By Derek Price
If Volvo wants to sell a lot more SUVs, I’ve got an idea.
Have a salesman take the front seats from the XC90, plop them down in public places — shopping malls, parks, downtown sidewalks — and just watch how fast people’s wallets open up after they have a seat.
You’re welcome, Volvo.
There are a lot of reasons to like the new generation XC90. It’s solid. It’s smooth riding. It’s luxurious and quiet. It’s beautifully designed, both inside and out.
But it’s the seats I keep coming back to after spending a week driving it. Not only were they among the most comfortable I’ve ever sat in, with soft leather that’s heated and cooled to keep your backside at the perfect temperature, but they also somehow trapped a masseuse’s hands on the inside.
The XC90’s seats have an optional built-in massage function that you can customize in several ways. You can set the style, intensity and speed of the massage, so everywhere you drive feels like you’re sitting in a spa. It’s magical and incredibly relaxing.
In fact, this vehicle’s whole demeanor is spa-like.
From the moment you step inside, you’re surrounded by spartan, elegant Swedish style. Open-pore wood, minimalist design and a gigantic sunroof make it feel more natural and organic than most cars, and the perception of quality is everywhere.
One example: The doors still feel solid.
Most vehicles today, including many expensive luxury cars, have doors that feel light and hollowed out, presumably the result of engineers trying to eke out every last drop of fuel economy by cutting down on mass. But when you close the doors in the XC90, it feels like you shut yourself inside a bank vault.
Other car companies should take notes. While they’re at it, they should follow Volvo’s lead on digital interface design, too.
A lot of luxury brands are experimenting with different ways of controlling the phalanx of computerized bells and whistles that get crammed onto their touchscreens. Many of them are frustrating failures, which is why I think most car companies should license the digital front end from Apple and Google. Let the experts handle it, I say.
The XC90 is a notable exception. With a large, crisp touchscreen that looks and operates a lot like an iPad, its system is instantly familiar and usable. Someone at Volvo obviously spent a lot of time thinking it through, and the result is a functional and visual masterpiece.
On the outside, this big crossover is handsome without being too flashy. I like the look of the “Thor’s hammer” headlights, if not their cheesy marketing name, along with the sculpted style of horizontal lines that make it seem chiseled and serious.
My tester, a very well-optioned Inscription model with around $20,000 in upgrades, was powered by an unusually small, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that gets boosted to 316 horsepower. It uses both turbocharging and supercharging to generate big power from the tiny displacement, an interesting way of arriving at the amount of force needed to scoot a heavy vehicle with authority.
And it did. Acceleration was more than adequate with this engine, labeled the T6. If you want to go faster, and get better fuel economy at the same time, you can upgrade to the T8 Plug-In Hybrid starting around $68,000.
For the ultimate upgrade, you can choose the Excellence model that starts at $104,900 and feels like it’s designed for Russian oligarchs. It comes with a built-in refrigerator and limo-like back seats that maybe, just maybe, could tempt buyers away from a Bentley or Rolls.
Even if you don’t deal in illicit oil, you’re in luck, too. The XC90 starts at $45,750 for the Momentum trim.
At A Glance
What was tested?
2017 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD ($51,600). Options: Inscription package ($5,600), vision package ($1,950), climate package ($1,950), convenience package ($1,800), luxury package ($2,900), Bowers & Wilkins premium sound ($2,650), metallic paint ($560), second row center booster ($250), 21-inch wheels ($750), four-corner air suspension ($1,800). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $72,805
Wheelbase: 117.5 in.
Length: 194.9 in.
Width: 84.3 in.
Height: 69.9 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged four-cylinder (316 hp, 295 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 20 city, 25 highway
Why buy it?
It’s one of the best designed vehicles in the world, covering the gamut from upscale family hauler to full-blown luxury status symbol.