Seating and cargo arrangements in the seven-seater are enormously versatile, allowing 64 different configurations, including six of the seven seats folded flat.
Second-row seats are split 40/20/40 and slide forward independently.
That third row is a cozy and convenient little world of its own; kids might actually want to sit way in the way back.
The front bucket seats are good, especially with adjustable lumbar support, and Volvo leather is some of the best around.
The gauges are simple and the instrument panel is canted upward toward the high seating position.
The interior trim in the standard model is a mix of dark wood, brushed aluminum and faux aluminum plastic.
There's only enough leg room in the third row for two kids or two very short adults.
There's very little storage space for the front seats, with narrow door pockets and a slim console compartment that's both small and difficult to access.
Volvo has created a roomy cabin inside a relatively compact exterior because of the transverse (sideways) mounting of the engine, even the compact V8.
With the center second-row seat lowered, there is 9 1/2 feet of unobstructed space between the instrument panel and the rear gate (even with the third-row seats in use, because there's a passage space between the seatbacks).
Equally impressive is the ease with which the seats slide, fold, change and vanish.
Even with all three rows of seats in place there's room for two or three stacked duffel bags behind the third row.
Four surfers and two long boards could be squeezed inside.
Getting into the third row is easier than it is in many SUVs, however, due to the ease of sliding and flipping the second-row seats.
Headphone plugs are also provided, meaning second- or third-row headphone users can listen to a CD while the front-seat occupants listen to the radio through the speakers.
Headrests don't have to be removed when the seats are folded flat.
If you store a few CDs in the slots, there's no more room at all.
More real aluminum trim is an option and a great improvement over the plastic trim.
More side bolstering wouldn't hurt, though.
Or you could lay rigged 9-foot fly rods in there without having to break them down, making this a good fishing car for moving from spot to spot.
The doors close with aluminum handles, but they too are narrow, with room for only two or three fingers.
The only open bin for tossing small items is on the dash panel, about big enough for a cell phone.
The seats feature Volvo's Whiplash Protection System, which moves them back and downward.
The third-row features a center console with big cupholders, and there are also long deep pockets at the windowsills, power outlets (three in all), and climate controls with individual vents.
The Volvo XC90 is comfortable and can carry a lot of stuff.
The wood-and-leather steering wheel on the T6 was more comfortable than the standard steering wheel because it was round; the standard wheel has edges and angles that defy understanding.
There are entry grab handles to aid getting inside, but the front-door handle is a bit narrow.
Third-row seatbelts have pretensioners, which are designed to reduce injury caused by the belts in a crash.
This allows the instrument panel and front seats to be positioned more forward, opening up space and legroom behind them.
Up front, the console between the front seats can be easily removed, allowing the center second-row seat to slide way forward between and just behind the front buckets.
Volvo also designed a crumple zone at the rear, for added safety in a rear-end collision.
With all six passenger seats folded down, the XC90 offers 92.3 cubic feet of cargo space, more than its main competitors: the Mercedes M-Class (81.2), BMW X5 (54.5), Acura MDX (81.5), Lexus RX 330 (84.7), Cadillac SRX (69.5), and Infiniti FX (64.5).
With the optional integrated booster cushion for that seat, tending to a young child has never been easier.
Regardless of engine, we were impressed with how silky smooth the XC90 feels at 80 mph.
The best deal is the base five-cylinder engine with the five-speed automatic.
The ride quality in the XC90 is very good, stiff at the wheels, but not in the cabin.
The T6 model comes with a more powerful six-cylinder engine, but its transmission is only a four-speed.
Volvo developed the V8 for the U.S.
And although 268 horsepower and twin turbos sounds hot, we weren't impressed.
Because Volvo has no history with V8s, it turned to Yamaha, which has a good relationship with Volvo's parent company, Ford, to develop a new engine compact enough to fit in the XC90's engine bay.
But it feels reasonably tight in general, with decent feedback to let you know how the front tires are gripping.
But what makes the five-cylinder engine especially sweet is the five-speed automatic that comes with it.
It didn't exactly absorb the ridges and bumps, because you could feel the suspension working over them; but it didn't transfer any harshness to the arms or seat of the pants at all.
It handles bumpy roads with dips and gullies well without bottoming when driven hard.
It's a responsive transmission.
Its chassis closely follows the design of the V70 wagon, but is wider and the components are beefier.
Its power rack-and-pinion steering is on the heavy side, and not as quick in the really tight stuff.
Nor is the six-cylinder engine as smooth or as quiet as the five-cylinder.
Speed bumps in particular were interesting; it was as if the suspension challenged them and hammered back, protecting us from jouncing even when we hit them at 15 mph.
Stand on the gas while cruising along on the highway and it quickly downshifts from fifth to third gear and XC90 eagerly zooms away.
The DSTC electronic stability control stepped in a few times when we were thrashing down a particularly ornery road, and the system applied the brakes at one wheel without cutting the throttle, although we aren't sure if it was the gyroscopic roll sensor or traction sensors that triggered its operation.
The five-cylinder engine doesn't seem to have a lot of torque at low engine speeds (1500 rpm), but the responsiveness and flexibility of the five-speed transmission makes good use of the engine's power.
The heavier four-speed automatic shifts more slowly and less smoothly than the 2.5's five-speed.
The standard Volvo XC90, the T6 model and the new V8 are surprisingly dissimilar in character with their different engines and transmissions.
The T6 transmission must handle a lot more torque, and a beefed up five-speed automatic wouldn't fit in the engine compartment with the bigger engine.
The transmission includes a manual-shift feature called Geartronic.
The XC90 doesn't offer the sporty handling of a BMW X5 or Infiniti FX35.
There was a distinct engine vibration between 45 and 50 mph in third gear, at about 2000 rpm.
There's minimal body sway under hard cornering.
Volvo also made some changes in its all-wheel-drive system to send more power to the rear wheels for better take off from a standing start.
Volvo linked the V8 to a six-speed automatic to make the best use of the engine's torque curve, which reaches 271 pound-feet of pulling power at just 2000 rpm.
Volvo's 2.5-liter five-cylinder produces 208 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque at 4500 rpm.
We found it delivered plenty of power for the real world, and the 24-mpg EPA Highway rating is excellent for that much power in a vehicle as heavy as the XC90.
We spent several hours in the V8 and found it well suited to the sort of driving done by many American SUV owners.
We stayed on pavement, enjoyed quick acceleration and sure-footed passing maneuvers.
where 30 percent of all SUVs are sold with V8 engines.
With the four-speed, the engine sometimes feels like it's working hard, and the T6's lower mileage rating means about 60 fewer miles per tank.
Like the XC70, the back end of the XC90 features expansive taillights.
The fit of body panels and trim is decent.
The overall angularity clearly says Volvo.
The standard wheels measure 17 inches in diameter, but the hottest look comes with the optional 18-inch wheels.
The XC90's rear hatch has two sections, with a 70/30 top/bottom split.
There's very little overhang at the rear, creating a nice long wheelbase relative to the overall length of 189 inches, which is only 3.4 inches longer than Volvo's XC70 Cross Country wagon.
A high beltline adds to the correct visual image of a tall SUV.
Head-on, you might think it's the result of the mating of a Honda CRV (the grille) and a Dodge Ram truck.
If it bothers you that the back of your SUV looks like Las Vegas, it might comfort you to think that you're a whole lot less likely to get creamed from behind by some half-asleep driver.
If you're loading something light into the back of the XC90 you might not need to drop the tailgate, but the rest of the time you'll need to open both gates.
It's also inclined toward the front of the vehicle, which shortens the roofline and makes the XC90 look shorter.
It's elevated by four or five inches over the protruding fender contours, and slightly V-shaped to be consistent with Volvo design.
The good news is that the tiny tailgate lifts and closes easily, and the short liftgate is less likely to bonk you or someone else on the head when you raise or lower it.
The lower edge of the liftgate is waist level, leaving a small tailgate.
The rear window wiper is sturdy, protected by flat black plastic.
The XC90 almost looks like an old convertible coming toward you on the freeway with its top puffing up.
The XC90 has a wide track, and despite its height, it has a lower center of gravity than the XC70.
The XC90 has the same general hood shape as the Ram.
The XC90 roofline is almost dramatic, raking upward from the windshield to its high horizontal plane, then tracing the arcing shape of the roof rails.
The XC90's big doors close with a light touch and a nice solid sound when they latch.
This wide stance and low center of gravity promote handling stability.
You're also less likely to back into something at night, thanks to backup lights that look like spotlights.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Sam Moses reports from the Columbia River Gorge, with Larry Edsall in Goteborg, Sweden, and Mitch McCullough in Los Angeles.
The base XC90 2.5T uses a quiet, proven engine with good power and a smooth five-speed automatic.
It delivers ample acceleration for all situations, good gas mileage and ultra-low emissions.
It offers superior passenger/cargo flexibility with a ton of space at a luxury-class competitive price.
The T6 is quicker, but more expensive and less fuel-efficient and comes with a four-speed automatic.
The V8 is fast, still more expensive, and likely will put the XC90 on some shopping lists for the first time.
The Volvo XC90 is packed with safety and utility features, including some that are unavailable in most other luxury SUVs.
The XC90 is as good or better than its competitors at hauling children around.
The XC90 offers all-wheel drive for winter driving and light off-highway capability.