In evolutionary theory there is a concept called punctuated equilibrium. For the sake of simplicity -- and to not rehash Biology 101 and that crazy freshman year -- the premise is that a species will stay the same for a long period time, and then suddenly change. The result is something new, usually unexpected, and totally different. In my first blush with the all-new 2016 Volvo XC90, the automotive equivalent of punctuated equilibrium came to mind. And that was before I even drove the thing.

The interior is what first dazzled me. Was this the forthcoming Tesla Model X, or a Volvo? From the crisp 9-inch vertical center command screen, it'd be easy to see why this 7-passenger premium SUV could be confused with a vehicle born in Silicon Valley instead of Sweden.

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Dazzling and functional interior

This is one of the best interiors I've seen this year, and about as far removed from the previous XC90 as a peacock appears from a pterodactyl. Let's face it, despite a still-sterling safety rating, the outgoing XC90 was a rolling fossil. This top-line Inscription edition, however, dazzled. The sturdy, knurled knob that's twisted to start the engine literally gleams, as the does the small cylinder below it that controls the drive modes. Leather and wood abound in simple sophistication that only the Swedes can do. Even the leather-clad key is an exercise in elegance.

More beautiful is the new XC90's interior functionality. All three rows of seats are comfortable, and the second row can be optioned with an integrated booster seat. When not in use, the second- and third-row seats fold flat to create nearly 86 cubic of cargo capacity.  

Even the speakers are beautiful in form and function. For the extra $2,500, the Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system is a steal. Led Zeppelin never sounded better playing through my iPod.

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6-cylinder power from a 4-cylinder

On the road, the 2016 Volvo XC90 was capable and comfortable. And here, too, Volvo's midsize SUV does things its own way. The first models to go on sale will feature a 4-cylinder engine that is both supercharged and turbocharged. This unique way of boosting power results in 316 total horsepower, which makes this 4-cylinder feel more like a V6. Just don't expect miserly fuel efficiency. At 20 mpg city/25 mpg highway, this 4-cylinder is also V6-like in its gas consumption. If efficiency is top of mind, you may want to wait for the XC90 T8 plug-in hybrid model, which adds an electric motor and is to be capable of traveling up to 25 miles on battery power alone. 

My first encounter with the new XC90 was short but very sweet, and it took only a glimpse to see this premium 3-row SUV is an entirely new species. It was a long time coming, but the new XC90 appears to be worth the wait.


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