By Derek Price
When the new-generation Volvo XC90 was introduced back in 2016, it was — hands down — the most impressive SUV I’d ever driven.
The first vehicle built on Volvo’s scalable product architecture, it felt lightyears ahead of the competition at the time. Incredibly comfortable seats, a cabin that truly exuded serenity, a tech interface that actually seemed contemporary, a bank-vault-solid body and safety features that seemed as if they were plucked from a futuristic fiction movie all combined to wow me.
Four years later, while the competition has started to catch up, the XC90 still feels ahead of its time.
This is a pricey SUV, to be sure. It starts at $67,000, so you have to expect a high bar with that number on the window. But even in the luxury SUV class, where intense competition and a race toward innovative features creates an annual battle royale, the XC90 stands out for its sophistication.
One strong point is its drivetrain. I call it Volvo’s “kitchen sink” approach, because it masterfully combines all of today’s fuel-saving and performance-enhancing technology under the hood.
The engine powering my 2020 XC90 tester, for example, checks every imaginable box: electric battery power, a supercharger, a turbocharger and direct gasoline injection. That’s how it creates a whopping 400 horsepower from a comparatively tiny, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine.
Better yet, the setup makes 472 pound-feet of torque. While the XC90 feels hefty, like it’s built from concrete, steel and granite, the instant power and muscular torque make it zip forward with sports-car enthusiasm.
Assuming you can afford it, I don’t see a single downside to this SUV. It’s a remarkable exercise in engineering and even, as far as SUVs go, reasonably good looking.
It gets even more pleasing to the eye this year with the addition of a revised grille, but the changes are subtle. It keeps the timeless, rounded-square shape that looks both rugged and refined, along with its signature “Thor’s hammer” headlights.
Tesla’s vehicles are among the best on Planet Earth in two key areas — technology and self-driving ability — but this Volvo matches up with Elon Musk’s best products far better than most vehicles from traditional auto brands.
Its self-driving ability is spectacular, even if it’s not designed for true autonomy. Turn on Pilot Assist, the equivalent of Tesla’s Autopilot feature, and the XC90 keeps itself centered in the lane and moving with the speed of traffic more smoothly and confidently than the average human driver.
Its Sensus digital interface, which involves a vertical touchscreen with icons similar to smartphones and tablet devices, may be the very best in the world. It’s intuitive to use, quick to respond to input and powerful for accessing features and luxuries that make the XC90 entertaining and comfortable for long road trips.
Perhaps my favorite thing about it, even amid all these strong points, is just how peaceful the cabin feels.
You step inside, shut the door and instantly want to exhale. It’s remarkably silent, for one thing, but the overall design has a warmth and clean simplicity that’s unmatched in any vehicle I’ve driven at this price point. It’s the closest thing I’ve driven to a Rolls-Royce at a semi-affordable price.
This year, you can even get it with “tailored wool” seat trim if you want to mimic traditional Rolls materials inside.
Somehow, the XC90’s interior manages to feel modern and old at the same time.
If you want a modern feel, BMW and Audi cabins do a brilliant job at making you feel cool with their pulsing nightclub vibe. And if you want old-school luxury, it’s hard to beat the wood trim and supple leather in a Jaguar or Aston Martin. Even pricey luxury cars typically make you pick between chilly modern simplicity or warm, fireplace coziness.
The XC90’s cabin manages to do both at the same time. It feels homey and sleek simultaneously, which I thought was the most remarkable thing about a vehicle chock full of high points.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2020 Volvo XC90 T8 E-AWD Inscription ($67,500). Options: Inscription features ($6,300), advanced package ($2,450), luxury package ($3,100), metallic paint ($645), premium sound ($3,200), park assist ($200), air suspension ($1,800), 21-inch wheels ($800). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $86,990
Wheelbase: 117.5 in.
Length: 195 in.
Width: 84.3 in.
Height: 84.5 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged four cylinder, plus electric motor (combined 400 hp, 472 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 55 combined city/highway
Why buy it?
It’s a remarkable achievement of both engineering and design. It coddles you with luxury and impresses with technology, including its “kitchen sink” drivetrain approach.