automatic climate control; 21-inch alloy wheels; and Volvo's Sensus infotainment system with a 9-inch touchscreen.

On the downside, the sunvisors do not slide on their support rods to fully block sun from the side. And the shade for the sunroof is made of a translucent material that resembles cheesecloth and allows bright sunlight inside. I prefer sunshades that are opaque.

The Sensus touchscreen changes menus with the swipe of a finger, eliminating buttons. Volvo said the number of buttons was reduced from 30 in the average vehicle to just eight buttons on the XC90.

Later in the model year Volvo plans to introduce the $66,000-plus XC90 T8, described as the world's first seven-passenger plug-in hybrid vehicle. It features gasoline/electric power for the front wheels and an electric motor for the rears, for a total of 400 horsepower and 472 lb.-ft. torque.

The company says the T8 will be able to run up to 17 miles on electric power, achieve up to 59 mpg, and accelerate to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds.

Manufacturer photo: Volvo's four cylinders use both a supercharger and a turbocharger, with direct fuel injection

With the new T6 and T8, Volvo becomes a solid contender in a luxury crossover field that includes the Acura MDX, Audi Q7, BMW X5, Infiniti QX60 and Mercedes-Benz ML.

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