The Volvo XC90 is comfortable and can carry a lot of stuff. With a maximum 92.3 cubic feet of cargo space (with all six passenger seats folded down), the XC90 offers more volume than any of 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).
Volvo has created a roomy cabin inside a relatively compact exterior because of the transverse (sideways) mounting of the engines. This allows the instrument panel and front seats to be positioned more forward, opening up space and legroom behind them. With the center second-row seat lowered, there is nine-and-a-half unobstructed feet 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). Four surfers and two long boards could be squeezed inside. Or you could lay nine-foot fly rods in there without breaking them down, making this a good fishing car for moving from spot to spot. Even with all three rows of seats in place there's room for two or three stacked duffel bags behind the third row.
Seating and cargo arrangements in the seven-seater are enormously versatile, allowing 64 different configurations, including six of the seven seats folded flat. Equally impressive is the ease with which the seats slide, fold, change and vanish. Some highlights:
Second-row seats are split 40/20/40 and slide forward independently. Headrests don't have to be removed when the seats are folded flat.
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. With the optional integrated booster cushion for that seat, tending to a young child has never been easier.
There's only enough leg room in the third row for two kids or two very short adults. 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. There are entry grab handles to aid getting inside, but the front-door handle is a bit narrow. The doors close with aluminum handles, but they too are narrow, with room for only two or three fingers.
That third row is a cozy and convenient little world of its own; kids might actually want to sit way in the back back. Third-row seatbelts have pretensioners, which are designed to reduce injury caused by the belts in a crash. Volvo also designed a crumple zone at the rear, for added safety in a rear-end collision. 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. 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.
The interior trim in the standard model is a mix of dark wood, brushed aluminum and faux aluminum plastic. More real aluminum trim is an option and a great improvement over the plastic trim, which seems cheap by comparison.
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. If you store a few CDs in the slots, there's no more room at all. The only open bin for tossing small items is on the dash panel, about big enough for a cell phone.
The gauges are simple (only a speedo, tach, fuel and coolant temp) and the instrument panel is canted upward toward the high seating position. 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.
The front bucket seats are good, especially with adjustable lumbar support, and Volvo leather is some of the best around, though more side bolstering wouldn't hurt. The seats feature Volvo's Whiplash Protection System, which moves them back and downward if the vehicle is hit from behind, reducing neck snap. There are both front and side-impact airbags in front. Headroom is exceptional, thanks to the roofline, and the big windows offer excellent visibility and a feeling of roominess. Unfortunately, the price for the safety of high headrests is restricted forward visibility for passengers in the second and third seats, and more significantly, restricted rearview visibility for the driver. Also, there was a perpetual reflection in the windshield, from the busy dashboard shelf that includes a big audio speaker, defroster vent and a red light for the four-way flasher.
Speaking of the price for safety, company officials believe Volvo builds some of the safest cars in the world. Those safety systems and features cost a lot of money to develop and produce. But those costs are sometimes reflected in the price of the vehicles, or having to shave costs in other less-critical areas to remain competitive.