Critics love the XC90, but is it really all that?
I was skeptical. The critics rave about the 2016 Volvo XC90, but I wasn’t sure it could be my forever car. Yes, Volvo is known for safety, and this SUV gets high marks. Yes, Volvo is known for it’s demure, European look, but would the minimalist interior pack enough pampering for me? And as three-row SUVs go, would it be big enough for my family?
But critics and customers alike have made the XC90 one of most popular SUVs on the market. So, we had to find out, is the XC90 really all that?
Yes, I’m shallow: Looks matter
So let’s start with the XC90’s looks. It’s a large SUV—deceivingly large; it felt larger behind the wheel than it seemed it would—with its lightening bolt-shaped tail lights and the rear spoiler; its ‘sporty’ lines seem like they were shaped by the wind. The front end is a little sleeker too, with a little bad-assery carved into the headlights and bumper.
As SUVs go, it’s not as boxy as some, which has its upside (easier to park) and downside (less room for passengers, especially in the third row). I won’t go into the Bursting Blue color of the R-Design (for sport) model I drove, which was not my favorite (I love a classic pearl white), though it was easy to find in a parking lot.
Who This Car is For
- Families who need a mid-sized SUV with a third row
- Buyers who value luxury and love thoughtful touches
- Early adopters who love technology
- Drivers who need power and confidence on rough roads
- Buyers who put a premium on safety
- Buyers who love the minimalist Swedish design and a Euro feel
- Buyers for whom the $67,000 price tag is not a barrier
Attention to detail: Mostly hits, but a few misses
Volvo clearly decided to include every feature they could in this SUV. From some unique innovations to a few smart touches, time in this car was fun and comfortable, too. There are so many I thought it best to list them:
- Great drive experience; the XC90 was strong and confident on local streets and on the highway
- 5 drive modes ranging from sport to off road, so you can choose the experience you have behind the wheel
- Windshield wipers that squirt fluid from the wipers, not the car hood
- ‘Air lift’ feature that raises the car up two inches for off road driving or down two inches for easier cargo loading (there’s a button in the cargo area that lets you make this adjustment when you need it for loading cargo!)
- Head-up display, which projects key information such as the speed you’re going, speed limit of the road you’re on and adaptive cruise speed setting, onto the windshield in front of you (a $900 option)
- Road sign information detector: turn this feature on and speed limit icons are displayed on the driver information screen and on the head up display; the system actually reads road signs and updates the information when it detects a new sign with different information
- Capless gas tank, which made refilling a lot easier
- Built in second row booster seat; Volvo started adding these to their cars years ago and they are a great convenience
- Articulating head lights that ‘turn’ as you turn the wheel, pointing to where you’re going, which is great for curvy roads or when making a turn on a dark road
- Apple CarPlay; connect your phone via the USB port, choose the CarPlay icon on the touch screen and the system allows you to make calls, have messages read to you and send messages, all through your phone
- Lights under the front seats; this might be my favorite ‘luxury’ feature. The underside of the front driver and passenger seats are no longer the perfect hiding spot for my lipstick, phone or the baby’s binky
- Bowers & Wilkins sound system and HD radio truly has a concert hall feel. The sound is so awesome you might actually not get sick of Adele (a $2,650 option)
- Good cargo space with the third row up; sometimes this is a compromise, but not here.\
What I didn’t love as much (but could get used to):
- Most functions are on the touchscreen and for most, there is not a secondary button option; this makes things like climate control and and music selection difficult when you’re driving—you have to take your eyes off the road to look at the screen; I wish there were a few more buttons
- Visibility can be challenging; blind spot monitors and the rear view camera really come in handy. It was often hard to see out the rear window because of the rear roof-support pillars and the head rests. There is a button you can push to quickly lower the second row headrests, but it’s on the touchscreen, so it’s hard to get to quickly; also the head rests drop down fast and hard so you risk bopping a kid on the head (well, maybe that’s a handy use for the feature)
- The minimalist key fob was beautiful to hold but harder to use, especially if you have long fingernails; the buttons are narrow and lined up on the side of the fob, making them hard to push
- The hard-to-access third row was a bit of a challenge. Once I got back there, it was comfortable with plenty of leg room. But getting there was a feat. With a car seat on the passenger’s side, I had to access through the driver’s side; the second row seat doesn’t push forward very far, so I had to climb into the back. If the third row is something you’d need regularly, I’d opt for captains chairs in the middle row.
Volvo’s self driving features rock
Maybe one of the standout features in the XC90 is Pilot Assist. Also, the car’s adaptive cruise controls is pretty good. We looked at the XC90’s entire self-driving suite here, which I would recommend reading because you’ll want to try it out. Over the week, I found myself using Pilot Assist much more than any other feature; it completely took the stress out of stressful traffic jams.
Could this be my forever car?
If I rarely need to use the third row, but always use the second, I think yes, I could live with the XC90 in my driveway.
What We Loved
- Pilot Assist (requires $1,800 convenience package)
- Leather and suede interior with stitched details
- Large touchscreen
- Elegant, minimalist interior
- Built in second row booster seat
- Fun to drive, easy to park
- Ample second row leg room, even with a car seat installed
- Plenty of cargo space behind the third row—it fit the stroller and lots of groceries
- Head-up display
- Road sign detection and display
- The Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system—wow
- Capless gas tank
- Under seat lighting
- Surround view cameras (requires $1,800 vision package)
What You Need to Know
- Price starts at $44,000; price of the model we drove, about $67,000
- Premium fuel recommended
- The third row can be difficult to access
- Learning to use all the safety technology can take some time
- Most functions are on the touchscreen, which can be cumbersome
- Only a single USB port (tucked into the center arm rest) and a 12V power port in the center console
Disclosure: Volvo provided the XC90 for our test drive; opinions expressed here are all my own.