The stage is set as Volvo debuts 'Production American Style.'
In 2015, Sweden's prominent automaker announced construction plans for its first U.S.-based 2.3-million-square-foot assembly plant near the picturesque port City of Charleston, South Carolina. Production of the mid-size S60 sedan started in mid-September. In the not-so-distant future, the S60 gets a bunk mate, the XC90, Volvo's largest five-door crossover and this week's tester.
Production of the U.S.-built XC90 is slated for 2021. The Berkeley, South Carolina facility covers 1,600 acres with a 150,000 annual vehicle capacity (so far). For the time being, XC90 is assembled in Gothenburg, Sweden. Volvo assembly facilities also dot Belgium, China and Malaysia.
Volvo illustrates a prime example of globalization's far reaches. During the past two decades, the diminutive-yet-in-demand automaker has drawn interest from outside its Scandinavian home base. Ford Motor Company folded Volvo into its Premier Auto Group (Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin) from 1999 through 2009. Volvo then accepted an invitation to join Geely, one of China's fastest-growing auto groups.
During a pre-Chicago Auto Show celebration dinner this past February, Russell Datz, Volvo's National Media Relations Manager, shared with gathered guests how, Geely allows Volvo a wide swath of anonymity in carrying forward its long-established mission statement with minimal Big Brother meddling.
One example is Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform implementation, a modular chassis system allowing production line flexibility Volvo spent years developing. Multiple body styles share the SPA platform, which debuted in the 2016 XC90 crossover. All next-generation Volvo models introduced after 2016 utilize much of the SPA DNA.
While the largest crossover occupying the Volvo lineup, XC90 qualifies as a mid-sizer, skewing towards the spectrum's girthier end. Mix-and-match opportunities include the choice of five-passenger or seven-passenger seating, front wheel or all-wheel drive; all wrapped up in distinct European premium luxury showcasing a non-German tilt. Soft-touch and refined materials adorn the 'de-cluttered' dashboard while seating surfaces combine safety and comfort.
Radar-inspired assists ease parallel and perpendicular parking maneuvers by pre-measuring and at times self-directing XC90 into a tight spot. A 360-degree camera feed into the sizable center screen provides a bird's eye view of one's surroundings, also aiding suburban shopping mall challenges. Both come optional as part of an 'Advanced Package.'
Radar technology benefits highway cruise control, automatically speeding and slowing XC90 based on the speed and distance of the vehicle ahead.
All trims offer other high-tech assists including blind-spot monitors and lane-keep assist and forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking.
For the 2019 model year, four available trims include: Momentum, R-Design, Inscription and top-shelf Excellence. Our all-wheel-drive Inscription included a $55,700 starter price. The $2,500 Advanced Package also includes 'bending' type headlights swerving in sync with the steering wheel and a graphic-inspired heads-up display. A $3,200 stereo upgrade, $800 alloy wheels, $645 metallic paint and $300 center bolster cushion brought the bottom line to $70,940 with $995 destination charge.
Also available, a low-volume, plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) edition available in seven-seat Momentum trims. Volvo announced all vehicles in the 2019 model year and beyond will enjoy some degree of electrification.
Steering feel remains relaxed, good for traversing Chicago's suburbs, but not a performance-type experience. Same holds true for engine horsepower as five and six cylinder engines exited Volvo's line up, replaced by an inspired array of four bangers featuring turbocharging and sometimes supercharging, forced-air technologies increasing horsepower without opting in for additional cylinders.
The Inscription tester included a 2.0-liter four-cylinder delivering 316 horsepower with both supercharging and turbocharging technologies. Other 2.0-liter four-cylinder trims with solely turbocharging deliver 250 horses.
All engines recommend pricier 91-octane premium fuel to occupy the plentiful 18.8-gallon tank.
The clean, uncluttered, dressed-for-success dash is centered by a sizeable nine-inch in-dash monitor resembling a vertically-situated (portrait style) iPad tablet screen. Multi-function just begins to describe this swipeable screen's duties.
Apple Car Play and Android Auto became standard fare last year, allowing Smartphone interplay with the in-dash theatre screen.
Rather than a mundane electronic push-button start, Volvo opts for twist. Between front bucket seats resides a tactile knob that ignites the engine to action with a turn to the right (with a foot on the brake pedal). It resides just aft of the eight-speed automatic transmission shifter, and ahead of a scroll-like, chrome drive mode selector. Rolling the scroll forward or back selects Eco, Comfort, Performance or Off-Road.
The drive mode selector also interacts with the highly animated flat instrument panel screen, as do a plethora of functions. In the default setting the flat black background houses two animated orbs sketched to mimic analog gauges. The outer reaches of the left circle reflect a traditional analog speedometer with a digital readout smack in the middle. The right tachometer orb changes dynamics within milliseconds depending upon the drive mode selected. Each mode summons its specific data-driven info. Between circles a blank black backdrop awaits steering wheel button selector input summoning a second feed of the navigation screen, Smartphone interplay or audio selections currently in play.
Just about all HVAC functions monitor from the rectangular touch screen. Front and rear defroster buttons report as the scant few quick-key buttons available under the screen flanking a large volume twist dial. Many of the radar-centric and higher-tech nuances summon from and adjust through the screen. For example the 'heads-up' front windshield display turns on and off and adjusts projection up and down through the touch screen.
Power tailgates come standard with plenty of head clearance (when open) for the 'taller statured.'
Row three consists of two 50-50 split manually folding backrest. The next-generation XC90 coming online in 2021 needs power-folding third-row backrests or at the very least, long straps to pry 50/50-split backrests upward from the open hatch region. While decent headroom awaits row three residents, preteens are the primary dwellers of this neighborhood.
Greater forethought went into row two; a 40/20/40 split with the outboard '40s' providing double duty. If optimum cargo space is desired, all three backrest sections fold flat onto cushions. When access to row three becomes paramount, outboard seatbacks tilt forward, and the entire cushion/backrest slides forward, creating an entryway opening.
When not schlepping the clan, seatbacks fold completely flat, opening up a very generous 85.7 cubic feet.
Volvo sold 571,577 vehicles worldwide in 2017, up seven percent from the previous year. Here in the States, Volvo qualifies as a niche, rather than high-volume player, generating 81,504 units last calendar year.
Nordic themes impact head and tail light housing design. In front, a 'Thor's hammer' design is a nod to the Nordic God of thunder, with a side-resting 'T' interspersed with bejeweled LED headlights. Out back long, slopping red tail light housing hugs and frames the hatch window and door, mimicking a slalom course of snow-packed mountains. Smooth side fenders include a single character line running horizontally between chrome-framed side windows and strap-like door handles from the Thor headlight housing to the back. 2019 Volvo XC90
Price as tested: $70,940
Wheelbase: 117.5 inches
Length: 194.9 inches
Height: 69.9 inches
Engine: 2.0-liter Super and Turbo Charged
Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city/ 26 mpg highway
Assembly: Gothenburg, Sweden