Volvo brings its luxury and performance A-game to the XC90

Volvo XC90 T8 R-design

2017 Volvo XC90 T8 E-AWD Inscription: Lotsa names. Must be pricey.

Price: Hoo-boy, $88,855 as tested. (The trim level starts at $69,900. More about options later.)

Marketer’s pitch: “Most-awarded luxury SUV of the century.”

Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com liked the elegant styling, spacious second and third row, but not its overly busy ride quality or that it was short on performance and economy.

Reality: Pricey, but it could be worth it.

What it is: The XC90 was redesigned for the 2016 model, and carries over with a few revisions for the 2017. It’s garnered a slew of awards for design and function, including Motor Trend’s SUV of the year. So I wanted to see how it measured up for day-to-day Mr. Driver’s Seat driving. 

Pretty inside: The linear walnut trim, the Nappa brown leather interior, the cupholder hidden beneath a long slide-away door, the iPad-looking infotainment center — all added up to the prettiest passenger compartment I’ve seen in a long while. I’d ogled this at auto shows and at the King of Prussia Mall. Still nice. (It oughta be; most of these features are part of the $3,500 Inscription Package price.)

Start me up: Not satisfied with a start button to press, Volvo offers a silver knob that drivers twist to ignite the cylinders. Nice touch.

Shifty: The shift lever looks as if it’s made of crystal. There’s no shift capability in the hybrid version I tested, but getting into gear is easy enough. The eight-speed automatic transmission operated smoothly and without intrusion.

Awesome infotainment: From the first glimpse of the XC90 Sensus Connect interface in the Philadelphia Auto Show, I suspected a real breakthrough. The reality didn’t disappoint. The 9-inch touchscreen is the closest to an iPad or other tablet I’ve seen in a car so far. The main screen is divided into four clearly marked sections, for navigation, stereo, phone, and sound controls. The operation takes some getting used to, but it then becomes the easiest touchscreen system I’ve encountered.

Up to speed: A little silver roller tube controls the drive mode, from all-wheel drive to pure electric, hybrid, power, and finally off-road. (If you’re taking your $88,000 Volvo off-road, well, aren’t you special.) The 2.0-liter supercharged turbo engine creates 316 horsepower — the electric motor takes total power up to 400 horses. Power mode gets to 60 mph in a hurry (5.3 seconds, according to Car and Driver). Hybrid mode can be a little balky and slow, though.

Top-notch sound: After settling into a cruising pattern, I had some time to enjoy the music. The presets include “studio,” “stage,” and “Gothenburg Concert Hall,” and all three live up to their names. Other vehicles attempt concert hall effects, but the Bowers and Wilkins Premium Sound system ($2,500) really follows through.

On the road: The large crossover feels as if it’s going to fall over on winding country roads while in hybrid mode, but power mode is far more forgiving. It’s no BMW X5 or Lexus F-Sport crossover, but the XC90 holds its own. The XC90 really shines for parking.

Friends and stuff: I wasn’t expecting a second and third row from the XC90, but I was actually pleasantly surprised. The third-row seat sits on a raised floor, so legroom is not the usual unpleasantness of the way, way back. The middle row moves fore and aft, so reasonable — if not entirely un-coach-like — accommodations could be made for 5-foot-10-inch Mr. Driver’s Seat in all three rows. Headroom is a bit of a squeeze, but even it is still not bad. Second-row passengers enjoy heated seats, part of the $1,950 Climate Package.

Night shift: The headlights illuminate the roadway impeccably, and the optional turning feature adds to the delight. And along with many other features, this can be simply turned off through the touchscreen.

Fuel economy: I averaged 23 mpg in the usual Mr. Driver’s Seat realm of exurbs and highways. Premium fuel recommended but not required.

Where it’s built: Gothenburg, Sweden

How it’s built: The Volvo XC90 gets the lowest rating from Consumer Reports for reliability. Major components look good, but audio system and body integrity are the low points.

In the end: I just rationalized the low reliability score, something I usually don’t do. If the reliability stresses you out, enjoy the massage in the front seats (part of the $2,900 Luxury Package, which includes leather door handles and sun visor, and Nubuck pillars). But the XC90 certainly offers a luxurious and fun package.