Although owned by the Chinese automaker Geely, the Volvo brand still exudes Swedish design and elegance, and the XC90 has those virtues on display in spades. Politely elbowing its way into the luxury mid-size SUV roster, the XC90 has a range of trims whose priciest version rivals that of a starter home, but which is certainly not for beginners. With a range of powertrains and a hybrid plug-in option that all attach to a streamlines four-cylinder T6 engine, it delivers on speed and fuel economy; the XC90 is not here to play. Its performance and good looks earn it a well-deserved place in the pantheon of luxury SUV's.
How does it drive with only the four-cylinder T6 engine on offer?
The XC90's decision to scrap a 6 or 8 cylinder engine for the four cylinders might seem counterintuitive to some, but the decisions largely pays off in the driving experience. The 2.0-liter engine comes in three strengths: the turbocharged 250-hp T5, the turbo and supercharged 316-hp T6, and the 400-hp hybrid T8 plugin. The smaller engine gives the XC90 the feeling of being in a car rather than an SUV, which makes it surprisingly nimble on the uptake. With the choice of comfort or dynamic modes, the driving stays smooth whether you're on or off road, and the power steering is responsive and comfortable. The leanness of the XC90 might have something to do with its fleet footing and ability to handle power: its almost 300 kilos lighter than the Mercedes Benz ML 250 Bluetec and more than half a ton lighter than the Range Rover Discovery, two models it's clearly trying (and very possibly succeeding) to out class. This sinewy body makes the XC90 incredibly responsive on the throttle and allows the driver a rare opportunity to command a seven-passenger vehicle like its a sedan. While it may be a bit noisier than the Bluetec or the Discovery, you may just want your passengers to know how much engineering skill went into driving them around.
So, is the interior really that great?
It really is. Across the board, the XC90 has drawn rapturous applause from reviewers for its smart, intuitive and elegant design which, while certainly noticeably more refined on the upscale Excellence model, are still present throughout the range of trims. The Swedish aesthetic combines matte walnut wood, stitched Nappa leather and textured metal within which some pretty nifty comfort features are hidden. Seats are equipped with individual heating, and on the Inscription model they have massaging functions, and the Excellence model comes with custom crystal tumblers made by Swedish glassmakers Orrefors. There's an optional upgrade to a memory driver's seat, which may feel stiff at first but quite literally molds to the driver's body to give them the most ergonomic ride, and a heated steering wheel. The XC90 has room for seven in three rows of seating, and while the legroom is an industry leader, you might want to stuff your overprivileged teens in the back, where the legroom is a bit tight. All models except the T5 come with three rows of seating, and just in case you needed to know more about what makes the Excellence so excellent, there are reclining rear seats with massaging function, a folding rear table, open pore wood and Nappa leather throughout, and a refrigerator. See, who needs a house?
What about the tech features?
In another largely successful attempt at intuitive and minimalistic design, Volvo packs the lion's share of its infotainment into the 9-inch tablet like touchscreen which features Volvo's Sensus infotainment system. The newest models also see Apple Car Play and Android Auto as standard features, and popular music apps like Spotify come built in. There is also a 12-inch optional upgrade to the touchscreen, and most reviewers find it very responsive and quick to respond to inputs and smartphone compatibility. The system might take a little getting used to for new buyers, especially those who might not use tablets regularly, and there were some notes that it is quite easy for the screen to get covered in fingerprints, which makes it difficult to read with direct sunlight coming in. However more odd is the presence of just two USB ports in the whole vehicle, which come as a disappointment to the long-suffering teens who might need to charge their phones in the back seat and will find themselves out of luck unless they ask very nicely. Such are the trials and tribulations of life!
Is the hybrid model something to think about?
For the basement bargain price of nearly $12,000 you can upgrade to the T8 plug-in hybrid powertrain, which chugs along at a startling 400-hp (indeed, the most hp of any model). However, with great horsepower comes great responsibility: the battery adds another 450 lbs of weight to your car, and it takes about 3 hours to charge fully. You can travel around 14 miles on the battery power alone, and it is clocked in at 0-60 in under 6 seconds, a feat for a hybrid. It's also listed as delivering 54 mpg, an absolutely unheard of number. In addition, the T8 dispenses with a mechanical all-wheel-drive system and instead employs a 60 kilowatt, 82-hp electric motor on the rear axle, which allows the XC90 T8 to run on the engine, the rear motor, or both. So while the hybrid upgrade is essentially the same price as adding a Prius to your Volvo, there are certainly enough design and engineering perks to give you pause. Besides, it's much nicer than stapling a Prius to your Volvo.
Is the excellence model really worth the price tag?
Here's where you'll need to ask yourself what kind of car buyer you really are, and it's about more than the hefty $100k+ price tag (though to be fair, it's also a lot about that price tag). Volvo is clearly aiming to make its presence known among the luxury SUV buyers and sellers and giving Range Rover, Mercedes, BMW, and Porsche a run for their money. Is it punching above its class with the Excellence model? Well, Volvo has been playing the long game in their rebranding launch and working hard to shed their 'boxy but good' image for a more streamlined look. The Excellence has increased sound canceling and Pirelli tires that help to drown out sound further and if that doesn't work, there's an optional 20 speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system to help keep the world at bay. And lest we forget, there are also those Nappa leather captains chairs in the back seat, custom crystal glasses to put on your open grain walnut armrest and fold out table, and a refrigerator to keep it all cool. If you're already looking in this market, then you'll be interested to know that the Range Rover long wheelbase model starts at almost $110,000 so when you think about it like that, it's really sort of a bargain, isn't it?