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Powerful, high-tech 2016 Volvo XC90 breaks cover—finally

  • volvo-xc90-876.jpg

     (Volvo)

  • volvo-xc90-cabin-876.jpg

     (Volvo)

  • volvo-xc90-above-876.jpg

     (Volvo)

The outdated Volvo XC90 three-row SUV finally gets its first full revamp for 2016, with a new fuel-efficient, four-cylinder engine. Notable variants include Volvo’s first plug-in hybrid, with a range of about 25 miles on electricity and electric four-wheel drive.

Volvo says the all-new XC90 platform, the first to come from the company’s new Chinese owners, will underpin all future Volvos (except for a new subcompact being designed for China).

The longer, lower, boxier body should make access easier, and Volvo claims that new seating technology will give the new XC90 enough room for 5-foot-7-inch adults to sit comfortably in the third-row seat.

XC90s coming to the United States include a 316-hp, 2.0-liter gas engine that is turbocharged and supercharged. This potent, small engine puts out 295 lb.-ft. of torque, and it is backed by an eight-speed automatic transmission.

A full air suspension lets drivers customize their ride settings or choose from five preconfigured modes.

Two new safety technologies will debut in the SUV: automatic braking if a car pulls out in front of the XC90 and an off-road system that will tighten safety belts and activate energy-absorbing features in the seats.

The added safety features could be a good thing, since the XC90 also marks the debut of Volvo’s new tabletlike touch screen on the center dash, which Volvo boasts “is virtually button free and represents an entirely new way for drivers to operate their car and access a range of Internet-based products and services.” The system is also supposed to be fully compatible with Apple’s new CarPlay iPhone interface from the start.

Showing how antiquated it had become, the last XC90 we tested was slow, returned just 17 mpg overall, and had a stiff and unsettled ride. If the improvements follow in the tracks of the recently tested Volvo S60—which had impressive gains in drivability, fuel economy, and refinement—the new XC90 may be a worthy competitor.

Expect sales to begin in the spring.

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