For this year’s Yahoo Autos car judging competition, we challenged ourselves to come up with a new definition of a car award, one that reflects more accurately the kinds of vehicles that most people actually want to buy. As opposed to the vehicles that only car enthusiasts fall in love with, but make very little practical sense for the average consumer.
For the past week, Yahoo Autos has been revealing its 2016 Ride of the Year awards. Check out our choices for the Tech, Epic, Fresh and Savvy Rides of the Year.
And so we put on our thinking caps and realized our past awards were a little too narrow: Being a “car” award, we’d limited our search to vehicles that fit the definition of a car. But most Americans buy bigger vehicles than that. We want an SUV or a crossover to fit our families, our trips to Costco, our roadtrips across multiple states, and whatever else might come our way.
We’re also looking at a world coming soon in which actual driving may become a thing of the past. More and more automated driving technology is already starting to hit the road, and some carmakers say they’ll have fully autonomous vehicles available to the public by 2020. Which isn’t that far away.
So we settled on our new name, the Yahoo Autos Ride of the Year. For the overall Ride of the Year category, our formula involved weighing broad consumer appeal, technological advances that add to the driver experience rather than detract from it, cutting-edge safety technology, style and overall value.
Honestly, once we came up with the requirements for the overall award, the winner was an easy pick. If I’m being totally honest, our winner was my favorite going in. I tried to keep it to myself, because I didn’t want anyone to feel pressured to vote with me. After a day or two of testing, it seemed that everyone was in love with the 2016 Volvo XC90.
This is an SUV pushes the envelope on technology, safety, interior design, and utility. Our only hesitation with giving the XC90 this award was its pricetag. The one we tested had a sticker price of $66,855, way out of range for the average car buyer. Its base price of $49,800 is still pretty pricey.
Volvo took its time making sure it got this vehicle right. The first generation XC90 came out 12 years ago, and quickly became the brand’s best selling SUV. Volvo has gone through some major changes in those 12 years, going from being owned by then-ailing Ford Motor Co. to being purchased by Chinese automaker Geely in 2010. Geely has made an $11 billion investment in Volvo’s new lineup, and the XC90 is the first vehicle to show off that investment.
Driving the XC90 is like getting a taste of the future. The center console is shaped like an iPad and is controlled with flicks of your finger. It takes a little getting used to, but once you get it, it becomes easier. More important are the driver assistance tools, which show off the best iterations of today’s automated driving technology. Like many cars on the road, the XC90 comes with adaptive cruise control, which is like regular cruise control except it can sense when a car is in front of you and will slow you down. Yes, a lot of cars have this available, but we thought Volvo’s version was the most sophisticated we’ve test driven. Many other systems are crude, reacting too wildly to other cars on the road. Volvo’s system is smooth and trustworthy.
It also comes with an advanced lane keeping technology, which aided us going around curves. And its self-parking tech was also among the most advanced (although still not perfect. Yahoo Tech editor David Pogue got into a little fender bender when testing the parking the XC90 on our last day of testing.)
So, it came down to price. Could we name a car that most people can’t afford our Ride of the Year? Ultimately, we decided yes, because the technology in this vehicle will start trickling down to cheaper cars in the coming years. And given the recent study that came out showing that the previous XC90 was one of a handful of cars that had zero fatalities in the course of four years.
That kind of safety record, we figure, is something worth paying for. Congratulations to Volvo for making a pretty awesome SUV and being named our 2016 Yahoo Autos Ride of the Year.