The 2018 Volvo XC90: An Affordable Alternative to German Luxury

Volvo’s goal is to be a luxury automaker on par with Germany’s big three: BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz. Scroll below to learn how the new Volvo XC90 compares to its competitors:

After spending a week behind the wheel of the company’s flagship three-row crossover, we can confirm that Germany should be worried. That said, it’s not time to sound the alarm just yet.

The XC90 kicked off Volvo’s revival when it debuted in 2015. The model, a 2016, featured a curvaceous design, luxury interior, and three four-cylinder engines to choose from, one of which was a hybrid. Since then, not a ton has changed. That’s atypical, especially in the automotive world where most cars receive a significant “refresh” every two years or so; a model’s typical life cycle is five years. Indeed, the XC90 has been updated somewhat. The 2018 T8 Twin Engine XC90 features a bigger battery. Volvo’s semi-autonomous driving technology, Pilot Assist, was also updated over the years and is standard equipment for the 2018 model year. The good news for Volvo is that the 2018 XC90, while ostensibly being the same three-row crossover that debuted in 2015, doesn’t feel old.

The crossover comes in four trim levels: Momentum, R-Design, Inscription, and Excellence. Our model was the T6 AWD Inscription. “T6” refers to the engine under the hood, a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. The Inscription trim level also offers the T8 hybrid engine, which makes 400 horsepower and 472 lb-ft of torque thanks to the addition of two electric motors powered by a 10.4 kWh battery pack.

While the T8 engine offers more power and similar gas mileage, it jacks up the XC90’s price. A T6 AWD Inscription starts at $59,450. Optioning the T8 engine pushes the price tag all the way up to $70,050. If you want our advice, save the extra cash and stick with the T6.

The XC90 is able to get off the line quickly thanks to its combination turbocharger and supercharger, which in tandem almost eliminate any sense of turbo lag. With a 0 to 60 mph time of 6.1 seconds, this Volvo is certainly no slouch, especially given its hefty curb weight of 4,623 pounds. That said, don’t think this SUV is designed for outright performance.

Body roll is palpable when the road gets twisty and the there’s minimal feedback road from the steering wheel. However, you can squeeze a little more fun out of the XC90 by switching between drive modes. There are five to choose from: Comfort (the default setting), Eco, Dynamic, Off Road, and Individual, a customizable mode. In Dynamic mode, gears are held longer, the steering wheel is a bit weightier, and the suspension is stiffened. Our XC90 came equipped with the optional air suspension system, an $1,800 add-on, which raised or lowered the ride height according to the mode selected.

Dynamic mode is fun to play around with, but we found ourselves swapping between Comfort and Eco most of the time, especially on longer drives. Driving in Dynamic mode is also guaranteed to nuke your gas mileage. The 2018 XC90 gets an EPA estimated 20/27/23 mpg (city, highway, combined). Switching between driving modes caused those numbers to drop sharply to 16.7 mpg combined.

Michael Hines

Oddly enough, the best time to be behind the wheel of the 2018 Volvo XC90 is when the car drives itself. While the crossover doesn’t entirely drive itself when Pilot Assist is turned on, it gets pretty close. Pilot Assist was actually updated back in November of 2016. Previously, the technology only worked at speeds of up to 30 mph and required the driver to have a car in front of them in order for the Volvo’s sensors to work. Version 2.0 of the software raises the speed limit to 80 mph and does away with the lead car requirement.

The result is semi-autonomous driving technology that may be second only to Tesla’s. That’s a big claim, and to be fair Pilot Assist works differently depending on the time of day, weather, and road conditions. We tested the tech in clear weather during both day and night on freeways outside of Chicago. The XC90 was able to easily keep itself inside the lane lines, although we did have to nudge it in the right direction once or twice when the road curved slightly. The autonomous braking — radar cruise control is one element of Pilot Assist — could also be a bit jerky as well.

While Pilot Assist isn’t perfect, it does do a perfectly capable job of piloting the XC90 during free-flowing highway traffic. Letting the car drive itself provides the perfect opportunity for enjoying the lavishly equipped cabin. The Inscription trim comes standard with a host of awesome features, including a nine-inch infotainment touchscreen, ventilated and heated Nappa leather front seats, a panoramic moonroof, walnut wood inlays, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, navigation, and a Wi-Fi hotspot. A blind spot information system featuring rear-cross traffic alert, a collision avoidance system, and lane-keep assist round out the list of standard safety features.

The front seats were more firm than soft but were still plenty comfortable, even during longer drives. The second row of seats also provides ample leg and headroom. For the third row, let’s just say you should only be cramming kids back there. One adult won’t fit comfortably, never mind two. Cargo space is on the larger side for the segment. With the rear seats up, the XC90 offers 15.4 cubic feet of storage space. Folding the third row increases that number to 41.8 cubic feet, and with both the second and third rows down the XC90 offers 85.7 cubic feet of cargo space.

Our tester’s sticker price was $74,090 thanks to a whopping $14,940 worth of options. Of the many options on our tester, the two we couldn’t live without were the aforementioned $1,800 air suspension system and the $3,200 Bowers & Wilkins Premium Sound System. The air suspension system makes for a much smoother ride than the standard suspension setup, and it also features a function that lowers the rear end of the XC90 to make it easier for loading cargo. And yes, $3,200 is a lot to pay for an optional sound system but trust us that you get what you pay for. The 19-speaker setup, featuring a dash-mounted tweeter, features a handful of sound modes and makes everything from hip hop to classical music come alive.

Two of the 2018 XC90’s biggest strengths are its price point and wealth of standard equipment. While the optional packages are nice — we especially enjoyed the seat massagers in the Luxury Package — they do make the XC90 less of a value. Now nobody buys luxury cars for the “value,” but smart pricing is part of what makes this crossover, and Volvo’s lineup as a whole, so appealing.

In a perfect world, buyers would cross shop the XC90 against the Mercedes-Benz GLE, BMW X5, and Audi Q7. Some probably do, but the we’re willing to bet that most don’t. And that’s okay. The Volvo badge doesn’t carry the same allure as one from BMW, Audi, or Mercedes. The XC90 is also a different take on what a luxury three-row crossover should be. It doesn’t offer anything bigger than a four-cylinder engine and there’s no true performance variant.

The 2018 XC90 is still plenty appealing to a wide range of buyers. Those new to the luxury car market will appreciate its wealth of standard luxury features and affordable (relative to the segment) pricing. Those with more experience in the segment will be happy to learn that Volvo hasn’t skimped on the luxury or tech. If you’re in the market for a luxury three-row crossover then we recommend taking the 2018 Volvo XC90 for a test drive.

Michael Hines