I was already driving a 2018 Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription for a day or two before I realized there was a third row of seating.
Let me explain. One of Volvo’s flagship sport utility vehicles was dropped off at my home and, mesmerized by the sleek lines, dignified matte silver grille and Onyx metallic black paint job, it just did not occur to me that the XC90 was part of the class of SUVs with third-row seating.
So I drove the elegant ride to and from work and around town, all the while only noticing from the rearview mirror the two seats behind mine. It was not until rolling up with a couple suitcases, hitting the remote to open the power tailgate and gazing at the spacious storage space that I realized the roominess was made possible by a rear row of seats being in the fold-down position.
The packed bags were for a trip up to the Central California coast, where family, friends and elephant seals awaited our arrival.
The ride up would have been comfortable enough solely with the living room recliner-like seats. (Volvo calls it Nappa Soft Leather Upholstery on the Inscription.) With the flip of a switch, a cushioned front seat can be heated, ventilated, extended under the thighs and, as part of the $3,150 Luxury Package, it can give you a massage on one to three zones of your back, with adjustable pressure. There are also 10 ways to automatically adjust front seats, and there is a memory setting for the driver.
We had hit the 405 and 101 freeways at most unusual times for Southern Californians: when traffic was flowing uninterrupted. It is where I first noticed the Run-off Road Protection and Run-off Road Mitigation lane keeping aid, which was freaky despite my having experienced similar features on other vehicles. As I held the leather-wrapped steering wheel in light traffic, suddenly I felt the SUV take over and ever so slightly move me to the center of the lane. I did not think I had been drifting to the right, but the lane-keeping aid certainly did. I noticed it most after the road was straight for some distance before gently curving to the left. Before I could ease the wheel in that direction, it would be forcefully done for me. At times it felt like a wrestling match. (There’s also Collision Mitigation to steer one out of oncoming traffic.)
It seemed as if we reached Ventura in no time, and I barely even remember passing through Santa Barbara. I do recall on the center divider some heavy equipment that had been used to clear the 101 from January’s devastating mudslides. We rolled into our place to flop in San Luis Obispo not long after passing that sobering sight.
Helping us pass the time all along the way were the tunes and talk coming out of the XC90’s 330-watt, Bowers and Wilkins Premium Sound system’s 10 speakers, a $3,200 extra. The SUV is Sirius XM satellite radio-ready, but we chose to use Bluetooth to sync with the entertainment options on my iPhone. High definition terrestrial radio is standard, and when you need to power devices there are USB ports everywhere and, as part of the $1,950 Convenience Package, a 12-volt outlet in the cargo area. That package also includes a 360-degree surround view camera, so you watch yourself back up or pull in on the Inscription’s 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster display.
Three of us piled into the XC90 for a ride up the coast from SLO. Our back seat rider reported that he was as comfortable as we were up front, although it required switching seats for him to test the front passenger seat’s massager. He was quite impressed.
Having previously vacationed with relatives in a rented beach house in the charming little town of Cayucos, we decided to see how much the place has changed–and the answer is not much. However, I do not recall having previously known of the Brown Butter Cookie Co., where we grabbed our breakfast: a dozen of their Originals washed down with hot coffee. The cookies are amazing; imagine flaky shortbread with the flavors of sea salt, brown sugar and vanilla.
Two-lane Highway 1 between Cayucos and San Simeon is not treacherous and getting around slow-poke was no problem thanks to the XC90 T6’s 316-horse power, 295 pounds-feet of torque 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged I-4 engine with standard all-wheel drive and power routed through an eight-speed automatic transmission. It delivers an EPA-rated 20/27 miles per gallon city/highway.
That puts the T6 about in the middle between the 2018 XC90 T5 (250-hp, 258-lb-ft of torque 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 that delivers 22/29 mpg city/highway in front-wheel drive and 22/28 mpg in all-wheel drive) and the T8 plug-in hybrid (with a 316-hp turbo-four engine paired to an electric motor for a total system output of 400 hp, 472 lb-ft, and 26/30 mpg and which can travel up to 19 miles on all-electric power).
On the way to Hearst Castle, we noticed zebras grazing alongside cattle in a field on the inland side of Highway 1. So did the car in front of us, too late as it turned out, which forced me to slam on the brakes lest the XC90 wind up in their dash board. This triggered the anti-lock braking system and Collision Avoidance by City Safety, which detects vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and large animals.
Other standard safety features include: Blind Spot Information System with cross-traffic alert and auto-dimming mirrors and road sign information that flashes for a few seconds on the windshield to inform you’re driving over the posted speed limit. There are air bags throughout the cabin, three-point safety belts and whiplash and side impact protection systems. My 2018 model received the highest overall rating (five stars) from the National Highway Traffic Safety Association.
It had been decades since we last visited Hearst Castle, so to re-familiarize ourselves we took the standard guided tour. It’s amazing imaging yourself living in such a place; I’m sure relatives I’ve never met would be showing up at one of the doors for visits that would turn into permanent residency. The great thing is Casa Grande, as the main house is known, is so massive, you could stick the annoying guests in one of the more remote 38 bedrooms and arrange to never see them. Three detached cottages can handle the particularly odious.
The weather the day we visited–actually, every day we visited–was spectacular (so screw you, winter!). The coastline appeared endless from the Esplanade, where you’ll also find lush vegetation, hedges and trees. William Randolph Hearst, who worked on his vacation home project from 1919 through 1947 yet never completed it, reportedly planned buildings around native Coast Live Oaks, and if he did have to dig one up, he replanted it elsewhere on his massive “ranch at San Simeon.”
About four and half miles up Highway 1 is the elephant seal rookery, which this time of year is the peak for arrivals. Mothers, who about a week after beaching gave birth, can be wailing not out of lingering pain from pups that came out weighing around 70 pounds but to bond with the young ‘uns and keep them nearby.
Our next stop was the Morro Bay Embarcadero, which is filled with shops, eateries and watering holes. We actually parked near the spot of a weekly farmers market, which required parallel parking and the use of the XC90’s parking assistance features and cameras to slide between two vehicles. Rear Park Assist and Camera are standard, and the Front Park Assist and Pilot are included in the Convenience Package.
That package, besides what has been mentioned above, also includes: heated washer nozzles; a grocery bag holder; HomeLink, which allows you to program and replace up to three radio-frequency remotes for gates, garage doors and other devices (even home lighting); and a compass in the inner rear view mirror.
The luxury package, besides what has already been covered, also includes: heated rear seats; leather-wrapped sun visors and grab handles in the front and rear; and a headliner with A/B/C pillars in Nubuck. That metallic paint added another $595 to the test model’s price, which also includes a graphical Head Up Display ($900), integrated center booster cushion ($250), 21-inch eight-spoke diamond cut alloy wheels ($800), heated steering wheel ($400), four-corner air suspension ($1,800), a tailored dash ($1,00) and the destination charge ($995). Pricey!
The Inscription is another $5,100 than the lower-cost models because of the features earlier in the review as well as: bright chrome bars on the grille and side trim with Inscription logo type; tailgate Inscription badge; dual integrated tail pipes with body-colored lower insert; headlight high pressure cleaning; linear walnut wood inlays; high-level interior illumination; power side support in the front seats; key fob in leather that matches the upholstery; illuminated door handles; and Active Bend Lights added to standard LED lights with–my favorite name EVER for a feature–Thor’s Hammer daytime running lights and automatic high beam. It comes from the land of the ice and snow, yo!
Not-yet mentioned standards on the XC90: double wishbone front and rear integral axle suspension; adjustable drive mode settings; advanced electronic stability control; electric power assist steering; all-season tires; wi-fi hotspot; smartphone integration; Volvo On-Call (with four-year subscription included); Unibody high strength steel safety cage; seven, three-point safety bells; lower anchors and tethers for child seats; child safety locks on rear doors; 10-year emergency crash notification; along with the LED headlights, LED fog lamps with corner illumination; four-zone electronic climate control; Clean Zone air quality system; tinted rear and cargo bay windows; roof rails; and 40/20/40 flat folding seats.
There was one more standard feature that came in handy for the evening ride home. The laminated panoramic moonroof with power sunshade had exposed glass over the front and second-row seats, and away from the city lights we were treated to a light show courtesy of the stars above.
One more stop had to be made before that, however. We came up empty in our searching for an Avila Beach area winery we had been to years before, so we “settled” for Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards. What a funky little spot. The tasting room is filled with jewelry, knick-knacks and local artwork that on this visit included paintings by Colleen Gnos of mermaids and female surfers.
We split a tasting flight–small sips for the driver only, of course–of meh to very good wines in a relaxing backyard filled with grass, trees and, on this particular day, more young families than you’d expect. However, the best was yet to come as we passed a white home on the property that was populated by peacocks in the front yard. We stared at them for about 10 minutes before a few finally opened their feathers wide.
This one below must be as proud as a driver who can shell out $74,090–the cost when you add up everything for my eye-catching 2018 XC90 T6 AWD Inscription test ride.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.