No brand on sale today has made the strides that Volvo has. Following years of neglect from Ford and now under the ownership of the Chinese brand Geely, Volvo is thriving with some of the best all-around luxury vehicles on the market. The current XC90 started that trend with a minimalist interior design, excellent technology, and a relaxing driving experience that's filtering down to the rest of its lineup.

Best Value

Tempting as the $105,895 XC90 Excellence is, the best all-around XC90 is the mid-range Inscription with the standard 2.0-liter, twincharged (that means there's a supercharger for low-end power and a turbocharger for high-rpm performance) four-cylinder. The available plug-in hybrid T8 is an entertaining choice – it has 400 horsepower, after all –and features an impressive all-electric range, but it adds nearly $11,000 to the XC90 Inscription's price tag. The base T6 engine is fine, though, with 316 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque.

Volvo offers a trio of option packages, a host of premium paints (only one, Ice White, is available as a no-cost option), and five useful standalone extras, but the reality is that you don't need any of them. The XC90 Inscription adds heated leather upholstery, Volvo's excellent Sensus infotainment system with navigation, LED headlights, a digital instrument cluster, 20-inch wheels, and the Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving assistance system, which marries adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist with steering assist, forward collision warning, and automatic emergency braking into a single package that drivers can activate at the press of a button.

If you need optional goodies or simply have money to burn, the $1,800 air suspension is a fine choice. It improves the XC90's already plush ride and offers a range of height adjustments, including a park setting that makes ingress and egress into this high-riding SUV a breeze. It does require the $1,950 Convenience Package, raising the real-world price to $2,750, but a 360-degree camera system, front and rear parking assist, and heated windshield washer nozzles soften the blow. The $900 head-up display is a reasonably priced feature, too, although wearers of polarized sunglasses will have a hard time using it during the day.

Here's how we'd build our XC90.

  • Model: 2018 Subaru WRX Limited
  • Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged flat-4 engine
  • Output: 268 hp/258 lb. ft.
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission
  • Drivetrain: All-wheel drive
  • MPG: 21 City / 27 Highway
  • Options: N/A
  • Base Price: $32,455 (including $860 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price: $32,455

Performance

Volvo XC90

Let's be clear – the XC90 T8 plug-in hybrid is fast. Abundant low-end torque from the electric motors and power that won't quit make it a fine choice for lead-footed owners. Still, the 2.0-liter twincharged setup is just fine. The supercharger handles the low-end grunt with a subtle whine from the belt-driven fan, while the handoff to the turbocharger at higher rpms is seemless. There's neither an absence nor an overabundance of power from this setup.

The eight-speed automatic manages the power invisibly, throwing out right-timed downshifts and smooth upshifts in equal measure, so the driver always has power at the ready. The transmission engages quickly off the line, too.

The ride is comfortable and composed, although we strongly recommend avoiding the optional 21- and 22-inch wheels – the base 20-inchers look fine and deliver a better, calmer ride. If ride quality is really important, the available four-corner air suspension is a good purchase, too. Our test vehicle had the adjustable setup and although it was stuck with 21-inch wheels, it managed imperfections and potholes without complaint, delivering a fine, poised ride at freeway speeds.

The direct steering has a pleasant heft to it, although as we'll explain, there weren't a lot of opportunities to test it. The handling, too, is balanced and smart. The XC90 rolls side to side as we'd expect of a high-riding crossover, but the four-corner air suspension's ability to lower the ride height minimizes the sloshing well. Still, the XC90's size and weight are readily apparent when presented with anything other than a gentle bend.

Style

There isn't an automaker on the planet that does restrained, conservative design as beautifully as Volvo. The XC90 looks fantastic inside and out – the exterior's muted lines, traditional grille, Thor's Hammer headlights, and tall, LED taillights are all lovely. The two-box design used on the XC90 isn't as eye pleasing as the related S90 or V90 (Volvo's big wagon is a versatile beauty queen), but it's still better looking than most of the vehicles in this class.

The cabin is even better. Virtually identical to the S90, V90, and new XC60, the heart of the cabin is a vertically oriented touchscreen infotainment system and a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster (more on their function in a second). The center display takes the place of physical buttons – there are only a handful in the XC90's entire cabin – contributing to the clean interior aesthetic. Volvo's choice of materials is sublime, particularly in the muted IKEA-like wood and with some of the earth-toned leathers.

The seating position is excellent, with a wide range of adjustability in the seats and the manually adjusted steering wheel – the lack of electronic adjustment on the XC90 Inscription we tested was surprising, but it's hardly the worst thing in the world. The front two rows of seats are very comfortable with attractive, soft leather. Today's Volvos are lack the pillow-like seats of older models, but there's ample support that makes longer drives easy to manage. The second row has ample space, although we can't say the same of the third row – it's fine for short journeys, but we wouldn't want to put adults back there for too long. Cargo volume improves significantly with the third row down, too.

Volvo's Sensus infotainment system operates via the center display. The touchscreen responds quickly and looks great, but the infotainment system itself is a challenge for the less tech savvy. Deep menus and a wealth of options make it occasionally difficult, but the basics of the system – four stacked tiles, three of which are locked to navigation, audio, and communications – is easy to figure out. And the bits that matter, like volume adjustments and the ability to skip through radio stations, is still restricted to analog buttons or steering-wheel-mounted controls. The display that takes the place of the traditional gauges is as clean and attractive as the center toucschreen, although it suffers from a similar glut of abilities that makes it occasionally difficult to navigate.

The Best and Worst Things

The Pilot Assist semi-autonomous active-driving assistant, standard on our XC90 Inscription, is sublime. Blending full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist with steering assist and lane-centering abilities, automatic emergency braking, and a collection of other acronyms we're probably forgetting, Pilot Assist makes freeway travel almost effortless, eliminating all the tiny inputs and adjustments common at freeway speeds.

The worst thing about the XC90 is… um. There's not really any big drawback to this model. Its price could be more attractive – our handsomely equipped tester cost just over $74,000 – although if you follow our advice, a well-specced example is available for $60,000. That's still a lot of cash, especially considering that the XC60 (and soon, the XC40) will offer most of the XC90's driving experience at a more reasonable price.

Right For?

Volvo XC90

The tech savvy will love the XC90 – Pilot Assist and Sensus are two of the most advanced automotive technologies on the market and elevate this three-row crossover to a level that will appeal to any and all early tech adopters.

Wrong For?

Traditionalists. The XC90 has conservative Volvo styling, but it's far from a conservative Volvo. It pushes the brand's boundaries with ample technology and luxury. For drivers that grew up driving simple 240s or 850s, the second-generation XC90 could be a culture shock – this isn't your mom's school-run Volvo.

The Bottom Line

Beautifully crafted and utterly relaxing to drive, the 2018 Volvo XC90 is as stylish and advanced as three-row crossovers get. If you can afford it, the XC90 is the obvious choice in the premium three-row crossover segment.