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Review of the 2018 Volvo XC90: Practical in the best possible way

2018 Volvo XC90 | Photo: Volvo
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Piero Facchin
Design in the service of comfort and safety

It’s not hard to see why the Volvo XC90 is “the most awarded SUV in history”. Ever since Chinese giant Geely acquired Volvo, the Swedish brand’s engineer have infused its vehicles with refined design and all of the renowned safety systems that have made Volvo’s reputation.

The luxury SUV segment is a ferociously competitive one, crowded with a large number of models offering premium levels of comfort and state-of-the-art materials, not to mention a thousand and one ways to personalize them.

The XC90 has a distinctly Volvo style, and even if overall it comes across as quite squarish, its forms and the harmony that reigns between the different elements of the chassis confer on it an aura of sophisticated, streamlined luxury. Its typical front grille is framed by distinctly Volvo headlights inspired by the hammer belonging to a certain Thor (the god of thunder in norse mythology).

Volvo’s modern style signature borrows traditional elements of Scandinavian design, for instance simple, sleek likes and highly controlled surfaces, and combines them with classic proportions and striking details. The result is a range of unique high-end products. Add to that interiors that feature the best natural materials available, impressive professional expertise and lots of natural light, and you get a luxurious, elegant and relaxing environment in which to travel.

Inside the large XC90, space is not exactly lacking. Cargo capacity is massive, for example. Comfort and interior finishing are highly refined. Materials used are clearly of high quality, and you get the impression you’re in a luxury car without any of the ostentatiousness that can come with that; in other words, everything is done in moderation. The seating is wonderfully comfortable, and the seats are highly adjustable. The second row of seats consists of three individual seats that can be reclined. The seats can be slid backwards or forwards to create more legroom for third-row passengers or to increase cargo capacity.

All of the many drive assist systems included here are latest-generation, enhancing the level of safety. This second-generation Volvo XC90 SUV features a comprehensive suite of standard safety systems that are technologically sophisticated (IntelliSafe), chief among them two highly advanced technologies: the Run-Off-Road Protection package and an automatic braking system that works at intersections. These Volvo systems help the second-generation Volvo XC90 earn its designation as the safest SUV in the world. The various systems are simple to activate and deactivate, and work extremely well.

The Bowers & Wilkins audio system will provide you with a highly precise sound experience, with rich and deep tones. By the way, the XC90’s audio system is equipped with a 1400W Class D amplifier and 19 speakers, as well as one of the auto industry’s first ventilated subwoofers.

What’s perhaps most surprising about the XC90 is that, despite its large dimensions, it actually runs on a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine, turbocharged as well as supercharged; output is 254 hp in the T5 version, 320 hp in the T6 and up to 400 hp in the T8 hybrid. The Geartronic 8-speed transmission is perfectly fluid, whatever speed you’re at, and with its five drive modes, it can accommodate all of the situations you'll encounter on the road.

Like most of the models in the segment it competes in, the Volvo XC90 does lean when cornering, but the responsiveness of the steering is precise, and the steering wheel is able to convey the right information to the driver with its connected, pleasant feel.

There are three versions of the XC90: the Momentum, the R-Design (sportier and more luxurious) and the Inscription version, which offers the highest level of sophisticated luxury. It even has a gear knob made of Orefors crystal.

Pricing varies between $59,150 and $81,650. The main rivals of the XC90 include the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Lincoln MKT.

The history of the XC90 and the principles of Scandinavian design
It’s easy to forget that even though this new edition is only the second generation of the model, the XC90 has actually been around since 2002. Since that year there have been several updates leading up to the bigger revision of the XC90 in 2014, but in general they consisted of evolutionary updated of pre-existing iterations. The big revolution happened when Volvo hired Thomas Ingenlath, an excellent designer who had made his reputation at the Volkswagen Group before moving to the Scandinavian manufacturer.

Since joining the company in 2012, Ingenlath leads a team of stylists and engineers who revolutionized design at Volvo, and helped make the automaker’s cars among the most sought-after luxury models on the market today. His five years spent leading the design teams at Volvo have coincided with a reinvention of the brand itself. Volvo products are now in demand, highly distinctive and among the most attractive vehicles on the market, as well as providing strong competition for the German luxury brands.

Just a year ago, Volvo’s Ingenlath received the Design Hero award at the Autocar Awards. He’d only spent five years at the head of this crucial department for brand development, which gives the Scandinavian brand a strong and clear identity. Volvo today has its own distinctive look, instantly recognizable.

It’s not really that surprising that the Scandinavian automaker has managed to place the Scandinavian identity at the top of its brand’s priorities. The architecture and the design that comes out of these small Scandinavian countries have their own character. The basic philosophy comprises five indispensable elements: light, energy efficiency, streamlined forms and a connection with nature. These form the basis of all the best designs coming out of the region, including in the field of architecture and, of course, in the automotive domain.

Perhaps because of their geographical reality and the fact that much of the year is spent indoors, Scandinavian stylists and designers have also developed a neutral colour palette, conceived to maximize what natural light does exist. This is helped along by the use of large glass surfaces and prominent exposure to outside light.

Energy efficiency has also been a longstanding preoccupation for Nordic people. Sweden and Denmark have laws on the books that oblige homeowners to make their dwelling as energy-efficient as possible. This same philosophy has led Volvo to optimize the efficiency of its powertrains and minimize carbon emissions.

Contrary to the principles of modern architecture, which focus largely on function over form, Scandinavian designers, known for their open-mindedness, like to play with forms and avoid esthetic extravagances, preferring to explore design ideas that are streamlined but no less interesting for it.

Volvo, thanks to Ingenlath’s efforts and talents, and to a clearly defined design philosophy, has been able to adapt to exigencies of the very competitive luxury SUV market. In addition to the XC90, it also offers the XC60 and the XC40, both of which have won their own share of design awards.


Stunningly attractive, solid driving dynamics, Volvo’s reputed safety and comfort


Third row of seats not that easily accessible, high pricing (T8 in particular)


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Piero Facchin
Piero Facchin
Automotive expert