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Midsize Luxury SUV Comparison: 2017 Volvo XC90

By Richard Homan on April 13, 2017 9:00 AM

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A stalwart among midsize luxury SUVs

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Starting Price: $46,745

Above Average: Good to drive and great to be driving in

Below Average: Infotainment system, fuel economy

Consensus: Self-assured on the road, the 2017 Volvo XC90 is also easy on the eyes and your body

Far from being little more than a safety vehicle driven by a tribe called "yuppies," the 2017 Volvo XC90 is a midsize crossover SUV that's getting full emotional credit for luxury and appeal. Sure, it's a safety leader -- with fistfuls of safety tech on the standard features list -- but it's also a knockout, inside and out. And you can dress it out just for you -- front- or all-wheel drive (AWD), 5- or 7-passenger, 250-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder or 400-horsepower plug-in hybrid, from $46,745 to, ahem, $105,895. You get the idea. For our comparison test, we drove a loaded 7-passenger XC90 T6 AWD Inscription model, which priced out at $72,805.

 

2017 Volvo XC90

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Highway Driving

Volvo's XC90 feels most at home on the open road. Our T6 AWD Inscription's 316-horsepower 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged 4-cylinder took great advantage of the engine's design -- it built quick, supercharged power at the lower end of the rev range boosted with deep, turbocharged power higher up the powerband. Whereas the base XC90's mechanical suspension leans toward a firmer feel, the optional 4-corner Air Suspension on the XC90 we drove for this comparison gave the SUV a compliant road ride. At speed, road noise wasn't a major issue, wind noise even less so, though a few of us noted some of the soundtrack of that hard-working 4-cylinder finding its way into the cabin under acceleration.

City Driving

Driving around town is a superb way to appreciate the seamless shifts of the Volvo's 8-speed Geartronic automatic transmission. If you spend a lot of time in the city, however, your outdoorsy Swedish luxury SUV may need parking help. We'd recommend finding the money to equip your XC90 with the available 360-degree Surround View Camera (a dream when maneuvering tight spaces) and Park Assist Pilot (an automatic parking system that steers you exactly into tight parking spaces while you just throttle and brake). One other urban peace-of-mind innovation worth noting is City Safe, a standard XC90 feature that can detect obstacles ahead in stop-and-go traffic and automatically hit the brakes to help you avoid a low-speed shunt (kapow!).

Put the Volvo XC90's Drive-Mode Settings into "Dynamic" from a push button on the center console, and the driving inputs -- engine, transmission, steering and brakes -- all reshape to deliver a sportier response. If you get the air suspension, the handling tightens considerably as well. No matter what your driving environment -- highway, city, sporty -- the Volvo XC90's brakes are a match for the best, with short pedal travel, immediate response, and ease of modulation.

Interior Appeal

Nothing looks (or smells) as good as leather. Throughout the XC90 line, Volvo offers five different levels of leather upholstery. Take that as your example of how serious the Swedish carmaker is at inspiring you to get comfy. From the 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive T5 Momentum (that's the $46,745 version) to the choir-of-angels T8 Excellence hybrid ($105,895), every Volvo XC90 interior makes it easy. Period.

From the cockpit, which centers on the cross-effect of the infotainment touch-screen display flanked by vents, the XC90 feels grand, but not conceited. Interior trim choices start at brushed aluminum and move up through wood and carbon fiber. Adding equal parts elegance and visual "pop" is the asymmetrical padded center console.

Life gets better for the driver and passenger thanks to firm, back-easing seats (power lumbar support is standard) that keep stress low and outward visibility high. Bravest of all, many of the most appealing super-high-end comfort and support goods -- including heated rear seats, a Bowers & Wilkins "Premium Sound" system, Park Assist Pilot, and Pilot Assist with Adaptive Cruise Control -- are available even on the least expensive XC90s.

Infotainment

Our on-staff audio guru deemed the top-end Bowers & Wilkins 19-speaker sound system "crazy good," which it most blessedly is. On the other hand, there was also general agreement that the XC90's Sensus Connect infotainment took some extra getting used to. It didn't help that a glitch in the Sensus nav system kept placing us somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but the nice, big 12-inch touch screen (8-inch on T5 Momentum models) uses a mix of touch gestures, smartphone-like swipe screens and good old-fashioned buttons for navigation, which opened the door to user frustration (especially while in motion). Reality being what it is, however, if you owned the XC90 every day, you'd soon get used to the tap/swipe/pinch/push mechanics.

Rear Seat Room

Almost as inviting as the first row, the XC90's second row of seats are comfortable and roomy enough for adults. Each of the three places individually slides fore and aft to each occupant's comfort zone. Further back, the Volvo's third row (if so equipped) will accommodate adults in a pinch as long as the jerks in the second row agree to slide their seats up a bit. Everybody's seatbacks will fold down to welcome both riders and long cargo as needed.

Cargo Utility

With all three rows of seats in place, the XC90 still gives you generous room to store your scuba gear and groceries, and the rear liftgate opens plenty wide. Drop the third- and second-row seatbacks, and the flat-load cargo floor expands, unencumbered. Beyond the expected ride and handling benefits, the $1,800 air suspension option on our test Volvo added another welcome bonus to the task of loading and unloading the SUV: a button in the rear cargo area that let us raise/lower the XC90's ride height, bringing the load floor to a more comfortable level for hauling the heavy stuff in or out.

Fuel Economy

While the Acura MDX was showing off its gasoline-sipping manners, the Volvo XC90 struggled to meet its EPA numbers (20 mpg city, 25 highway). The 22.1 miles-per-gallon figure that the hefty Volvo SUV was putting down over the California and Arizona highways of our test may have been a clue that it was carrying an extra $14,610 worth of options and option packages.

Resale Value

It's always nice to find an extra piece of gold in your back pocket. That's the story of the Volvo XC90's resale value. You see, after you've been pampered by and had your adventures in Volvo's standard-bearer crossover SUV, you'll still likely be able to sell it at a surprisingly strong price on the used-car market. In many cases, the 2017 Volvo XC90 is as good at holding its value over the years as the segment leader, the 2017 Lexus GX, which is a substantial benchmark and one of the best indicators in existence of the long-term desirability of a vehicle. In the case of a new XC90, Kelley Blue Book calculates that it will retain better than 35% of its original selling price after five years. That's gold.

 

 

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