autofieldblog Crossover of the Year: 2016 Volvo XC90

Although it probably doesn’t matter much to people who buy a particular vehicle—they are buying a crossover or car or truck because what it is, that thing that they drive and have in their driveway, the physical, tangible object—there are some vehicles that speak to what that company that produced the vehicle is, to what that represents about the company, about, even, that company’s values.

Although it probably doesn’t matter much to people who buy a particular vehicle—they are buying a crossover or car or truck because what it is, that thing that they drive and have in their driveway, the physical, tangible object—there are some vehicles that speak to what that company that produced the vehicle is, to what that represents about the company, about, even, that company’s values.

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Yes, that’s a whole lot of extra stuff on the proverbial shoulders of a given vehicle. Now this is not to say that this can be discerned in all of the vehicles that roll out of a given company’s plants.

But every company has a “halo” vehicle, one that it hopes puts it on the side of the automotive angels.

Whether the concern is with the physical or the metaphysical, the 2016 Volvo XC90 is exemplary.

While it may have seemed that Volvo was going to become a company that would have not a whole lot of relevance in the U.S. market—in 2014, its share of the U.S. market was just 0.3%, which was down from 0.4% in 2013, so we’re not talking about something that would leave a sizable void were it to disappear—it comes with this product that hits at the heart of the market, a product with design, engineering and technical innovations that should put it on the short lists of everyone looking for a premium seven-passenger AWD crossover. Which nowadays is a seeming ever-increasing component of the market.

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The styling inside and out is not derivative of anything. While the exterior doesn’t seem particularly Scandinavian (the “Thor’s Hammer” shape in the headlamps notwithstanding), the interior certainly has the whole minimalism-meets-ergonomics that one can associate with that part of the world. Yet with its nine-inch touchscreen in portrait mode in the center of the instrument panel with an interface that seems to nod to Apple (one might argue that Apple designs are somewhat Scandinavian in their simplicity of execution), there is no question that this is a vehicle of now, not of the Old Norse.

One notable aspect of the XC90 is how it represents Volvo’s commitment to providing an environmentally appropriate approach without sacrificing anything in the way of performance: the vehicle is available with two powertrain setups, a 320-hp, supercharged and turbocharged inline four or the same four-cylinder engine, but this supplemented by a 60-kW—or 80-hp—electric motor.

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Think about that for a minute: here is a seven-passenger SUV that is powered by a four-cylinder engine. It may sound as though this is going to be something that will move with all of the alacrity of a glacier. Quite to the contrary.

Although some might argue that all vehicle manufacturers make safe cars nowadays, back in the day Volvo was synonymous with safety, and this is something that the company is working to retain in the face of all other changes. This takes a number of forms, ranging from building structures out of steel that could be whacked by Mjölnir with little effect, to seats that are designed not only with style but dealing with accidents in mind, to sensor-based active safety systems that are so good that the car is probably more capably responsive that the person behind the wheel.

And when you are creating what is arguably a family vehicle, those things are critically important.

For what it is and for what it represents, the Volvo XC90 is the autofieldblog Crossover of the Year.