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When the Volvo XC90 first hit the streets everyone was impressed. It was elegant and lithe and promised a new era at Volvo. Freed from the economic pressures of parent companies only interested the bottom line, the manufacturer could finally think outside the box and make the car they truly wanted to. Their design served them well and a bold claim that no one would die in a Volvo by 2020 let the world know that this was still the Volvo we’d grown to know and love. Now, though, it’s been a year since the XC90 was first revealed and it no longer has the benefit of youth.
So, does the XC90 still impress a year later? In short: yes, but with a caveat or two.
Firstly the exterior still looks great. Like a good suit, it flatters without announcing itself. It’s not a flashy, attention grabbing design, but you look like you belong wherever you go. Be it downtown, in the country, or in the parts of town where the property values rise, no one bats an eye when you drive by.
And like the exterior, the interior impresses. All leather and fine materials, the XC90 is another fine example of Sweden’s knack for interior design. That said, a few signs of age did appear on my press vehicle, a Magic Blue T8 plug-in hybrid AWD with Inscription Trim and Blonde Interior.
Although everything still looked good, the leather on the driver’s seat had become a bit discolored. The trim on the center console, too, felt like it had started coming ever so slightly apart from its base. There was no sound to speak of when it was left alone, but when you touched the trim it would click and clack.
From the driver’s seat the XC90 seems just as interested in driving itself as it is in having you drive it. With adaptive cruise control, lane departure aids, and pilot assist up to 50 kph (about 30 mph) the XC90 feels like a step on the path to autonomous driving.
The problem is that Pilot Assist isn’t autonomous. Volvo has rightly designed its system to set off alarms if it detects that the driver has completely given up control of the car. So you need to have your hands on the wheel, and if you take them off for more than about 30 seconds, the chimes and tells you to put your hands back on the wheel. This in itself isn’t such a big problem, except that it requires you to focus on the road ahead, despite the fact that you aren’t involved the actual operation of the XC90. So you’re a passenger who can’t read a book or take a nap or do anything but focus on the road. And, unfortunately, if you’re alone, the XC90, charming though it may be, isn’t very good company.
But you don’t need to turn on Pilot Assist. And when you do you find a very comfortable, very quick, and very efficient vehicle. Driving in the city, without even fully charging it, the XC90 indicated that I was doing 5.6 l/100 km, which translates to 42 mpg. According to the EPA, with a full charge, it’ll get up to 53 mpg in the city. That, for a car as big as the XC90, is no small feat.
On the highway, the Volvo showed its size and my fuel economy suffered. On a long highway trip with little traffic, the XC90 indicated that I was achieving 10.1 l/100 km (about 23 mpg, though the EPA calculates that it’ll get 25 mpg), which won’t set any records but is fine for the class.
I will admit that I had trouble finding places to charge the XC90. An outlet near a parking spot doesn’t sound like an unreasonable thing to ask for, but where I live anyway it turns out not to be all that easy to find. Regardless, regenerative braking helped, allowing me to charge the battery enough every time I had to slow down to get me off the line again. And thanks to gauges that tell you when you’re charging and you’re drawing down the battery, getting the most out of the batteries becomes a pretty good game.
More than just economy, though, the electric motor gives the XC90 all the torque you could ever want off the line. Add to that the fact that the changeover from electric to internal combustion is seamless, and you’ve got a package that has a lot going for it. Unlike Pilot Assist, the hybrid system doesn’t get old.
Like the hybrid system, the aesthetics, the ease to park, and the understated luxury don’t get old either. The XC90 isn’t quite perfect, but even after it’s been on the road for a year it still feels special. It’s quiet, it’s quick, it’s efficient and spacious, and it fits in wherever you go. Even without the glow of youth, the XC90 T8 is mightily tempting package.