Luxury SUVs are more popular than ever, but let’s get real. Not everyone needs a leather-lined utility vehicle that’s capable of fording rivers and dealing with parking at Trader Joe’s.

Most of us need a wagon with all-weather traction and a strong dose of safety. We like nice things, too.

That’s where this car comes in--the 2016 Volvo XC90.

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2016 Volvo XC90 R-Design

2016 Volvo XC90 R-Design

2016 Volvo XC90 R-Design

2016 Volvo XC90 R-Design

2016 Volvo XC90 R-Design

2016 Volvo XC90 R-Design

The XC90 is a winner. It’s Volvo’s first new vehicle in more than a decade, and it’s carted home armloads of awards, including the North American Truck/Utility of the year trophy.

There’s good reason for that, and it starts with a handsome, conservative shape that cloaks a spare, stunning interior.

The XC90 is instantly recognizable as a Volvo but boxy, it’s not. The body is fluidly styled, with crisp details and a silhouette that effectively masks just how big it is.

It doesn’t make grand styling pretensions, but has some beautiful details that highlight its tall-wagon stance.

MORE: Read The Car Connection's 2016 Volvo XC90 review

2016 Volvo XC90 R-Design

2016 Volvo XC90 R-Design

The headlights are a favorite cue: those light bars inside the lamps are supposed to look like Thor’s hammer.

Step inside the XC90, and you’ll find all the low-key glamour Sweden has to offer. The cockpit is a testament to less-is-more design, and it’s a striking contrast to the XC90’s German rivals. Stitched leather, textured metal, and matte wood frame out the cockpit like fine furniture.

It has its own Easter-egg details, too. The airbags wear Swedish flag tags, and the shift knob is cut Orrefors crystal.

The centerpiece is a 9-inch display that functions as the car’s tablet interface. Dubbed Sensus, the system is remarkably clean and easy to use, especially compared to systems that use knobs, buttons, touchpads, and roller controllers. It’s no stretch to call it the iPad of cars.

The XC90 coddles passengers in the front two rows of seats, and gives them plenty of elbow room.

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The front seats are supremely comfortable, and the second-row seats are almost as good. Better yet, they slide on a track to boost leg room.

Big windows and a standard panoramic sunroof give every passenger an excellent view of the road passing by.

The third row? If adults have to sit back here, they’ll need to bargain with the middle passengers for leg room. It’s pretty tight back here in a way some other great three-row SUVs are not.

The trade-off is good cargo space, once you fold flat that rearmost bench.

With a brand-new platform and the very latest in safety gear, the XC90 is simply one of the safest vehicles on the road. It’s earned top crash ratings, and can keep itself in a lane at highway speeds, and can hit the brakes automatically if it senses an imminent accident—even one that might happen in crossing traffic.

One feature we’d never go without—this beautiful surround-view camera, which makes parking in tight garage spaces ridiculously easy.

It’s a brilliant package, but how does the XC90 drive? Very well. We’ve spent time in many versions, and have come away impressed with all of them.

2016 Volvo XC90 R-Design

2016 Volvo XC90 R-Design

Three models are offered. There’s a T5 edition with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four and 250 horsepower. With front-wheel drive and seating for five, it’s priced well under $50,000.

Most XC90s are fitted to T6 trim. For just about $50,000 base, the T6 adds supercharging to the turbo four, bumps horsepower to 316 in all, and gets standard all-wheel drive. Both of these versions are teamed to an eight-speed automatic.

Our only complaint is real-world fuel economy suffers against an EPA-rated 22 miles per gallon combined. We’ve seen much lower in our test drives.

That’s solved with a plug-in hybrid model, which couples the front-drive hardware with batteries and motors that send their power to the rear wheels, for a high-tech flavor of all-wheel drive. This T8 XC90 makes a net of 400 horsepower, and can drive up to 13 miles on electric power alone.

In all models, the XC90 is pleasant, even engaging to drive. For a vehicle with almost 10 inches of ground clearance, it’s remarkably car-like, with very responsive powertrains and nimble steering feel. It’s only when you cook the XC90 into the tightest corners that its tall body and 4,600-pound heft make themselves known.

Putting the XC90 into its most sporting drive mode is the most enjoyable way to drive, but Eco and Off-Road modes are there for a reason, if the need arises.

Make no mistake, this new XC90 is a luxury SUV, and it’s priced and equipped like one.

All versions have leather, heated front seats, and the Sensus interface. Sport and luxury packages can boost the price quickly to more than $70,000. That’s a world away from the old Volvo wagons of the past, but it’s a vehicle that feels like it’s earned its sticker price.

What’s the bottom line with the Volvo XC90? It’s understated and elegant in all the right ways—and that lets its engineering excellence shine through.


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