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The Volvo XC90 is one of the older crossover SUVs on the market, but it's still a favorite for families that put safety and prestige on about the same level. Though it was new in 2003, and hasn't been updated substantially since, it's one of the safest vehicles you can buy.
You'd never guess its age from its exterior, features list or driving dynamics, though. In fact, the XC90 has more technology now than ever before, and it's a great choice for families who need as many as seven seats.
While Volvo updated the exterior look of the XC90 yet again in 2013--with a new body-color bumper-and-trim look, new bumper brightwork, and LED running lamps and taillamps, all of which make this model look more carlike once again--the XC90 does show its age inside, where it still shows the design direction of Volvo before it went to more minimalist layouts and thin-panel controls (as you'll find in the S60 and XC60, among others).
This year, the 2014 XC90 3.2 gets the executive c-pillar emblem and floor mats, the folding front passenger seat, 19-inch "Galateia" wheels and the option for the upgraded Sovereign leather. The R-Design model also receives the Homelink garage door opener and digital compass and the new Crystal White Metallic paint. All-wheel drive is now a stand-alone option, as is the Blind Sport Information System, dual-screen rear seat entertainment system, the Red wood steering wheel, and the 19-inch Galateia wheels.
The XC90 performs as well as you might expect from a family-oriented crossover, but there's no reward here for driving enthusiasts. You'll find plenty of power from the 240-horsepower, 3.2-liter six-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic (the V-8 was discontinued last year and is a fading memory), and it's an exceptionally smooth combination with the six-speed automatic. Yet the XC90 just isn't much fun to drive; it's mostly a matter of the detached feel of the steering, even though quick maneuvers are safe and sound. Synthetic motor oil is standard on all XC90 models; it extends oil-change intervals to 10,000 miles.
Thanks to three rows of seating, the XC90 can accommodate up to seven and is a good alternative to either the more trucklike SUVs or a well-optioned minivan. This model still lives up to Volvo's reputation for excellent seats--especially in the first two rows--and they're worthy of all-day drives. The third row can be hard to get to for all but the smallest kids, but the second row feels comfortable and shaped for adults. The interior is as reconfigurable as any large family might hope for; keep the third row down and you'll generally have lots of space for larger grocery runs. Additionally, the ride quality is smooth and stable, with less pitchiness and side-to-side motion than in many other crossovers. For 2014, the softer Sovereign leather is available as on option on the entry-level 3.2 model.
Safety is of course a top priority in the XC90, and this model hasn't let us down in any way. It's been a repeat IIHS Top Safety Pick, and in addition to the usual roster of features, there's rear park assist, and an available Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) to warn you of nearby vehicles.