More than a decade after launching its first sport utility vehicle with three rows of seats, Volvo finally revs up a brand new contemporary XC90 with leading-edge styling and small-but-potent powertrains.

Likely one reason for the lengthy delay had to do with a change in ownership that occurred in 2010 when Volvo was sold to China's Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co., Ltd. Now newly reorganized, Volvo's plans include building a manufacturing facility in South Carolina to support future sales of its passenger cars in general, and more specifically its array of tall wagons.

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The latest luxury-equipped XC90 has been changed in every conceivable way. The sheetmetal is as fresh as you can get, as is the modular platform that can be used for other Volvo models. In this case, the XC90 is roughly 250 pounds lighter than the outgoing wagon (now 4,400 pounds), despite being roughly the same size. The hood, though, is decidedly longer and is fronted by a larger grille and unique LED running-light array that Volvo refers to as "Thor's Hammer."

The interior is epitome of Scandinavian design, with natural-wood inlays, supple leather seats and trim and a very classy crystal glass shift lever. The second-row seat adjusts fore and aft, which helps create a bit more space for third-row guests. In short, Volvo's unassailable leadership in attractive, ergonomically superior cabins remains one of its chief assets.

As for power, Volvo is focusing on fewer pistons. For the T6 model, a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder produces 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.

The "Drive-E", as it's called, uses the turbo for top-end power and the belt-driven supercharger to help out at lower engine revs.

Fuel economy is rated at 20 mpg in the city and 25 on the highway.

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For performance fans who prefer keeping it on the green, Volvo will offer a T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid later in the model year. It adds an 87-horsepower electric motor that increases the net output to 408 horsepower and 472 pound-feet. 

Both the T6 and T8 use an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Although all-wheel-drive is standard, the T8's electric motor powers the rear wheels without employing a conventional driveline (and no drive hump on the floor). A "Power" setting for the T6 is for full-on performance (zero-to-60-mph in 6.4 seconds, says Volvo). The T8 cuts that to 5.6 while the "E" mode allows it to travel up to 25 miles on electric power.

With a $50,000 selling price ($69,000 for the T8), including destination charges, The base all-wheel-drive XC90 Momentum comes with all the basics plus a panoramic sunroof, nine-inch touch-screen display with navigation, power tailgate and a 330-watt 10-speaker audio system. 
Momentum also comes with a system that recognizes cyclists and pedestrians and applies the brakes should the driver fail to recognize an impending collision.

Moving up to the Inscription model adds leather seat covers, wood trim, a 12.3-inch display screen and 20-inch wheels (19-inchers are standard). 

At the top of the range, the R-Design gets a sportier interior (seats and trim), mesh grille and unique 20-inch wheels.

In addition, selecting from a number of option packages allows you to add more active safety content (e.g. forward, backup and blind-spot collision warnings), front and rear park assist, premium Bowers and Wilkins audio package and 21- or 22-inch wheels. You can also order air suspension that keeps the XC90 on the level when loaded with people and/or cargo.

With the release of the XC90, Volvo is establishing a new direction for the brand; one that focuses on fashionable interior and exterior design plus efficient propulsion systems that don't rely on six and eight cylinders to deliver premium performance.

 

What you should know: 2016 Volvo XC90

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Type: Four-door, seven-passenger all-wheel-drive sport utility vehicle
Engines (hp): 2.0-liter DOHC I4, supercharged and turbocharged (316/400,T8 hybrid)

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Market position: The XC90 arrives with the solid reputation it earned with the original that was launched a decade earlier. The new model showcases the automaker's design, engineering and safety advances since then.

Points: Redesign is much more car-like than before; All-new 2.0 engine takes a unique approach to increasing horsepower and it works; Interior strongly influenced by traditional Swedish modern design; Soon-to-arrive T8 plug-in hybrid is the performance version to get, while at the same time significantly reducing fuel consumption.

Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.

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MPG (city/hwy) 20/25 (base 2.0); Base price (incl. destination) $49,900

 

By comparison

Acura MDX Base price: $43,000
Popular AWD family bus has been the class leader since Day One.

Buick Enclave Base price: $40,000
FWD and AWD models come with a 288-hp V6 engine and lots of luxury.

Lexus GX Base price: $50,000
Rugged body-on-frame luxury wagon uses a stout 301-hp V8 to do the job.