One of the biggest challenges in a new relationship is overcoming differences in expectations. Doing so is difficult, but ultimately, it makes for a more fulfilling relationship. The healthy way of dealing with these differences is to err on the side of over-communicating, making sure the two of you talk through what you want and need from each other. That way, everything is out in the open, and you can work on coming to a mutually-agreeable compromise.
If you don’t take that approach, especially if you have high expectations for how the other person will behave, those mismatched expectations will slowly poison the relationship. Disappointment and resentment will grow over time until there’s no hope of saving what was once a great thing. Had you voiced your expectations and adjusted them to meet reality earlier in the relationship, you would have saved yourself a lot of heartache.
With that idea in mind, when I found out Volvo was sending an all-new XC90 for me to test, I was almost as anxious as I was excited. It had so much potential to be amazing, but at the same time, thanks to how much hype there has been about the XC90, I had extremely high expectations. What if it was a very good car, but my expectations were too high? Would I come away from the experience disappointed even with no fault on Volvo’s part?
One contributing factor to my anxiety was that I didn’t necessarily think the XC90’s exterior design was as attractive as others were making it out to be. Don’t get me wrong – I still thought it was a very attractive vehicle. I just wasn’t completely on-board with the idea that it was a Swedish supermodel in SUV form.
In person, I still didn’t think the new XC90’s looks lived up to the hype, but it was definitely a vehicle that looked better in person than it did in photos. If you’re looking for a luxury crossover SUV and aren’t quite sold on the looks, at least head over to the dealership to check one out in person. You’ll probably be surprised.
Whether you think the XC90 looks like the Swedish supermodel of your dreams or is just a very attractive Swede with a differing occupation, you can’t deny that it’s a car with presence. It has a distinctive Volvo look, especially from the front, and the daytime running lights look spectacular. They’re also officially called “Thor’s Hammer DRLs,” which is pretty awesome. Kudos to whoever came up with that idea.
If you want to talk about expectations, though, the interior absolutely exceeded my expectations. Granted, the version I drove had the Inscription package, a $5,600 option that added Nappa leather and walnut wood trim among several other things, but if you don’t add any more options after that, you’re looking at a $55,000 car that feels like a $75,000 car. It was well-designed and would be an extremely nice place to spend your time no matter which of the three rows you were in.
After a week of driving it, my biggest concern is that if someone wanted to use the XC90 as a family vehicle, it would be perfectly capable of serving that purpose — but the Inscription’s interior would be far too nice to expose to small children. Kids have a habit of ruining nice things, and the interior of the XC90 is too luxurious for their slimy hands, crumbly snacks, and muddy shoes. Then again, if you have small children and are worried about such things, you can save yourself some money and get the less-expensive version.
One thing that was noticeably absent in the cabin was an abundance of buttons. Instead, a large touchscreen infotainment system dominated the stack. With a nine-inch screen, it was legitimately large enough to draw comparisons to an iPad. Volvo calls the system “Sensus,” and despite the potential nightmare that a lack of physical buttons might have created, it actually ended up working extremely well.
Once I figured out the different menus and options, I was able to easily use it for everything I wanted. Sensus was quick and responsive to my inputs, and most importantly, it didn’t get in my way when I needed it to do something. Volvo was also smart to include a physical “Home” button at the bottom of the screen that made navigating much more simple than it would have been otherwise. In all honesty, Sensus is one of the best infotainment systems on the market right now.
Believe it or not, the spectacular interior of the new XC90 was not the most interesting part of the car. For that, you have to look under the hood. Instead of a six-cylinder or eight-cylinder engine, Volvo decided to use a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder that is both supercharged and turbocharged. On the non-hybrid T6 version I had, the result was 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, as well as combined fuel economy of 22 miles per gallon. Compared to the Audi Q7’s combined fuel economy rating of 18 miles per gallon, the Volvo XC90 is pretty efficient.
If you’re looking for more power or more fuel efficiency, Volvo also offers a plug-in hybrid version of the XC90 that makes a total of 400 horsepower and the equivalent of 59 miles per gallon.
Considering it had nearly 5,000 pounds to move around, I was surprised at how powerful the base engine felt. The eight-speed transmission made the most out of those 316 horses, but it usually needed a moment to downshift before the power came on full bore. When it did, though, you would never guess there were only four cylinders at work under the hood. I’m not exactly sure what the long-term reliability will be for such a complicated engine, but I’m inclined to give Volvo the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.
The rest of the driving experience was pleasant, as well. Despite being a large, heavy, three-row SUV, the XC90 never felt as large as it actually was. It was easy to drive around town, thanks in part to the great steering and in part to the adjustable air suspension, an $1,800 option I highly recommend.
In Comfort mode, it easily soaked up the many bumps and potholes that plague Boston’s streets. When I put it in Dynamic mode, the suspension firmed up, the exhaust opened up, and the steering and throttle inputs sharpened. Even though the engine only has four cylinders, I was surprised at how enjoyable the exhaust note sounded. It wasn’t going to make any Mercedes-AMG drivers jealous, but it was still delightfully aggressive. I preferred Comfort mode’s suspension settings around town, but even in Dynamic mode, the ride never felt harsh.
Thankfully, Volvo included an Individual mode that I could customize based on my preferences. In my case, that meant putting everything everything in Dynamic mode except for the suspension, which I left set to Comfort. While that setting was stored for me to go back to, it would have been nice if the car hadn’t defaulted to Comfort mode every time I turned the car back on. Then again, there might have been a way to get the car to stay in Individual mode that I just missed.
Once the proper driving settings were dialed in though, it was hard not to enjoy driving the XC90. All the space in the two rows behind me was a bit of a waste for my childless, passenger-less self, but no matter where I went, I had a comfortable, luxurious ride that was easy to maneuver and park. I didn’t have to worry about safety since Volvo packed nearly every safety feature known to man into the car, and the driver-assist technologies simplified everything, especially the 360-degree overhead camera.
Weirdly enough, despite the attention the XC90 gets on the Internet from fellow car people, it got very few looks around town. Maybe Boston isn’t enough of a car city for pedestrians to pay much attention to it, but for a car that got so much praise on its surprisingly-luxurious interior when I showed it to people, I felt mostly anonymous from behind the wheel. It was almost like I was driving a secret. As someone who doesn’t usually look for attention while driving, it was pretty nice.
Flash isn’t really the Volvo way, though, so you shouldn’t be surprised by that revelation. Instead, it has traditionally been a quieter, more restrained brand. The XC90 has all the luxury, high-quality materials, safety features, technology, and comfort you could want from a premium SUV, but it doesn’t feel the need to shout it out to everyone as they pass it by. For some buyers, that lack of flash will be a reason to avoid it, but for those who appreciate understated luxury, they’re going to have a hard time finding a better SUV for their money than the Volvo XC90.
Even with my high expectations, I still came away impressed.