2020 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design Drivers' Notes | With a touch of Polestar

The biggest Volvo has hardly skipped a beat

2020 Volvo XC90 T6
2020 Volvo XC90 T6 / Image Credit: Zac Palmer
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While we still love the XC90's overall design, this three-row SUV isn't quite as strong as it was in the face of newer, fresher competition. The hybrid powertrain disappoints, as does the tech. This is a refresh away from being a true class contender.

  • Trim
  • Engine
    2.0L Twin-Charged I4
  • Power
    330 HP / 325 LB-FT
  • Transmission
    8-Speed Auto
  • 0-60 Time
    6.1 seconds
  • Top Speed
    140 MPH
  • Drivetrain
  • Engine Placement
  • Curb Weight
    4,545 LBS
  • Cargo
    12.6-65.5 CU-FT
  • MPG
  • Base Price
  • As Tested Price

The Volvo XC90 has existed in its current form since the 2016 model year, but that doesn’t mean it’s old and tired. New competition has since showed up to the three-row luxury SUV segment, yet the Volvo still manages to feel fresh in the 2020 model year. We’re not sure if we’ll ever tire of Volvo’s beautiful and simple interior design. The unique materials and Swedish styling are timeless, and Volvo won’t need to change much when updating it next.

Our particular tester is a Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design. It's pretty expensive for a T6, with a sticker of $74,735, as it's decked out with extras and the special, sporty styling elements of the R-Design trim. It came equipped with the Advanced Package, adding niceties like cornering LED headlights, a 360-degree camera system and a head-up display. Notable options include Polestar Optimization ($1,295), a Bowers and Wilkins premium audio system ($3,200), four-corner air suspension ($1,800), and 22-inch wheels with summer tires ($1,100). Maybe $75,000 is too much for some folks to stomach when there’s only a 2.0-liter four-cylinder under the hood, but the driving experience tells a different story. That supercharged and turbocharged powerplant makes 330 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, providing a swift kick in the pants no matter where it’s in the rev range.

Editor-in-Chief Greg Migliore: I’ve always liked Volvo’s multi-setting sound system. You can tailor your experience to replicate the acoustics of a studio, the Gothenburg Concert Hall in Sweden, or “individual stage,” which is a surround-sound setup. The 1,400-watt, 19-speaker Bowers and Wilkins system is sophisticated and produces rich sound. With equipment like that, I quickly turned off sports talk in favor of the classical channel on Sirius XM. Volvo emphasizes the role sound — or lack thereof — plays in its vehicles. They’re well-insulated, which improves the audio experience and makes them feel more upscale, regardless of whether you’re mellowing out to Bach or drivetime quarterback controversies.

Assistant Editor, Zac Palmer: “Polestar Performance Software” is one of those option boxes that would make me giddy to check. Therefore, when I saw the tiny Polestar Engineered badge on the back of our XC90 T6 tester, I got way more excited to drive the three-row SUV. Here’s what Volvo says the Polestar Optimization gets you: “The Polestar Engineered Optimization powertrain software allows you to enjoy a more precise and balanced driving experience. Together with Polestar's engineers, we have optimized important performance areas such as mid-range engine performance, gearshifts and throttle response.”

In short, it’s a tune, but the tune is designed specifically for folks who love driving. The question is, has it worked? I think it has. I drove a regular XC90 without the Polestar Optimization not too long ago, and I noticed a real difference in this one. The engine is more responsive, the throttle is more precise, and the transmission tuning is excellent. Everything just feels better. There’s no wild jump in power or acceleration, but torque just appears in places it wasn’t before. A new mode called “Polestar Engineered” makes itself available in the drive mode selector, which is equally cool. It instantly lowers the air suspension to its lowest setting and turns everything up to 11. I had way more fun than I ought to have in an SUV of this size due to this extra performance package, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone buying a Volvo where it’s offered — $1,295 is a small price to pay for the kind of warranty-backed performance you get.

Senior Editor, Green, John Beltz Snyder: I'll quickly mirror what Zac says above. The Polestar tuning is nice. It won't melt your skull or anything — it is, after all, still a mere 2.0 liters of displacement — but it satisfyingly works its way through the revs. I really like the sound of the supercharger when you take off from a stop, and the gentle tug of the turbocharger once you're moving.

What I really like about the XC90 is its interior. It's super roomy and easy to use. The third row folds flat (and the headrests pop down automatically in the process), and there's a goodly amount of space behind them, when they're up. The whole aesthetic is very tidy and simple without being boring. Like Audi does so well, Volvo can also perfectly pull off an architectural feel that's both modern and relatively conservative. It's also comfortable, especially the driver's seat with lots of adjustability and support from the Nappa leather R-Design seats. Our tester had a full bench in the second row (and a heated one at that), but I can't wait to try out an XC90 with captains' chairs — a new-for-2020 feature that would make seating more comfortable and access to the way-back even easier.

Volvo XC90 Information

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