The Volvo XC90 is a superb luxury sport-utility, and this second-generation model launched for the 2015 model year, is a major competitor in the premium crossover class thanks to high-level technology and sharp styling.
Little has changed for the 2018 model year, except for making Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard. Four trim levels are offered: Momentum, R-Design, Inscription, and Excellence. The XC90 may be fitted with any of three turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines, including a plug-in hybrid.
The base T5 engine produces 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. In T6 models, a supercharger is added to the turbo configuration, resulting in output of 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet.
In the T8 plug-in hybrid, a 10.4-kWh lithium-ion battery pack and electric motors team with the T6 gasoline engine, yielding 400-horsepower total system output. Not only is the T8 the most fuel-efficient version, it’s the swiftest.
Each engine mates with a smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission. Base T5 versions come with standard front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is standard on T6 and T8 editions, but optional for the T5.
Two- and three-row seating configurations are available. Rear occupants in the T8 Excellence get individual seats separated by a long console.
As expected from a brand long known for emphasis on safety, the XC90 has an impressive list of standard advanced safety features. Systems include blind-spot monitoring, active lane control, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, road sign recognition, and rear collision mitigation. A rearview camera also is standard.
Each XC90 includes Pilot Assist II. This semi-autonomous system can operate the vehicle, steering lightly and braking, with no input from the driver beyond holding the steering wheel.
Crash-test scores have been superlative. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the XC90 five-star ratings overall and for both frontal and side impact. It earned a four-star score (typical of tall crossovers) for rollover protection, which is a calculated figure.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it Good ratings for side-impact crashes, as well as both small and moderate frontal overlap incidents. Frontal crash protection was deemed Superior, if an appropriate option is installed, but headlights were rated Marginal.
T5 Momentum ($46,900) has front-wheel drive and includes a power tailgate, four-zone automatic climate control, power front seats, synthetic leather upholstery, and 18-inch wheels. A vertically-oriented 9.0-inch touchscreen includes navigation. Five- and seven-passenger cabins are offered.
T5 AWD Momentum ($49,100) includes all-wheel drive. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
T5 R-Design ($51,900) has a sportier look, including 20-inch wheels, a blacked-out grille, and heated front seats. Volvo offers five- and seven-passenger versions. T5 AWD R-Design ($54,100) substitutes all-wheel drive.
T6 AWD 7-Passenger Momentum ($54,350) comes with the supercharged/turbo engine, standard all-wheel drive, leather upholstery, and three-row seating. T6 AWD 7-Passenger R-Design ($57,950) is equipped similar to T5 R-Design, but with T6 engine. T6 AWD 7-Passenger Inscription ($59,450) adds a digital instrument cluster, wood interior surfaces, upgraded audio, Nappa leather upholstery, all-wheel drive, and active noise cancellation.
T8 eAWD Plug-In Hybrid 7-Passenger Momentum ($64,950) is equipped similar to regular Momentum, with plug-in hybrid powertrain. T8 eAWD Plug-In Hybrid 7-Passenger R-Design ($68,500) is equipped similar to regular R-Design. T8 eAWD Plug-In Hybrid 7-Passenger Inscription ($70,050) is equipped similar to T6 Inscription. T8 eAWD Plug-In Hybrid Excellence ($104,900) includes an air suspension, 21-inch wheels, premium Bowers & Wilkins audio, heated/ventilated four-passenger seating, massaging function, a beverage cooler, crystal gearshift, head-up display, and panoramic moonroof.
Beauty doesn’t have to be complex, as the XC90 demonstrates masterfully. Elegant, yet bold, simplicity is the secret.
Perhaps most notably, the crossover looks smaller than its actual dimensions predict, and far smaller than its hefty weight would suggest.
Wheels reach forcefully toward the corners. Positioning the engine farther back than usual gives the XC90 an extended nose, plus proportions that suggest rear-wheel drive rather than front-drive. Although the windshield is less steeply angled than some rivals, the tail end displays aerodynamic sculpting. Abundant glass translates to good outward visibility.
Blending upscale traditional luxury with modern sensibility, the lovely XC90 cabin incorporates high-quality materials and luxury-level craftsmanship.
Front seats promise long-haul comfort, and just about anyone can find a suitable driving position. Adults fit well in the second row, though seats could use additional padding. Seats slide fore/aft to apportion leg clearance for second- and third-row passengers. Adults fit into the third row (if installed), but youngsters would be happier.
Most passengers get good views, helped by elevated “stadium-type” seating in back rows.
With second- and third-row seatbacks folded flat, cargo space totals 85.7 cubic feet. Volume dips to 41.8 cubic feet with the second row upright. With the third-row upright, space drops to 15.8 cubic feet.
Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system is among the most functional, dominated by a vertically-oriented 9.0-inch touchscreen.
Power is sufficient with the base T5 powertrain, but without much surplus to propel weighing well over two tons. Torque output emerges at low engine speed, but eases as the revs rise. Passing can be hesitant, especially on mountain upgrades.
Though the stronger turbo/supercharged T6 engine is more complex, it’s quiet, capable, and largely refined. Performance leader is the T8 plug-in hybrid, which also is the thriftiest choice, as well as the most costly.
With any powertrain, the XC90 handles like a smaller car. Driver feedback from the electric power steering feels impressively natural. Body roll is limited, despite 9.3-inch ground clearance and a tall body.
Ride quality is comfortably quiet, whether the XC90 has base 18-inch tires or optional 22-inchers. Choosing an air suspension instead of the conventional setup doesn’t necessarily smooth the ride.
In most models, drivers can select Comfort, Eco, Dynamic, or Off Road mode â€“ or elect a customized program. Each mode program controls shift points, throttle sensitivity, and steering heft. T8 drivers choose from Hybrid, Power, Pure, and Comfort modes.
Fuel economy exceeds expectations. T5 versions with all-wheel drive are EPA-rated at 22/28 mpg City/Highway, or 24 mpg Combined. Front-wheel drive raises the ratings slightly, to 22/29/25 mpg. T6 engines are EPA-rated at 20/27 mpg City/Highway, or 23 mpg Combined.
The T8 plug-in can now travel up to 19 miles on electricity alone. When the battery is depleted, it’s rated at 27 mpg Combined.
Volvo offers quite a range of trim and powertrain choices for its XC90, helping to boost its competitive position. Comfortable and quiet-running, Volvo’s largest crossover is impressively equipped, even in Momentum trim, while priced well below many rival luxury models.
Driving impressions by Aaron Cole, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.