The Car Connection Volvo XC90 Overview
The Volvo XC90 is a luxury crossover SUV with seating for up to seven passengers. In 2016 it became Volvo's first new large SUV in more than a decade. Now, the Swedish automaker has three new SUVs including the smaller XC60 and XC40.
First launched in 2003 as Volvo's largest SUV, the XC90 is now an entirely redesigned crossover that arrived for the 2016 model year. The new XC90 features three rows of seats and all-wheel drive (standard on most models), and a choice between turbocharged and supercharged 4-cylinder engines, with a plug-in hybrid model at the top of the lineup.
MORE: Read our 2021 Volvo XC90 review
With the XC90, Volvo has a rival for high-buck luxury SUVs that include the BMW X7, Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class, and Land Rover's Range Rover. The 2016 Volvo XC90 was named the North American Truck/Utility of the Year.
The new Volvo XC90
A completely new, second-generation XC90 arrived for the 2016 model year. With a new plug-in hybrid option, new 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder Drive-E engines (including a 316-horsepower, turbocharged and supercharged version), an 8-speed automatic, a radical new interior design, a tablet-like Sensus touchscreen system, and new active safety features, the 2016 Volvo XC90 offered a new take on a family luxury crossover with a distinctively Swedish style.
The base model added for 2017 is the T5, with a 250-horsepower turbocharged (but not supercharged) version of the 2.0-liter engine, and all-wheel drive as optional rather than standard equipment. The most common powertrain will be the T6 version, which uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged 4-cylinder engine good for 316 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. It's packaged with an 8-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive.
The plug-in hybrid version of the XC90 is dubbed T8 "Twin Engine," as it provides the output expected from a V-8 engine. It does so, however, with the combination of a turbo- and supercharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and an 8-speed automatic driving the front wheels, while the rear axle is powered by an 82-hp electric motor for a through-the-road hybrid setup that replaces the mechanical AWD of the other two versions. Total system output is 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque.
The trim levels got a redo for this generation as well. Base models are called Momentum, the sporty R-Design returns at the middle of the lineup, more luxurious models bear the Inscription badge, and the top-of-the-line T8 Excellence comes with every luxury feature and no options (and a price tag of more than $100,000).
For 2017, Volvo added a less powerful base T5 model with front-wheel drive and fewer luxury features, at a slightly lower price. It also added a new top-end model, the T8 Excellence. The 2018 model year was unchanged. For 2019, base XC90s added heated seats and four-zone climate control; Inscription and R-Design models gained Harman Kardon audio. Few changes were made for 2020, though battery-hybrid models gained more capacity, to 11.6 kwh. In 2021, blind-spot steering assist and adaptive LED headlights were made standard.
Volvo XC90 history
The XC90 was the oldest vehicle in the Volvo lineup before the 2016 replacement arrived. Through the long first generation, it retained its historic pricing position, slightly less expensive than its German counterparts. Perhaps more so than the latest, swoopier Volvo styles, the XC90 continued the tradition of safe and sensible Swedish design. It was voted the North American Truck of the Year in its debut year, and its sedan-like handling made the original model an easy-to-use and practical family hauler for the upscale suburbs where it's normally seen.
The basic shape of the original XC90 wore well over its more than a decade of life. A mild facelift was introduced for 2007, and another one for 2013. The latter included new body-color bumpers and trim, more brightwork on those bumpers, and LED running lamps and taillights. All of these changes contributed to its carlike personality, though the interior quickly grew dated—and showed its age particularly in the lack of the thin "floating" central console and more minimalist look now found in all other Volvos.
Handling was one of the first XC90’s key strengths, in fact. It made the XC90 an ideal alternative to larger, more ponderous sport-utility vehicles and boring, uber-practical minivans. The second-row seats were adjustable, varying the mix of passenger room and cargo volume, and a third-row seat was made standard in 2010. That one, unfortunately, was so cramped that it's strictly for children—and probably agile ones at that.
Toward the end of the first generation, the XC90 offered just one engine in U.S. versions, a 235-hp, 3.2-liter inline-6 mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The pair returned EPA estimated fuel economy of 16 mpg city, 23 highway. Front-wheel drive was standard, while all-wheel drive was an option. In prior years, Volvo had offered a 311-hp, 4.4-liter V-8 in the XC90, but it returned poor gas mileage and was discontinued after the 2011 model year.
Previously, for 2009, Volvo had added the R-Design option on the XC90, which gave the SUV some sportier touches such as 19-inch alloy wheels, a new grille and split dual exhaust pipes. For 2010, however, the R-Design trim was limited to the V-6 model.
For 2012, the Volvo XC90 received new Premier Plus and Platinum trims that added a few new features, and tech options were repackaged. The XC90's sound system gained both Bluetooth audio streaming and Pandora playlists the same year. Those updates followed a 2011 instrument panel revision that upped the XC90's standard equipment, adding Bluetooth, satellite radio, and new watch-dial instrumentation.
Over time Volvo sweetened the deal with more standard features and new options. For 2014, the XC90 got a folding front passenger seat, a 19-inch "Galateia" wheel design, and the option for upgraded Sovereign leather. The sportier R-Design model also received a Homelink garage door opener. And the company moved all-wheel drive, the blind-spot monitoring, and the dual-screen rear entertainment system to the list of standalone options.