Most people get a certain image in their head when they think of Volvo – that boxy, boring albeit well-loved shape from Volvo of days past. There have been some changes, but over the years, Volvo has always built sturdy, reliable, safe vehicles. They just were never that beautiful, or terribly luxurious. Slowly but surely the edges got rounder over the years, and the interiors more plush. However, there was always that connection to the older days that left the final product a bit awkward. They made some great cars, but a bit quirky.
That’s all changed. Drastically. When Volvo introduced the all-new XC90 for 2015, it was the first vehicle in a new era for the brand. Making some huge commitments to safety, efficiency and luxury, the all-new Volvo was a revelation. And two years later, it’s as good as the first day we saw one. There’s an air of Scandanavian restraint that permeates the gorgeous interior. Minimalist design is punctuated by exquisite materials throughout. Jewel-like details in metal knobs and rollers, stunning wood inserts and solid aluminum trim adorn the sleek dash and center console. Even the key is thoughtfully designed and constructed.
It’s quite a departure from the boxy Volvo 240’s of the 1980’s. When you consider where Volvo is headed with safety, it’s in line with one of the brands longest-standing tenets. Safety has always been a driving force for Volvo, and they have made a commitment to design vehicles that effectively eliminate any fatalities in new Volvo vehicles by 2020. That’s an extremely ambitious goal, however, the active safety and autopilot capabilities of the XC90 tell you they are serious. The car is constantly monitoring the environment around it and ready to intervene to avoid a collision.
Another direction that Volvo is headed is toward more and more efficient powertrains. The twin-charged (turbo and supercharged) 2.0-Liter 4-cylinder in this XC90 T6 does a wonderful job of motivating the SUV which sits among the larger ones in the class. With 316hp, it manages to do a lot with just a little bit of displacement. With 20 MPG city and 25 MPG highway, the efficiency is great as well. Also available, however, is the T8 hybrid, which gets a staggering 54 MPG and has a combined 400hp with the electric motors.
The exterior design of the XC90 is also a home run, with modern, clean and flowing lines tied to enough of the original Volvo DNA so that it’s recognizable. It strikes a refined, composed silhouette and makes the most of its size. The unmistakable grill is flanked by LED headlights that are among the best we’ve ever tested. They do an incredible job of lighting the road at night, further punctuating Volvo’s commitment to safety.
Tying the whole thing together is Volvo’s new infotainment and control system, which we find to be the best in the business. It has the same sort of simplicity of operation that you felt the first time you picked up an iPhone. Everything you need is in a few small areas of the screen, and the whole car can be controlled simply. There are plenty of menus to dive into, but that’s all for setting the system up. Operation of it is very simple, and there are just enough hard buttons and knobs for heavily-used functions. We often lament the over-complicated systems in many of today’s cars, with about 10 buttons to perform the same function. Here, the controls are as clean and simple as the design.
When you consider the commitments that Volvo has made to not only safety, but design – by hiring the interior designer away from Rolls Royce/Bentley – you quickly see why they are considered to be one of the rising stars in the automotive world. Soon their entire lineup will sport this new aesthetic, and while the XC90 was the first, it still stands as one of the best SUV’s in its class.
By Jason Saini
Special thanks to the Volvo Group for providing the 2017 Volvo XC90 for review.