For the Volvo Enthusiast

Driving the Updated 2020 XC90

The XC90 is being updated for 2020 and Volvo has taken an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to the update, so you could be forgiven for not having noticed that the above-pictured XC90 has been changed. But along with wool seats, Volvo has changed the fascia, updated the braking system, and updated the safety systems.

And while there’s enough new here to warrant talking about, there isn’t really enough to warrant a whole review. What we’ve said in the past stands. If you liked the XC90 before, you’ll like it now. And one of the reasons for that is that Volvo has been constantly updating the XC90.

In 2017 they introduced standard driver profiles, Large Animal Detection, massaging front seats, and made those “Thor’s hammer” DRLs standard (among other things). In 2018 Volvo added Pilot Assist, Blind Spot Information System, auto dimming interior and exterior mirrors, and CarPlay to the standard features list while also increasing the battery capacity on the T8 to 10.4 kWh and adding Maroon Brown to the interior colors list.

2019, meanwhile, saw the addition of Oncoming Mitigation by braking, heated seats, heated washer nozzles, and a compass in the rearview mirror to the standard equipment. The brand also made the gas tank on the T8 bigger, added a Harmon Kardon sound system, and improved its infotainment system’s processing power by 50%.

So what’s left to change? Well, the actual sheet metal, for one. The front is lower and wider, and the grille is concave now. According to T Jon Mayer, Volvo USA’s head of design, it’s been designed to be “more authoritative, more like a lion.”

Ultimately, though, Volvo has wisely left the overall design alone. There are new wheels to be had and 19s are now standard, and if you choose the R-Design trim, there’s a new gloss black theme. 

More importantly, though, you aren’t limited to black on the inside if you opt for R-Design. The R-Design can now be selected with a blond interior, which shows off its interior design much better.

Volvo has also, again, increased the size of the T8’s battery, to 11.6 kWh. The T8 also loses the vacuum pump on the T8 to make the crossover from regenerative to hydraulic braking smoother.

We got to test out the new system on a recent drive through the Canadian Rockies and, while we wouldn’t call the braking problematic, if you’re sensitive to the braking feel of hybrid cars, you will still notice the changeover. Although switch from regeneration to braking is singled with a subtle step, though, the actual braking performance while regenerating is intuitive and isn’t hard to modulate.

Your passenger are unlikely to notice the step, and will likely be more interested in the new, optional Slate Grey wool seats. These are Volvo’s attempt to add a little variety to the tired all-leather, all-the-time brand of interior design that has dominated the industry of late. And Volvo doesn’t want you to think of the wool seats as a “value” option.

According to T Jon Mayer, the seats are supposed to be more like a perfectly tailored wool suit than a cloth seat. While wool probably won’t replace leather as a luxury seat fabric, we can confirm that the new seats look and feel good. Better yet, anyone whose ever seared themselves on a hot leather seat will appreciate how much cooler these seats stay in the summer and how much warmer they keep in the winter.

The XC90’s last big update is the six-seat configuration. Specifically demanded by the US market, Volvo has take the middle seat out of the middle row. Although dog-lovers might not be excited about the change, it does make the third row feel a little more welcoming.