Launched in 2003, Volvo’s first luxury SUV, the XC90, became the Swedish manufacturer’s bestselling vehicle in America. But 12 years is a long model cycle, and BMW’s X5, Audi’s Q7 and Porsche’s Cayenne overtook the venerable Volvo with better amenities and performance technologies.
This new, second-generation XC90 still won’t smoke the Porsche at Nürburgring, but it’s a clarion call to competitors that Volvo and its new owners, Chinese-based Geely Automotive, aren’t fooling around. More lavish, handsome in that stoic Swedish way and absolutely stuffed with world-class safety features, this new seven-seater puts Volvo squarely back in the fray.
The body is slightly longer, taller and more muscular than the outgoing model, and the grill carries the company’s updated bolder “iron mark,” the diagonal arrow that has fronted Volvos since day one. On the inside, comfort and roominess abound, even for tall, long-legged folks. Of particular note — the center stack is modern, functional and mercifully free of buttons and switches.
The base-model trim level, Momentum, will look and feel familiar to the Volvo faithful. Those craving a sportier look can opt for the R-Design level, with its larger wheels, mirror covers in matte silver, contoured seats and dramatic, T-shaped daytime running lights, called “Thor’s Hammer.” The big winner will probably be the Inscription level, with the aforementioned running lights, super-soft nappa leather, handcrafted woods and an overall more opulent look and feel.
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Power comes from a supercharged, turbocharged, two-liter, four-cylinder engine boasting 316 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. Yes, you read that right — all that oomph comes from a four-banger and is delivered via the silky-smooth eight-speed Geartronic transmission to the Haldex all-wheel drive system.
The company’s new Sensus interface, standard across all trim levels, is controlled through a 12.1-inch touch screen that connects to a range of Cloud-based applications. The easy-to-use system can mirror Apple and Android devices and even turn the vehicle into a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Safety has always been Volvo’s hallmark, and the XC90 continues that tradition with a comprehensive, technically sophisticated package that includes two world-firsts: run-off-road protection and auto-brake at intersection.
If the XC90 detects that you’re heading off-road unintentionally, it tightens up the seat belts and engages what Volvo calls “energy-absorbing functionality between the seat and the seat frame” to provide spine protection. Auto-brake engages if you unwittingly turn in front of an oncoming car and is part of the Volvo-branded “City Safety” umbrella, which also auto-brakes for cyclists and pedestrians.
Last September, a limited run of specially designated “First Edition” XC90s — 1,927 of them, in honor of the year when the first Volvo rolled off the assembly line — sold out in 47 hours. Such an enthusiastic response certainly seems to indicate a lot of brand loyalty and pent-up demand.
With pricing that starts at $48,900 — reasonable in this highly competitive arena — you can bet Volvo’s rivals are keeping a close eye on the revered Swede’s latest challenge.
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Our thanks to Autobahn Volvo’s product specialist Dan DeFrank for demonstrating the XC90’s finer points. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.